Jesus made a definitive statement regarding the church. He said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). From the days of the early church, a pattern has existed regarding the church’s nature and function. The very word “church” indicates a calling out from the world. R.C. Sproul, in his commentary on Ephesians has written, “To be called by God out of the world and into the body of Christ is the highest vocation possible.” However, in our present day, pastors and church leaders seem to be consistently looking to the culture to redefine, reinvent, and restructure church. This type of behavior is much like the modern Wikipedia site where the culture contributes to define terms and provide research. We are living in a “Wikipedia Church” culture.
As we examine the church in Acts 2, the entire group was brought together first and foremost by the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. The center hub was the Word of God. Today, when you have conversations with people in the community and ask them why they have chosen their church, it’s normally something related to some program and most of the time related to the style of music. Rather than singing praise in response to the sound doctrine that was preached, today’s church assembles for the music first and the preaching is just a part of the show – or in some cases – a side show altogether.
Dr. Steven Lawson in his book, Famine in the Land, has stated the following:
“A new way of ‘doing’ church is emerging. In this radical paradigm shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics. The pulpit, once the focal point of the church, is now being overshadowed by a variety of church-growth techniques, everything from trendy worship styles to glitzy presentations and vaudeville-like pageantries. In seeking to capture the upper hand in church growth, a new wave of pastors is reinventing church and repackaging the gospel into a product to be sold to ‘consumers.'”
Everything from dress to the length of our sermons is being shaped and reshaped by our culture. Recently, as I was traveling through our town I passed a sign in a Methodist church’s front lawn that stated, “Rethink Church.” While we certainly have freedom to rethink certain things related to practical life and ministry, we don’t have freedom to reinvent the worship and functionality of the church from God’s original design. Like marriage, God has a plan that we should not alter. The same thing is true regarding the church. No matter how advanced our culture becomes, the church will remain old fashioned in many things related to the functionality of the church’s life. We must be wise. We must use discernment. When a church advertises itself by saying, “This is not your momma’s church” – they are communicating something significant.
We Must Not Rethink Relationships
As a boy, I remember the television show The Brady Bunch. Do you remember the preview that aired before each show? It contained a little song and the main characters of the show appeared in squares on a screen where they all looked around as if they were looking at one another on one big screen. Interestingly enough, that show predated all of the technology boom. They didn’t know about FaceTime and Skype. In today’s advanced culture, many church leaders are using technology to pipe in preachers on screens to multi-site campuses and others are reinventing the wheel altogether. Some are meeting online only and calling it – church.
Kent Hughes writes in Disciplines of a Godly Man, “Another reason for the de-churching of many Christians is the historic individualism of evangelical Christianity and the grass-roots American impulse against authority. The natural inclination is to think that one needs only an individual relationship with Christ and needs no other authority. Such thinking produces Christian Lone Rangers.” Let’s face it, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto! The very word ekklesia “church” is made up of two distinct ideas. First the prefix communicates the fact that God called the church out of the world. The root word communicates the idea of being called to assembly. The fabric of the church is intertwined with relationships. We need one another and God has never intended us to be islands or Lone Ranger Christians. Therefore, as we use technology in our church we must not replace personality and presence with pixels on a screen. When we communicate with one another and invest in one another’s lives – we must not limit it to 140 characters on a Twitter message or a text message on our smart phones. We need real face time. We need one another.
We Must Not Rethink Worship
I’m not referring to music styles. Although I do believe we must be cautious in what music we select for use in our worship, the use of “new” songs has been part of the church’s history from the beginning. In fact, when Martin Luther penned “A Mighty Fortress” in his day – it was a new song. We must never rethink worship to the point that we replace the preaching of God’s Word as the central function and foundational element of worship. The Word of God shapes everything and when it is minimized and replaced – worship ceases. No matter how much praying and singing an assembly has – if the Word of God is muzzled – the church becomes something other than a church.
We are free to rethink how we structure our prayer meetings. We are free to rethink how we strategize to reach our community – even by the use of technology. Much wise thinking and decision making must be made regarding the way we approach church, but there are many things that are beyond the bounds of restructure.
As we think about the nature and purpose of the church, we must be very cautious to turn to God’s Word for answers regarding church. We must avoid the “Wikipedia” approach to church. If we allow culture to reinvent church for us, we will eventually become a religious entertainment outlet to ease the carnal minds of man rather than a genuine church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Josh Buice