As Christians, we are living in an age that lauds division. Nowhere does this come out more clearly than in the drive to start and plant churches.
Consider the phrase, “starting a church.” Men talk about this kind of thing all the time. “So-and-so started a church across town.” Or, “some members of First Baptist got fed up with their pastor’s indifference toward social justice, so they quit going there and started their own church in a coffee house.” Or perhaps, “brother Jones down at Grace Community got kicked out of his church for causing trouble because he felt his gifts weren’t being properly used in that congregation, so he started a Bible study in his house.”
And people applaud this kind of thing, this kind of “freedom”, because we are living in an age that lauds division among Christians.
I don’t know about you, but nothing troubles me more sometimes than hearing people talk about their “vision.” There are a hundred visions out there for every 100 Christian leaders. All are pulled from scripture, and almost all inevitably become the justifiable means for one brother to separate from other believers in his town in order to do his own thing. In fact, I don’t think it would be too great a stretch to say that most “churches” out there exist merely to provide a platform for some guy’s teaching/preaching ministry.
Please forgive me if I’m being too harsh here. I know most people don’t take part in such activities because they intentionally want to spoil the unity of the Body of Christ, or for any other malicious intent. It just goes to show the spirit of the age we are living in, and how conditioned we are accept division in the name of somebody’s vision. The practical expression of our oneness suffers every time somebody gets a new vision of what they think God wants them to do in their town.
Let’s say I want to “start a church” by today’s standards. The first thing I might do is start a Bible study in my house and invite some friends over, mostly those who are disgruntled with their present church experience. Assuming that I have a teaching gift, I proceed to teach and lay out my personalized vision of what I believe God is doing and how I believe He is doing it. If I’m successful, I eventually acquire a larger premises in order to accommodate a bigger crowd. Outreach ministries are started as the vision develops, and various other programs are added along the way. Then I come up with a trendy name for our new organization, obtain non-profit status, and establish regular meeting times, all the while keeping an eye out for those who can support my ministry through prayer, money, and their own gifting.
Is that a church? By today’s standards it is. Yet I find no correlation to our present-day practice anywhere in the first century story.
But what are you saying, Josh? Aren’t you one to advocate believers leaving the oppressive system of institutional Christianity when God gives them a vision and leads them out? Are not you yourself an advocate of house church, small intimate gatherings of “twos and threes” who come together in the name of the Lord wherever and whenever they want?
And no. 🙂
Now, if you’re the slightest bit interested in what I mean by that, keep reading! I hope to explore this train of thought a bit further in my next couple posts.