Thursday, November 5, 2009

One Church?

Is the body of Christ, the Church, really one as Jesus prayed we would be (John 17)? My answer is a resounding no. In fact, one of my greatest frustrations is the constant pissing contests (yes I said that) that go on between churches and even different camps of churches.

You see, if you read my blog as someone who is part of The Journey or someone who is starting to journey back toward Jesus/Church then I want to let you in on a reality happening right now in the American church. A movement away from the traditional style church was launched 20+ years ago. Churches started to reevaluate their effectiveness and ability to reach their communities for Christ. This shift led to changes in style of music, buildings, sermons, and outreach endeavors. This style of church has since become traditional in many ways as well, but there has been another movement. The "emerging" church has become a movement of people who have reinvestigated the entire thing again and are implementing changes once again. Within the emerging church are 3 very different camps.

1. The Relevants - this group is doctrinally and theologically orthodox and seek to find ways to make the message of Christ more relevant for a secular world and society, while seeking to serve the mission of Jesus both personally and communally.

2. The Reconstructionist - this group is usually doctrinally and theologically orthodox, but they spend most of their time critiquing methods and styles. Though they are sound theologically, sometimes they are light on sharing the message because they use most of their time criticizing other churches or camps. Preaching is replaced with conversations. Coffee houses replace buildings or other more traditional gathering spaces. These are not bad changes, though they are often treated as important as the message and ignore that they are simply their chosen methods. This group is often so critical of traditional churches, but can't seem to understand why those traditional churches won't engage in dialogue with them or partner with them in joint endeavors to advance the Kingdom.

3. The Revisionist - this group is not theologically and doctrinally sound. In fact, because of the secularization of our society they have been transformed with it. Methods and Message both have undergone major changes. Core tenants of the Christian faith have been tossed aside as outdated and irrelevant in a 21st century postmodern America. Because of doctrinal wariness this group has often been categorized as the Emergent Church, as opposed to the "emerging" church.

I self-identify in the Relevants camp, if I'm forced to be in one. I don't have a problem with Reconstructionist, but they are often highly critical of anyone not them that they are hard to engage with sometimes. The Revisionist in my opinion is not truly a church. For the church of Jesus is committed to the teaching of sound, biblical doctrine. See any of Paul's letters.

Why do I bring all this up? I'm just so frustrated when I look across the landscape of the church in America and see not only a decline in effectiveness, but fighting between the different camps. Instead of clinging to the message that unites us, we are divided by methods designed by us. I wonder if we really believe Jesus when he said the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another. If we did believe it, would some of this change?

I'd love to hear your thoughts...


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I have thought of churches as school rivals at times with all the complaining, isolation, and competition that seems to arise within individual churchs. In my theology class, we learned about 5 "camps" that varied b/t extremely traditional and extremely secular/cultural doctrines or structures. I like the way you broke it down though and that you said "if you had to be in a camp." I think too much of time is spent by churches identifying themselves with a denomination, an image, or a "camp." While theology is important for sure, how much more effective would the body of Christ be if we all identified with Christ first and foremost? And then all of our denominational and theological issues were an outpouring of our focus on Christ? Church would be so much more effective if churches weren't on opposing teams. How can we promote unity when among us we are divided? I echo your frustration completely.

    ps i removed the first post b/c i forgot to puts quotes around what you said and it was confusing

  3. This is one of the best post I have read in a while. I would say I identify more with the "Relevant" camp, however, I am guilty of flirting with "Reconstructionist" :-)


  4. We are all in some type of camp. We live in subdivisions that have definite type houses. Yet, when we build different type places to proclaim the Gospel we seem to want to exclude each other and become territorial.

    I agree with Pastor Erik statements. We have much to learn as we reach out to the lost and as well to each other in "Unity of the Brethern".

  5. Sarah, unity only happens as humility is lifted up as a virtue of honor. Pride is what keeps "camps" from being for each other.

    DeAntwan, thanks for weighing in. I feel we can all be guilty if we're not careful of falling into the Recontructionist trap of constant critique.

    James, you nail it. Territorial mindsets have no place for others.

