Saturday, August 4, 2007

A Post-It Theses for these Newfangled Glass Church Doors

In October of 2006, at BCC is Broken, I posted 32 theses, a rambling rant of sorts reflecting my convictions on the brokenness of the Church. I've excised some. Here's what remains.

1. Discipleship is designed to be experienced in community. God saves individuals, but He does not save them to an individual faith but to a kingdom life populated with other citizens who share that faith.

2. The Bible designates one vessel to hold this kingdom community, and it is The Church. You might fraternize with other believers in coffee shops, informal communes, online chat rooms or forums, blogs, bars, or the big outdoors, but only biblical churches satisfy the discipleship need for The Church.

3. Honest Christians will differ on what constitutes a “biblical church,” and while disagreement is understandable and okay, beware of any church that says, explicitly or implicitly, “we do it right” or “we do it better” than the church down the street.

4. Ecclesiological one-upmanship (“My church is better than your church”) is a sin.

5. The reason you should not give up on church or The Church is because Jesus did not give up on you. And if He calls the church His Body, giving up on it means giving up on Him.

6. There are no perfect churches, especially if they have people in them.

7. Expecting a church to “fit” you or to always be comfortable or catering to your needs is arrogance and foolishness.

8. You can pick your friends and you can pick your church, but as in all families, you don’t get to pick who’s in The Body. Only God can do that. And when you decide certain people (or certain churches) are not worthy of your presence, ask yourself if you are worthy of God’s. (Hint: You’re not. But he came into your life anyway.)

9. My friend Bill Roberts has been doing church work for years. Two blog posts he’s written you really should read are More on “Why Church?” and Is the Bride Beautiful?.
Seriously, click on them and read. They are important.

10. If the entirety of your churchy desires consists of filling a seat to experience a good service, you are not a congregant in a church but a consumer at a concert.

11. What you win people with is what you win them to.
Win people with flash, spectacle, presentation, etc., and that’s what you win them to. Don’t be surprised if, like all consumers and what attracts them, they eventually get tired and move on to the next attraction. Don’t be surprised if, provided they remain, they continually request more, better, higher . . .

12. Church leaders don’t really need to choose between fidelity to the Gospel and engaging the culture. They just need to make sure they put them in order. First things go first and inform secondary things. Fidelity to the Gospel should inform your cultural engagement, and not vice versa. If your first aim is to please man, you will please some god, but it won’t be the God you want to please. But if your first aim is to please God, you will please some men.

13. Some men won’t be pleased if your first aim is to please God. This is called “the scandal of the cross,” or “the offense of the Gospel,” and it can’t be helped if you are faithful to God’s Word.

14. Decide if you’d rather give people what they want to hear or what they need to know. People need to know they are sinners in need of a Savior. People want to hear that deep down they’re okay and their good buddy J.C. affirms them in their okay-ness, which is b.s. that helps nobody.

15. You don’t have to beat people over the head when telling them what they need, and in fact, if preached well and practiced incarnationally, you will find that you will win more than you’d think.

16. You cannot program a church into success. Programs are great, but they are applications. They are the “how” of doing church. Give up the tyranny of results and start with the “what” and “why” questions first.

17. A church’s success should be neither entirely nor primarily measured by its attendance. Also, a church’s growth should not be entirely or primarily measured numerically.

18. It is okay to think about numbers and numeric growth. Beware of church growth philosophy extremes. But the litmus test for whether something should be done in or by a church should never be “will it increase attendance?”. Naked ladies giving away free Krispy Kremes will increase attendance. Hiring Oprah Winfrey to speak (preferably clothed) on self esteem will increase attendance. It is okay to think about and strategize for numeric growth. But when you cut corners on the Gospel or pander, you are not trusting God for that growth; you are trusting yourselves.

19. Churches that advertise more in terms of what they’re against (“religion,” “tradition,” “formality,” other churches, etc.) are playing to people’s bitterness and will likely be filled with bitter, prideful people.
Defining yourself by what you’re not gets old quick.

