Church, Inc. – A non-biblical view

I just heard this evening about the fourth person I know in the last couple of years who has been invited to cease serving as a worship leader in a church in the greater Atlanta area. The reason? They were too old to suit the “target demographic” or, as some of the church leaders involved have been so bold to say, “target market.” No doctrinal errors. No personal moral failures. Not poor musicianship. Just too much gray hair, or maybe not enough hair, maybe too many wrinkles, nothing but the fact that they looked too old.

How did we get here? When did we lose sight of the nature of the church that the Bible describes? When did Madison Avenue-style marketing strategies take the place of biblical ecclesiology? When did the church become Church, Inc. instead of God’s household as the Bible conceives it?

This trend of thinking of the church as a corporate business entity has certainly led to some so-called churches growing numerically. I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here, but church leaders whose view of the church allows them to dismiss professional quality musicians who have hearts full of passion for God and leading his people in worship just because they don’t have the look of a target market have become oozing boils on the beautiful face of Christ’s bride. They are a pox on the household of God.

Shame on these leaders. Shame on us all as the church for our failure to be faithful in being the church God has designed and guarding its integrity by not publicly denouncing those who stain its image this way.

I am angry, as you might have noticed. But I am even more broken-hearted for the church and these congregations particularly. I pray for the leaders and the people in the congregations involved that God will reveal to them their error in ecclesiology. I pray too for the worship leaders and teams involved that their hearts will be guarded and that God will move them on soon to the next place he is calling them to serve. I pray for myself and my fellow leaders in the church in which I serve that we will never lose sight of who we are called to be. I pray that we will be about bringing glory to our great God by executing his mission of disciple making everywhere with everyone rather than targeting a demographic or market.

(Eph. 3:20-21 ESV) Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

“Danger Will Robinson!”

“The rapid growth of some American churches has carried a deadly danger: not that the church may be overwhelmed by new converts, but that the church will be secularized by fascination with the methods of growth. Jesus did promise an abundant harvest; small may be beautiful, but smallness does not guarantee spirituality. Many church leaders, however, will learn to their sorrow that neither does size impress the Holy Spirit. The great resource in the building of Christ’s church is the gift of his Spirit. The great question before the church is, ‘How can we best seek the Spirit’s blessing in receiving and using his gifts?’ The answer to that central question is never a matter of technique, but always of faith and prayer. Unless the church seeks holiness, unless it heeds the revealed will of God and treasures Calvary above all else, greater size will only erect towers for sounding brass and clashing cymbals.”

Edmund Clowney in his book The Church

What are we and why are we here?

I’m referring to us “the Church.”  There are lots of people across the whole spectrum of our culture asking these kinds of questions…including me.  The Anglicans, and others, are struggling with big issues like “Can we be a Biblical church and include homosexuals as priests, bishops, and in other leadership roles?”  The Willow Creek Church in Chicago is wrestling with data that indicates that they have led people to the table of the Lord, but not taught them how to eat for themselves, leaving many as unweaned baby Christians starving for more nourishment than milk can provide.

See my friend Bethany Mendenhall’s posts on the Willow Creek thing here and here at Where the Grey Lives for the kinds of questions we should be asking about this whole thing.

Matthew 28:16-20 could hardly be clearer in what we are supposed to be doing.  Making disciples doesn’t involve our selling the Gospel or closing the deal or any other kind of marketing-speak.  That stuff is the Holy Spirit’s job.  Our job, as Bethany rightly says, is to live the Kingdom; to be disciples so we can make disciples.  That means knowing what Jesus told us so we can teach it to others in our words and our actions.

That probably, no – that definitely means church, and Christians individually, should look a lot different that it does today in most places and people.  Maybe devoting ourselves to the word and to prayer will lead to a more communal lifestyle like it did is 1st Century Jerusalem…I don’t know.  I’m not sure that is the point anyway.  The real point is to devote ourselves to the Mission, to the word, and to prayer and see where the Spirit takes us.

