A while back, while waiting for my son-in-law, Josh, to come out of his doctor's appointment I went across the street to a Goodwill store and bought a used book. The title caught my eye - The Way Church Ought To Be. It was written by a guy down in Albany, Oregon by the name of Robert Lund. A take-off on Luther's 95 Theses idea, it is Lund's top 95 pet peeves about everything that he thinks is wrong with the "institutional church." The book is actually quite well written, and has been interesting to read, but it frustrates me to no end. After I read it for a while I end up walking around the house talking to myself in a loud voice, scaring Ramel and the cats, and generally ranting like a loon. That is because the author makes big sweeping statements based on what I believe to be some incorrect presuppositions, and he goes too far in his criticisms. Personally, I think we need to be very careful in how we find and express fault with Jesus' Bride.
My purpose here is not to critique Lund's book or analyze his arguments. However, I find that I share some of his frustrations with the modern church, especially here in America, though most if not all the problems exist other places as well. In 2,000 years of history the Church of Jesus Christ has come a long way from its humble beginnings. It has evolved into something that the first Christians would find hard to recognize. The Early Church portrayed in the Book of Acts and in the Epistles is a far cry from the institutional church we have come to know and accept as normal. Of course, we know that over time humans naturally form customs, traditions, and habits . That's not a bad thing in itself. However, some of our ways of doing things in the modern church are actually antithetical to the pattern layed down in God's Word, and are thus detrimental to fulfilling our mission.
I think that if the apostles were to come back and sit in on our Sunday services and observe our business meetings and small group gatherings for a few days they would be very perplexed indeed. For example, the New Testament describes a Christianity where every believer is a priest, a minister of God. The division between clergy and laity is totally foreign to the scriptures. Moreover, the form of worship that we have adopted, where an elite few perform before a passive audience of onlookers is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. Without a doubt our overemphasis on music would throw them for a loop. They would undoubtedly be amazed and disheartened at how much importance we place on church buildings and property. The role of a "senior pastor"/CEO/buck-stops-here decision-maker would leave them scratching their heads. And the idea of "mega-churches"-- I don't think they would buy that one at all, ever.
The good thing that has come to me while reading this nutty book is a clearer mental picture of what I think the Lord had in mind when He said, "I will build My Church." Even before buying this book at Goodwill I was feeling very uncomfortable with the modern paradigm we see repeated nearly everywhere.
For most people the Sunday morning service is the most important gathering of the church. It is the high point, the BIG DEAL. The small groups that meet during the week in homes for Bible study and prayer are seen as mere feeders to the large Sunday gathering. However, from my study of Acts and the Epistles I think we have gotten the thing turned around backwards. I think that the house meetings are supposed to be the BIG DEAL. I believe that we need to form what are essentially "house churches," each led by godly, mature, servant leaders (what the Bible calls elders/overseers). These small "churches" should worship together, study the Word together, pray for one another, hold one another accountable, serve together in meaningful Kingdom-building ministries, eat together, play together, etc. These house churches should be the primary entry point for unbelievers to be impacted with the Gospel. These small groups should be the places where new believers are nurtured, and loved, and assimilated into the larger Body of Christ.
Then, on Sunday all these "house churches" come together to celebrate, to worship, to sing their brains out, to share what God has been doing throughout the week. It should be a joy-filled room with every person anxious to share what God has been doing in his/her life. There may or may not be a sermon. Most of the teaching would go on in the small groups. Sunday would be for sharing, and testifying, and praising God.
Think about it! Wouldn't that be a cool church to be a part of? I don't have all the details worked out yet in my mind, but I'm excited to see what God has in store for us. Right now at Sellwood we only have three small groups up and running, and none of them is functioning yet as a "house church." I'm hoping we can move them in this direction. Moreover, only about half of our people are plugged into a weekly small group. That means that half of our folks are not really "in" the church. They are basically spectators, on the outside looking in, missing out on the most precious part of being a Christian; namely, the connectedness of being a beloved, useful, participating member of the local church family.
I wonder sometimes what Jesus thinks when He looks down from Heaven to observe what we are up to. I'm so glad that He is patient and long-suffering with us. But He must say to Himself, "I explained it to them, I gave them the Book, I gave them My Spirit, I sent them the Apostles to lay the foundations... and they still can't seem to get it right." But we will continue to press on.
Crazy like a fox,