20. Let’s be clear: It’s not a sin to be unhip. If “religious” to you just means “not down with the times,” religion is not your problem; idolatry is.
C.S. Lewis said, “To go with the times is of course to go where all times go.”

21. It’s not a sin to be unhip, but it is a sin to be boring when talking about God or presenting His Word. It doesn’t actually say that in there ;-), but if you believe it is true when it says we shouldn’t be ashamed of the Gospel because it has power to save, you should at least act like you believe it.
This means that, whether you’re doing the preaching or listening to it, if you are angry, sad, or cynical more than you’re happy, joyous, and hopeful, you’re doing it wrong.

22. On the flipside of “it’s a sin to make the Gospel boring,” is that you can’t make the Bible relevant. The Bible’s already relevant. Generations of churches made it sound irrelevant but it wasn’t because they were unhip but because they were unfaithful. Be honest about, engaging with, and faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and people will see its relevance.

23. Lots of people who think they have traded religion for a relationship with Jesus have actually done no such thing. They’ve just traded an outdated religion for a newer model.
It is true that works will not save you – in fact, the truth of salvation by grace in Jesus Christ should be shouted from the rooftops – but if your “Christianity” is about incorporating Jesus into your life in order to be happy or successful or generally more at peace with yourself, guess what? That’s religion. And it ain’t even a good one.

24. You can be just as prideful and in just as much “stale religiosity” in a casual, informal, rah-rah “yea Jesus” church service as you can in a dressy, formal, “serious” one, particularly if you are proud of being casual and informal and rah-rah.

25. Worship is about connecting with God, telling Him and your fellow worshippers how much He is worth. You can just as easily do that with loud drums and electric guitars as you can an organ (and vice versa), provided your heart’s in the right place. It has nothing to do with style and everything to do with substance. You know you care more about the former than the latter when you start thinking more about performance than praise.

26. Worship is not just something you do to music. The quality of the Christian life is one of worship.

27. These things are not things I’ve known so much as learned in my slow, imperfect journey with Jesus, and in the ongoing purification process the Bible calls “sanctification” but which I frequently think of as “becoming less stupid.”

(You can read the original 32 Theses here.)


dle said...


Excellent post. Glad to see you back in fighting form!

But, in the spirit of blogging, I will take exception to a couple of the points.

On #2:

The Church isn't defined by its meetings. The Church is defined by the Holy Spirit indwelling believers. You are the Church. I am the Church. We are the Church. And we are the Church wherever we go, even to all those other lesser encounters you mentioned. You are correct in #1 that God sets up His Kingdom as a community. But to say that only happens within a formalized meeting of the local church may be pushing that point too far and in too limited a direction.

I disagree that discipleship only occurs within a local church meeting. We both know that no one church seems to have it all together on all aspects of the faith. Where then do we find those missing pieces?

I would contend we find them in the very places you diminish. I would go so far as to say that in today's churches MOST discipleship is found OUTSIDE the church proper. We can debate whether that's the way it should be or not, but that doesn't change reality.

In the case of blogs, I would say that I've learned a great deal in the years I've been blogging, not only by writing a blog, but by being challenged by people from vastly different Christian upbringings than mine. I simply cannot find that same variety of thought and experience in my local church, no matter how excellent my church might be.

Sadly, in most cases, our churches tend to be ghettos of likeminded people with one commonly approved set of beliefs and emphases. If I go to a church that places a huge emphasis on personal holiness, that may very well come at the expense of going into gay bars to minister to the people there. If I go to a church that emphasizes going into gay bars to minister, that may come at the expense of an international missions emphasis.

We've both been around enough to know how churches work. We know the trade-offs that often occur. We know what gets emphasized and what gets forgotten.

So where does one go to expand one's discipleship vistas? Sometimes you have to go outside what is traditionally considered "church."

Again, I'm not sure it should be that way, but then again, I'm not sure how it cannot be that way. There are too many kinds of people, and we like to flock with those like us.

