I promise: I was going to remain silent; I got this from Christianity Today, but I resisted comment. But then I read Jonathan Marlowe’s blog on the matter, and I can be silent no more.
Jonathan’s blog starts this way: “This is what you get when you divorce Christology and soteriology from ecclesiology. It is also the natural outgrowth of Barna's other books on church growth and church marketing. The gospel for Barna has become so privatized that the local church is no longer needed.”
Can I get an amen?
I know I’m starting to sound like an old fart, but we seem to be content to throw away any notion of corporate worship or church membership. We might as well ditch the Apostles’ Creed, any understanding about the universal church, what baptism into the Body of Christ means, and any other corporate understanding of church. Just give into American individualism and make Christianity the “Jesus and Me” religion and be done with it.
The critics will say, “Ah, you’re just worried about job security as a pastor.” To which I would respond, “Hogwash.” I imagine I could find a job to make ends meet. But will I find a place where faith, accountability, unconditional love, and worship intersect outside of the local church? I think not.
Barna writes of fictional folks who stopped going to church because they did not find a ministry "that was sufficiently stimulating" and "their church, although better than average, still seems flat." It sounds like people want to be catered to and entertained. Maybe so… but I don’t recall any definition of family or church that assumes those things.
I had a wonderful visit with a church member today; we went for a country stroll on this beautiful winter day, and talked about the blessings and necessity of the local church. How it keeps us centered, challenged, held, and loved. And we wondered aloud how in the world people get by without it?
Maybe it’s time for a sports analogy; I don’t recall any coach I ever had winning us over by being “sufficiently stimulating” and entertaining. Some days I felt chastised and unworthy; however, I can honestly say that I was always treated fairly and with the intent of bettering myself. The dependence and strength gained from fellow team members challenged me and encouraged me.
Giving in to Barna’s observations is to not only give in to American sentiment, but to validate it. I suspect we are not to render to Caesar in this matter, but rather to God. Privatizing the faith is not just a mistake; it’s blasphemy.