  6. Erik,

    Thanks. Thank you for your heart for the gospel. I have personally seen your church's desire to be about the Great Commission by sharing space with other churches to reach students and others in your community. I am aware of your church's commitment and current efforts to take the hope of Christ to the nations. Thank you for your leadership in these things.

    Also, thank you for posting this. It is an important discussion and one that needs to happen. I do see at least these three different viewpoints. While I might choose different names for them, let's take these for now. I contend that the Relevant camp, like the Reconstructionist camp, does at times have poor theology. This is not exclusive to the Reconstructionist camp. Both groups may be characterized, in my opinion, as "usually doctrinally and theologically orthodox." Likewise, Reconstructionists may be critical of Relevants just as Relevants are critical of Reconstructionists. One thing is the positions. Another thing are the character traits or willingness to share frustration or communicate poorly.

    The last couple of posts on my blog have been about some things I have seen which are unhealthy and things which are healthy in U.S. church. While I don't pretend to assume that you have been reading these, I do think clarifying some of this in the next week will be helpful so as not to add to this type of division. While a couple of years ago I may have fit in the Reconstructionist camp as you have it listed here--including the criticism aspect--I have since seen multiple healthy expressions of church of all types, shapes, and sizes. I have seen the assortment of types working together in healthy ways to be about the main thing--sharing the good news of Christ.

    Thanks again!
    almost an M

  7. First of all my friend Ed Stetzer and his co-author David Putman would probably like their book Breaking the Missional Code pages 188-190 cited as the source for this post. Just sayin...

    Secondly, your characterization of the Reconstructionists as "light on sharing the message because they use most of their time criticizing other churches or camps" is wrong. There are those in all 3 who spend all of their time criticizing.

    What Ed and David do write about reconstructionists is that they "think that the current form of church is often irrelevant and the structure unhelpful. Yet they [and this is important] hold to a more orthodox view of gospel and Scripture - the very thing that causes them to question much of the current forms. . . They are responding to the fact after decades of trying fresh ideas in innovative churches, North America is less churched, and those that are churched are less committed."

    We are not a rejection of old forms, but rather are pushing the reset button and going back to biblical forms. Ed and David continue saying that "Motivation plays a huge factor in the Reconstructionists' approach . . . When reconstruction is motivated and driven by a need to fulfill the Great Commission a missional church emerges."

    That is, buildings, multi-level staff, bands, slick marketing campaigns, and topical sermons that have the Bible shoved on top of said topic do absolutely nothing to further God's mission in the world.

    So while "preaching is replaced with conversations" this does not mean the Gospel is set aside. Conversation allows for deep wrestling with the biblical text that cannot happen with someone telling others what they should believe while standing behind a pulpit removed from the very people they are supposedly reaching on a stage. And while "Coffee houses replace buildings or other more traditional gathering spaces" at least we are not anchored to brick and mortar.

    With that said, God uses all kinds of churches - traditional, missional, emerging, contemporary. He is not concerned with the form. What I mean by form is how we choose to organize and structure our church in order to be obedient to a particular function. Form is culturally sensitive and open to different styles and creativity. Form should be relevant and negotiable. For example, if a New Testament church determines that it must pray (a biblical function), then it might organize a Wednesday prayer service (a form) . . . or it might not. What is necessary is praying, not the form or structure we use to organize the praying.

  8. Almost an M - thank for your thoughts. I will definitely go take a look at the blog.

    Michael - I appreciate you weighing in. I haven't read the book that you mentioned. These terms were terms I was given in lecture notes in school that come from a book called Evangelicals Engaging Emergent. Though I do not doubt that the book you mention discusses this, this post was never intended to be presented as something I have created.

    You need to be sure to read carefully my assessment before you disagree with it. I said that Reconstructionist "often" not always, are light on sharing the gospel. In the same way, many Reconstructionist do not spend there time criticizing other churches either. This is referring to particular types of Reconstructionist. The heart of this post isn't really around the idea of the three camps, its more centered, and I feel I make clear, that differences in methods and styles should not cause the constant finger-pointing that happens.

