UPDATE: Moderation is on. My apologies that I have to do this so often.
Bill Kinnon reviews DeYoung and Kluck’s newest book, Why We Love the Church. I haven’t read the book, and won’t, but Bill did, and talks about it.
A sympathetic DeYoung reader/hearer makes some very pertinent observations about the direction of things.
My mailbox is the constant recipient of the stories of those who have left the church, are considering leaving, or are wondering why they haven’t. Their stories are a large part of what I carry with me when I write or speak. Some of their stories are typical of leavers, and would not impress those who love the church. Other stories, however, are clearly stories of churches that are wrong. Deeply, painfully, often irreparably wrong. These stories make me angry that there exists people who, in the name of the infallibility of Christ, claim their church is right in situations of heinous and obvious wrongdoing.
I often get links to websites where individuals and groups in particular churches are using the internet to air their grievances against their church. I tend to believe a lot of what I read because it comports with human nature, but I respect the process churches may be using to deal with these situations, so I don’t ever publish those links. That may be wrong, but it’s a choice I’ve stayed with, so I am not an unaware critic with an agenda to tear up ministries and churches. Far from it.
We’re in an interesting cycle. A bunch of Protestants- Protestants, mind you- are constantly writing and blogging about the church in a way that leaves little room for their churches to be wrong and no way for the churches of their theological opponents to be right.
So if a Calvinist stalwart X rents a storefront, appoints his eight best friends as elders and announces a series of sermons exposing N.T. Wright as a heretic, they’re a church and you’d be wise to not criticize. On the other hand, if open theist Y is pastor of a church that’s a hundred years old in a denomination with an orthodox confession and real oversight, you’re advised to get out of that church as soon as possible, because it’s a den of damnable false teaching.
The latest 2 day theology conference can issue a confession and render opinions on all matters related to family, gender and church order, but the Roman Catholic Church is not a church.
If you leave a church you’re disgruntled, a whiner or spiritually rebellions, unless you leave an emerging church (see furnished list), in which case you’ve obeyed the Holy Spirit.
Here are some verses that go together. Pay close attention:
Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever….17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Jesus talked a lot about the nature of power in leadership, usually in some version of calling leaders to be servants:
Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said, â€œYou know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.â€
Now let’s assume that a leader or leaders do not imitate Jesus. Their lives are not worthy of imitation. They see the ministry as an advantage to themselves, not to you. They assume the posture of “great ones,” never the posture of servants, and they are constantly redefining servant leadership to mean whatever they happen to have done recently, i.e. promote the new building program.
In many quarters today, because there is not an explicit passage saying “here’s how to leave,” it’s common to hear those who leave such a situation described as whiners, immature, church haters and disgruntled. That’s a form of seeking to intimidate the critic into silence, and it needs to be called what it is.
In many, many cases, such persons have experienced actions that involve serious manipulation and pain. They may have decided they cannot stand to be brutalized in the pulpit week after week. They may have concluded that last week’s sermon on how tattoos are an alternate baptismal symbol indicating you’re on the devil’s team was the last straw in the legalism department. They may have decided they don’t want to put their children in the church’s children and youth program where they will be trained in entertainment and consumerism masquerading as discipleship. They may have observed instances of ministerial malpractice, but they know being the person to blow the whistle will cost them dearly.
Now you can say whatever you want about such persons, and you may be right in some points, but it is hard for me to see how these are disgruntled whiners. And short of a view that certain Protestant congregations are the only portals to eternal life, it is hard to say that those who leave these churches are imperiling their souls. For many people, the peril of their souls is exactly why they are gone.
Further, the churches being defended are deeply different in their approach to ministry. Church A may be a full menu traditional church, while church Q is a multi campus, preaching heavy, small group oriented church. If members of A or Q hear Frank Viola and decide to take up with a group of organic Christians or house worshipers in their community, why are they not serious? How have they abandoned the bride of Christ?
If our hypothetical church leavers simply step away from the institutional church to see where the Kingdom of God can be found in their world, are they in the position of being traitors, or are they perhaps doing exactly what the church needed to do all along, i.e. send missionaries out into the community and world for the sake of the Kingdom?