I mean, just look at your blogroll. It's highly Reformed. Do you think that there's no other expressions of Christianity that might challenge you to grow more than just the ones found in the Reformed camp? Do the Orthodox have anything to teach you? Or the Assemblies of God? How about a Holiness church?

But if you don't engage those people outside your church, will you truly experience all Christ has for you as His disciple? And since it's unlikely you'll engage them by church-hopping, where will you meet them if not in the very types of encounters you say are not worthy of true discipleship?

On #22:

I'm not sure that people necessarily made the Gospel sound irrelevant because they were unfaithful.

If our idea of being faithful means we go down to the local streetcorner with a megaphone and preach the Gospel, that may have worked a 100 years ago, but I doubt it would have the same impact today. People today want to see us demonstrate in a practical way what we say we believe. Just don't shout to me that I'm a sinner that needs God's grace, love me as Jesus loved. Be willing to draw alongside me for as long as it takes for me to see Jesus. That's not the way it used to be. We might say that the lack of love for others by some Christians caused this "Prove it!" stance in people, but that doesn't change the fact that what we once did may no longer work the same way.

Tim Keller's been pushing this reality for some time and he's right. We DO need to change with the times. This may have nothing to do with being unfaithful and everything to do with changes in culture. We must be willing to adapt the way we live out the Gospel even as the Gospel itself does not change.

Jared said...

We must be willing to adapt the way we live out the Gospel even as the Gospel itself does not change.

Absolutely. My point is only that the Gospel remain central.

Thanks for the (long!) comment, and I wish I had the time to respond properly. Here are some brief thoughts:

1) I don't necessarily have a churchy view of church in mind when I list those things in #1 as not being church. I just think many of the alterna-church efforts going on are ways to narrow down what God has delineated broadly in Scripture -- crosscultural, crossgenerational formal meetings for worship and teaching in a community that has leaders and teachers and servers. I think the coffee shop churches, etc. (and most house church movements) trend self-indulgent.

2) I do know that for most of us discipleship occurs outside the church building. It does for me, actually, except as I include my own service.

3) The Reformed-centric blogroll is actually outside my tradition/experience. I identify with what these folks believe and are saying, so naturally I am compelled to include them as they seem to fit this blog's aim. But I've never been a part of a Reformed congregation.
I am a member of a non-denominational, seeker-friendly mega church.

4) Other Christian traditions have lots to teach me. The trajectory of my adult discipleship has largely been one of growing into newness. I was raised in a revivalist Baptist background and considered Calvinism a heresy (despite not knowing what it was).
I was a cessationist, a dispensationalist, an Arminian, a believer in congregational democracy, etc etc.

My evolving out of those beliefs was influenced directly by writers/speakers from traditions and movements outside of my own.

I am still most influenced by writers/speakers from outside my own, as my blogroll actually indicates.

Jared said...

Oops, just noticed, Dan, that that comment was from you. I read "dle" as another set of initials who comments on Thinklings.

In my defense, I will only point out that my name is Jared, not Jason. :-)

dle said...


Oh man, I am so sorry about the name! I know better, obviously! That's what I get for staying up late to post comments on deep issues. Maybe I need an MRI...

Okay, I give you permission to kick me once.

And I hate to admit it, but I am "dle" all the way around, both here and on The Thinklings. Me, Dan. So mistaken identities abound. It's like a Shakespeare play!

Jared said...

Oh, I know! It's just, there's another guy who comments on Thinklings who goes by dlb or dbd or something like that.

Nhe. Dle. Dlb. You initial guys are killing me! :-)

Anonymous said...

To continue dle's thought regarding #2:
Did Jesus do church? What did that look like in the Gospels compared to our forms today? - no music, sometimes stories, sometimes discussion in a small group, one on one. God was there for sure.

What did the church look like in Acts? They mostly met in homes that is for sure. Mostly, it seems to me, that they are not very similar in what they did in the meetings nor very similar to what we do most Sundays.

Much of what the church does and the structures and programs it runs today cannot be found the bible.

So my question is how does your definition of the church line up with the bible?