What makes a church a church? This is an important question with all the novel approaches to no-church-churches that we currently see in the contemporary evangelical world. Its also an important question for Simple Free, since we don’t look like a typical church– meeting in a house, without a pastor, etc. Kevin DeYoung writes interesting books. He has a book called “Just Do Something” which encourages 20 and 30-somethings to stop sitting around waiting to figure out what to do and just start doing things. Thats an interesting thesis. Another book DeYoung wrote with Ted Kluck is “Why We Are Not Emergent”, in which they explain why the Emergent Church movement is flawed. Now these young authors have a new book, “Why We Love the Church”, an adamant defense of traditional church as being essential to the Christian life. There is a nice interview with DeYoung in a recent Christianity Today magazine about his views (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/august/35.58.html) They are responding to disgruntled Christians, many of whom have come out with recent books like Pagan Christianity?, Quitting Church, Life After Church, and They Like Jesus But Not the Church. DeYoung and Kluck respond that despite its flaws, the traditional institutional church is important, and loved by Christ. They say at one point:
“And any husband worth the paper his marriage license is printed on will be jealous to guard the good name of his wife. She may be a lying, no good,
double-crossing poor excuse for a wife, but if she’s your wife, you’ll protect
her honor, whatever may be left of it. And woe to the friend who comes
around your house, hangs out, and expects to have a good time, all the while getting digs in on your bride. Who wants a friend who rolls his eyes and sighs every time your wife walks into the room? Apparently, some people imagine Jesus wants friends like that. They roll their eyes and sigh over the church.”
This seems like a great book to start conversation and thinking about the value of traditional church structure and institution, and a thoughtful response to those who are overly critical of traditional church. Some of the things DeYoung says are essential to the church are: preaching, praying, singing, sacraments, pastor, sermon, doctrinal boundaries, regular meetings. In reference to Churchless Christianity they say ” It’s important to remember that when you have two people at Starbucks who are talking about Jesus, that’s nice and that may be a group of Christians, but a church has order, offices, and certain worship elements.”
This is a great challenge for us at Simple Free to think about, because we don’t have a church building per se (DeYoung doesn’t think that is necessary), yet we do have a lot of elements of what DeYoung seems to think are essential for the institutional church: order, worship (liturgy), songs, prayer, sacraments (we have communion each week), doctrinal boundaries (we follow the Free Church statement of faith) and regular meetings.
It would appear that we fail to be a real church on DeYoung’s account because we do not have a pastor, a sermon, or offices. Now DeYoung, a pastor from the Calvinist branch of the Reformed tradition (Arminius was from the Dutch Reformed tradition, so 5 point Calvinists are a part but not the whole of ‘Reformed thought”) seems to have a strong emphasis on the sermon and the pastors role in preaching it. That makes sense given the Calvinists view that the sermon is the center of Church worship, as well as the Enlightenment roots of that Reformed tradition which highly valued ‘informing’ the congregation of new knowledge (in the Enlightenment tradition). But that the sermon is the center of worship is a Calvinist viewpoint, not shared by everyone. Its almost like saying if a church doesn’t have the same central emphases of the Calvinists, then its not a church (I don’t think DeYoung would really say that, but it could come across that way). There are Christian traditions without pastors– such as the Brethern or Quaker traditions, or home churches. And in the Anglican or Catholic Church, it would likely be argued that the liturgy and communion are much more important than the homily itself.
Now that offices are important in the historical church is a point well taken, and while Simple Free was at 5 regular attenders for 6 months, it didn’t seem very relevant to try to figure out which of us would be the elders. Direct congregational rule works great at that size. Now that we have more like 12 coming, we will probably have to make some decisions about such things, but fortunately we already have bylaws in place for just such an occassion (the bylaws were put in place by our original 4, with the expectation if we grew a bit, we’d revisit them and congregationally decide how to modify them and move forward). The congregational rule is a problem for many in the calvinist tradition, but thats kind of a side issue here I believe. I’m a strong advocate of congregationally-elected Elders in churches– but primarily because I think they provide direction and some pushback and accountability to the congregation, and to a pastor when one has a pastor. A pastor without an elder board is not a good situation, in my view.
I do think Deyoung and Kluck’s book is timely and is a good reminder first of all not to complain or be overly critical of churches and especially traditional practices of churches. We do tend to be very consumer-like in our church-expectations and very self focused in what we expect. But most important I really like the general thrust of the book– that those who want to throw out traditional church practices as being irrelevant in our postmodern age are mistaken– is for the most part right on. People are hungry for church tradition, actually. Simple Free is starting to get inquiries from local small groups at other churches about utilizing liturgy and the church calander of scripture passages (not that we have any corner on the market– we simply shamelessly rip off book of common prayer liturgy and use old hymnbooks from the free church of my youth (from the days when hymnbooks were used instead of power projectors). I believe there is a hunger for MORE tradition, not less, among many younger believers. A highlight of our service each week is singing an old hymn accapella together. It isn’t news that many are rediscovering the historical church and its liturgy, prayers, hymns, and other practices such as fasting and honoring lent and advent– and they are finding powerful life in Christ through these historic church practices. Call it retro Christianity, call it old fashioned Christianity, call it historic Christianity, whatever it is, it is far from reinventing the wheel, it is simply going back and submitting to what the church has used for millenia to establish good faith and Christian practice.
I’m just not conviced that a pastor and a sermon are quite as essential as DeYoung and Kluck do. I hope thats just because I don’t have a Calvinist viewpoint on that issue, and not because I’m not Biblical. May God give us wisdom and grace.
For the introduction to their book check out: http://www.moodypublishers.com/Media/MediaLibrary/WhyWeLoveChurchExcerpt.pdf
Also check out DeYoung’s site at:
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