I just mention these thoughts to make a simple point: The current defense of the church may be necessary, but many of the assertions being made are not necessary and have about them the scent of males in power having far too much fun flirting with infallibility. The Christian ministry is one of the few places in our world that men can assert that they and their institutions must be submitted to in the name of God. That’s heady stuff, and I’m not even close to being prepared to buy the bona fides of everyone who claims it.
Choices about the church are very fundamental. I do not believe Protestants can ever underestimate the seductive lure of high ecclesiologies and their claims of authority for those who fear their church is not getting proper respect. On the other hand, the low ecclesiology of the New Testament makes the church’s entire value its connection to Jesus, its organic head. (I can do no better than the Sweet/Viola Jesus Manifesto on that one.) When Protestants begin talking about the church in terms that Roman Catholics would recognize as being their own view of infallibility and salvation, it’s time for a serious review of what’s going on.
The Reformation was a wonderful thing, and its failure to avoid the state-church connection or to establish the church as a missional movement was its great failing. The good news was that the Reformation gave Protestants to tools to repair their own ship, rather than scuttle it. Many readers will fault Bill Kinnon for saying that Deyoung and Kluck are throwing cheap red meat to the galleries and will point out that emergers do the same. I acknowledge that may be true, but I also must acknowledge that for all they get wrong and for all their youthful arrogance, the emergers will seldom be found touting the centrality of “Submit to your leaders” or sounding like their churches are too right to ever be wrong.
The current defenses of the church do well to laud it as the bride of Christ, but when those who have been abused, berated, manipulated and stuffed full of legalism must endure the epitaphs of being whiners and immature, selfish agitators in order to question the church or tell their story, the defense is itself flawed. That’s “do as I say, not as I do,: baptized and dressed in ecclesiastical gear. It deserves to be ridiculed. It’s foolish and it’s dangerous.
I have no grievance with the call for loyalty and confidence in the church. Just place all of this in the context of the kinds of churches we read about in Revelation 2-3, and with plenty of room for the church and its leadership to be very, very wrong.
I cannot and will not stand with a church no matter what it does. There are times to walk away, and times to speak critical, truthful words. Our defenses of the church must preserve the centrality of individual integrity and the superior loyalty we have to Christ over any institution.
NOTE: I want to be clear that I love the church and believe it is normal and Biblical for Christians to be part of community. There are some things in the Christian life that are not possible outside of community. I am NOT insisting that believers leave the church, but I am asking for a more sophisticated discussion of what that leaving or distancing may mean. We live in an era when many churches act as if they are the Kingdom. They are not. Many act as if Jesus does not work outside of them. That is not true. For example, listen to part of the Challies review of the DeYoung and Kluck book:
The authors show how the church is central to all that God is doing in the world and prove well that without the church there is no Christianity. They take the historic view that participating in the church is normative for the Christian lifeâ€”that under ordinary circumstances we should not expect a person who deliberately remains outside the visible church to be a true believer.
The words “normative” and “ordinary” are helpful, but saying all true believers are part of ??? visible church is confusing and wrong. Challies rejects the RCC and many, many other churches as being illegitimate. And what do you make of the causality of the sentence “without the church there is no Christianity?” I find it utterly astonishing and thoroughly worthy of the applause from the Romans in the room. The Old Testament covenant, the OT remnant, Christ, his movement, his disciples, his apostles: all precede the institutional church. The church is the great evidence that Jesus has sent the Spirit into the world. But I am not surprised- at all- to find someone saying that without the church there is no Christianity. I’m just surprised it’s not a statement defending the RCC.
When Jesus threatens to remove a church’s candlestick, but says he stands at the door to have fellowship with anyone who opens the door, we ought to think more carefully about what he is saying and to whom.
A well known reformed blogger has written “Here’s the thing: the church is a consequence of the Gospel. That is, the Gospel causes the church.” That’s absolutely correct, and why the church always stands under the Gospel, hence Revelation 2-3.