    Most of the blogs, tweets, and forms of communication that I see are not groups who are different building others up and spurring one another along, but rather, they are critiquing others by lifting up higher what they do and how they do it. The post the other day about sound systems vs meeting in neighborhood club houses is an example. Churches who have buildings, whether large or small, rented or owned, are not wrong. Having people gather in large group gatherings to worship together is not unbiblical but very biblical. These same churches who are critiqued for having a sound system or band also have intimate and transparent communities that meet in homes and break bread together, pray, and share with those who have need.

    Despite what may be said, many who are making these critiques are reacting against churches, not investigating the Scriptures to say how can we reach people, because they would find that the Bible doesn't give us a specific way in which the church is supposed to go be church other than being people who seek God's presence, begin to see the world through His perspective, and live to serve His purposes. That can happen with many different strategies and methods, not one set. This is essentially what you said in your last paragraph, but what I've tried to demonstrate through this post.

    When you look back at NT writings and Church History, you don't find people critiquing strategies, you see them calling out heresy and doctrine issues. Today's church is very different. We rarely talk sound doctrine and theology, and we spend most of our debate over strategies. Very different day.

  9. One additional thought: In my "critique" - if you call it that - of Reconstructionist, I said that I'm not against these different methods and strategies that use to share and spread the gospel. I'm all for coffee houses and conversations. My argument is simply this: those who often deploy these strategies are highly critical of others who don't. My claim is that conversations should not replace preaching, but accompany it. Coffee houses should not be lifted up as the new right, when there never was a "right" to begin with.

  10. In regards to the comment about the post "The Curse of the Sound System" you should first of all be aware of who is writing it and you will probably have a different take on it.

    Secondly,you missed the heart of the post. He was not criticizing or saying sound systems were bad - just that it changed everything. He wrote:

    "The church spent $20k on sound, lighting and media and suddenly the circle was replaced with rows….the intimate worship replaced with another modern worship band with a hot worship leader (that would be me!)….and the conversation replaced with a sermon. The intimate conversations they had engaged in were replaced with 3 points and a light show. And with that they left missional behind and moved towards being yet another church plant, meeting in a school with relevant preaching, modern worship and great coffee. Another cookie cutter attractional church.

    Why are so many churches so quick to leave behind the intimacy for a show? Why leave the conversation for another sermon? Why do we who follow such a creative God find ourselves being so un-creative in the way we view church?"

    And I agree. Most of what is called "Relevant" is the same old peanut butter and jelly wrapped in different packaging and really does nothing for God's mission, but it does a lot to entertain. I can think of a lot more things to do with 20k than buy a sound system. Right now FBC Dallas is spending 45,000 per member to build their new building. How do they justify that?

  11. I like peanut butter and jelly.

    Jerry Jones paid 1 billion dollars, on a new stadium, to reach people for the Dallas Cowboys. Why wouldn't a church do the exact same thing to reach people for Christ, if the church can afford it? Its just another method of approach.

    Its just like all the coffee shop owners, who opens a small church of 30 people in their coffee shop one night a week. They take every penny from the coffee shop and "give it" to their own church and let "the church" pay their salary. Smart but just another method, nothing wrong with it at all. Its not an act of nobility though, its a method. And anymore, its not a new idea, lots of people are doing this.

    Just like the multi-site church leader who travels great distances to ensure, The Way, is preached. Not the only method out there but it works. And its not a new idea either, Paul did it.

  12. So when the IMB is 30 million short and my friends who serve overseas no longer get medical benefits and take pay cuts and see their budgets cut in half its ok the spend 45,000 per member to build a new facility? Just making sure that's what your saying Shawn. And read your Bible again Paul did not set up multi-sites he planted indigenous churches and discipled local leaders

  13. Michael,

    I couldn't ever see myself being behind or leading a building project for 130Million, but as quickly as you criticize them for doing that, you set yourself up for others to question you. Who is to say that the amount you spend in your business or church is not excess; after all, this is spoken from people who are privileged to begin with. If you slept in a house last night and had dinner then you are among the world's elite. Anyone and everyone could question each other about what we do with our money. There is nothing wrong with buying a coffee shop and running it, but the money spent to buy that business could have been given to build wells in Africa and you could have just worked at a coffee shop and ministered to people. You see, that is a ridiculous argument to try to make, but we don't have a problem criticizing someone else for the money they spend.

