Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Barna and the Church

In the comments of the previous entry (big blogs have a "meta," but us small fish just have "comments"), I was asked what exactly I meant by the last post.

Here it is: it was a sarcastic swipe at Barna over a comment he had allegedly made about the local church is becoming irrelevant.

I was probably too sarcastic. And I'll admit, I hadn't seen the quote first-hand, so I broke my own rule of viewing original sources before making comments.

But Barna and others seem to be purveying this notion that the local church is irrelevant, and somehow just a cultural thing, instead of a biblical institution. And I am concerned that this movement seems to be gaining ground.

For example, here is a link to a recent article from Time Magazine on the "simple church" which I think typifies what my concern is: that people can live a perfectly healthy & fulfilled life away from a local body of believers. It's not just a homegroup, or a subgroup of a local body, but this little gathering considers itself a church.

Please don't misunderstand. I'm sure a lot of what they are doing is a reaction to the excesses of the megachurch movement, and to the weak state of evangelical churches as a whole. However, the methods they are employing are just as unbiblical as the movements they are fleeing.

Don't take my word for it, though. Have a look at a simple church site.

Back to Barna. Here are two quotes from an excerpt of his new book, Revolution that exemplify this worrisome attitude:

"In the great awakenings of America’s history, the pattern was always the same: draw people into the local church for teaching and other experiences. In this new movement of God, the approach is the opposite: it entails drawing people away from reliance upon a local church into a deeper connection with and reliance upon God."

"I am not called to attend or join a church. I am called to be the Church."

Now there is probably a sense in which both of these are true, in context. But in a society of Lone Ranger Christians, these types of assertions seem more irresponsible than anything else. Barna at one time said he was on a mission to reform the church; it now seems that he's replaced that mission with a desire to simply discard it altogether.

The local church is not "beside the point;" it is the point. It is the church--the way the Bible mandates that we organize ourselves as believers.


Steve Sensenig said...

It's a shame that we're already embroiled in a detailed conversation about another topic, because I would love to discuss this one with you, too! :) I'm curious what you've seen on our discussion at House2House that is unbiblical. (I say that with full recognition that, in an open forum such as H2H, not all represent a biblical view. But as one of the moderators in that forum, I spend time reading each and every post, and I can assure you that there is a lot of biblical truth being discussed.)

You may not agree with those of us pursuing simple church (and that's fine), but I would think that an honest evaluation of our approach would show a deep respect for the Word of God.

Oh, well...maybe we can talk about it sometime :) Feel free to jump in on the comments (like you, I'm not big enough to have a "meta") on my blog at anytime with your criticisms of the Simple Church concept. I welcome active dialogue and other viewpoints.

steve :)

Gummby said...

Yeah, I'd rather wait. I hope you don't think this was directed at you--it wasn't--mostly at Barna, but also in general the mindset that the local church is irrelevant.

BTW, in that respect, I don't have a problem with simple church. I don't see you saying "we don't have to meet with a local body of believers," which is what Barna seems to be saying (though I haven't read the book, so feel free to help me understand his position if I've misunderstood it). We might disagree on what form the local church should take, but at least there is a recognition that some sort of local gathering is necessary.

The problem I have (& again, this is my perception from this part of the H2H site) is the notion that having leaders (ie, a pastor-teacher and elders) is optional. I think that is unbiblical.

Kim said...

Who is responsible for ensuring that disciples are trained in correct doctrine? If there are no formal "pastors" does one individual claim that responsibility as his own? Is there any formal declaration of a doctrinal stand in these churches?

Steve Sensenig said...

Matt, don't worry. I didn't think it was directed at me at all, although I was curious if viewing my blog prompted you to think about this issue.

There are some really good points to be made from both sides. I would definitely encourage you to read Barna's book before jumping to too many conclusions, but I can also tell you that I don't 100% agree with everything Barna writes in that book (I did read it).

Part of the problem (and this speaks to Kim's question, to a small extent) is that the simple church or house church concept is not defined clearly by one organization for all to follow. It's not a denomination, it's not even really a "movement".

What is happening is that many are starting to recognize (as you mentioned in your post) the weaknesses in many expressions of "institutional church", and are searching the Scriptures for a clear understanding of what "church" should be.

Unfortunately, in this type of conversation, even using the word "church" or "local church" brings so many preconceptions that it's easy to use the same terminology and be talking about many different things!

I think this is what's happening. Barna is not trying to throw out the "local church". He is saying that many believe that "local church" is not defined the way we are currently defining it.

It's actually a fascinating topic, and I'll gladly discuss it with you when you want to. There's much for all of us to learn on both sides. In many ways, it is the logical progression of what many of the Reformers fought for. Unfortunately, because "Reformed" itself has been established as a particular way of doing things, it's hard to take a step back and see it that way.

I understand your concerns about that statement on H2H about pastors and elders. I think I will actually discuss that with some of the other leaders on that site and see if we can't word that better.

To be honest, it had been so long since I had read those FAQs that I didn't realize how open-ended that statement sounded. I can explain this much, though. The word "pastor" is put in quotes because there we are referencing the "paid staff member who is called a pastor" in the institutional church. Ephesians 4 makes it clear that there is a gifting of pastor given to the church (along with the other gifts in verse 11 of that chapter). So I, at least, do not at all reject the idea that there are pastors and teachers in the Body.

I don't know if that helps any, but your observation definitely pointed out the shortcoming in that usage.

steve :)