    What dollar amount puts you over the line of approval for being responsible and excessive (according to everyone else)?

    Is it FBC Dallas responsibility to make up a 30 million shortcoming for the IMB? How much do they give annually already, do you know?

    Should denominational leadership realign structure to save money to meet shortcomings? After all, DOM's at county levels often make $70K per year or more? Is that great stewardship of Kingdom money?

    Everyone is so quick to criticize everyone but themselves? This is the problem I have. This is why I wrote the post, because of examples just like this.

  14. See this is what I'm talking about. Quick to attack anyone with a different method than yours.

    There will always be missionaries, who need funding, regardless of weather or not big churches build big buildings. My family is in the mission field, so I hear ya, it can be frustrating to see waste but there will always be missionaries who "need." It's not the big churches fault. In fact in my families experience, the big church has helped them survive.

    I do read my Bible. Thanks for the insult brother, know what Paul did. The idea behind multi-site is what Paul did. Which is plant indigenous churches and discipled local leaders. I know you and others are critical of multi-site because it's not perfect. Neither is a coffee shop owner or the big church in one location.

    The local church is the hope of the world. We are all on the same team though. We can all go "tit for tat" and point out flaws in the systems of others. We are all broken people trying to reach other broken people, who don't have the life saving message of Jesus.

  15. Great post Erik. Great points.

  16. "Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, " I am of Tradional Church" and "I am of Contemporary Church" and "I of House Churches, and "I of the very right Place" Has Christ been divided? Your individual methods, ideology, and supposed spiritual insight about the Church was not crucified for you, was it? Or where you baptized in their perceptions?"

    18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
    "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."[a]
    20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. 26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."[b]

  17. Erik,you know my background.If I were in a camp, it would probably be the Relevants.I am all for thinking outside the box as long as the methods don't conflict with my principles and are biblicaly sound.
    I don't have any problem with churches that meet in homes, coffee houses or wherever!Jesus said if two or three are gathered in my name.
    It is my opinion that the most important thing for a church to be effective is that they be organized. Christ is the Head!
    Erik, it's good to see you have the support and encouragement from your key people.When I read the comments from a certain person in your blogs, I feel the frustration of trying to communicate and yet not being understood.Sad to see some have to be superior in knowledge and critique and correct every thing you say and in such a confrontational way.
    The church started with the calling of twelve men.I am certain the methods and styles have changed since then.Who's to say what method or style is "correct".If God has put something or someone in your heart and your motive is to reach it!
    Sound doctrine is the only way to go. Besides,we don't save anybody, it is God's Holy Spirit that does the birthing and He can work a rooftop,a tree,out in the desert. He can do His work without the aid of a baby grand, or an organ or stained glass windows and padded pews.
    Hang in there Erik, God is using you in a great way!

  18. I don't know if I'm a little late here, but...
    I really do see a lot of comparison vs. contrasting going on in the church today. Pride and Jealousy are replacing unity and oneness and always have. Any thing that the devil can use to place a wedge between churches and church leaders he will do. And know this, he will spare no expense.

    Are there churches spending money on things they shouldn't have when they can use the money toward other things? absolutely! Who am I to judge when I spend my personal money on things I shouldn't have, or even better yet waste my time on things that are not productive.

    The point is this and there is a point I promise. May God bless the little doctrinally and theologically orthodox church as well as the doctrinally and theologically orthodox big church. May the Gospel of Christ be the most monetarily funded movement ever, not by some kind of bracelet or weird gimmick, but by those whose hearts and minds are driven by reaching others and spreading the gospel. May we embrace the fact that God is blessing big churches and pray for wisdom in their spending habits and may we also ask for wisdom with ours.

    If we believe it or not, God will bring wealth creaters into our "camps" someday. Whose to say what we will spend OUR money on then? Are we to run to everyone in the world who is in need? No, Jesus didn't even do that(Capernaum)...

    Great Thoughts all the way around. May we be united and not divided in our journey together. God Bless!