What Would Jesus Really Do

I finally watched a program I had recorded Easter weekend from CNN entitled “What Would Jesus Really Do?” The host, Roland Martin, is a commentary contributor to CNN. This program was advertised as a discussion of how Jesus would respond to a series of contemporary issues in our society. The guest list was brief, Rick Warren, author of the best-selling A Purpose Driven Life; the Rev. Jerry Falwell; Frederick Douglas Haynes, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, TX; Bishop T.D. Jakes and preacher Paula White (whom I had not heard of before). All four of these very different different individuals were presented as representative of evangelical Christianity, and Mr. Martin himself claims this moniker, introducing himself on the program as being married to an ordained Southern Baptist minister…yes, you Southern Baptists read that correctly.

As the program played out, the only one of the five guests that gave anything close to what I understand as a biblically founded answer to the main question was Rick Warren, who talked most about the decision he and his wife have made to be reverse tithers (90% given/10% to live on), but in the end the main question was left unanswered. There was lots of conversation around prosperity gospel in the love fest between White and Jakes. Falwell talked more about politics than Christianity. Haynes brought in a dose of liberation theology, describing Jesus’ clearing of the temple as a political action. In the end, however, the viewer, at least this one, was left with a picture of incoherence in the message of evangelical Christianity.

Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of the state of the modern church. The term evangelical Christianity is tossed about as if there was clarity as to the range of groups and individuals to whom this term applies. This program is only one more illustration that the term evangelical Christianity has lost any meaning. It is no longer a reliable label either for a coherent group of people or for a set of beliefs, and has become more disparaging than defining in its usage, used as profanity by opponents of the gospel (You evangelical Christian!).

What words should we use to define who we are these days when even the term Christian has become unclear? How are we to help people understand what biblical Christianity really means when the necessary words in our language have been co-opted by our great enemy? I don’t know the answer to this, but it seems to me that our prayer, sadly, has to be that God will cleanse and purify his church in our day. We seem to be in need of a great reformer, on the scale of a Luther or Calvin. Pray that God is preparing such a man for such a time as this.

Can Community Exist Virtually?

The Community Group I lead has been studying the book of Ephesians these past few months. One of its main themes is what the church ought to be like, so I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about that as I prepare for our sessions. Along side this, I’m a regular listener to William Bennett’s morning talk show, Mornings in America. While listening one morning last week, I heard a discussion about how the current war in Iraq is perceived by folks here at home, with the point being that, as a society or community we don’t feel that we’re very involved in this unless we have a family member or friend over there. We’ve lost some sense of the larger community as a culture. So all this converged to get me thinking about community and today’s church.

At the beginning of my professional career in the mid-1980’s, I remember when the first personal cassette tape players came out, dominated by Sony’s Walkman. Personal computers were a relatively new idea, not widely used or even available. Cell phones were not really around yet, and a car phone was an unusual thing to see. Communication was by telephone over land line, FedEx was in it’s infancy, and faxes were not widely available. Letters were still written and sent by mail as a routine way of keeping in touch. Face to face communication was still the norm.

Today, we primarily keep in touch with each other electronically. Virtual community is what it’s called, and I’m certainly a participant as I sit in the food court across the street from my office and write this on my new MacBook. (No I don’t have my iPod – today’s Walkman – plugged in.) But as I look at the condition of community in our culture more broadly, and in the church specifically, I think something really important has been lost.

God intended for Christians to gather together, to live in community, as his design for the church. This is very clear from both the Biblical example of Acts and from Paul’s writing in Ephesians. This is to be a face to face community, not a virtual one, because there is something very important about actually being together. Without being together, we lose half of our communication media, the non-verbal. We can’t see facial expressions when we talk together (emoticons just don’t cut it, and besides, they can be lies). We can’t reach out and touch someone when the comfort of an embrace, or the unspoken “I’m here” of a touch is the best way to communicate the community’s support. Contagious laughter or joy is impossible virtually because it can’t be heard or seen. And we’ve all experienced the misunderstandings that can occur without the nonverbal parts of our language.

This applies to meeting together for worship as well. Television church attendance from the comfort of your easy chair is no substitute for the gathering together of the saints. Experiencing worship with other believers can lift us to a place where we never will go alone. Hearing the Word spoken and taught live and in person forces us to listen at least a little bit more. And the power of the Spirit at work in a corporate worship setting can be life changing.

Can this kind of community exist virtually? I don’t think so, and I would argue no kind of real community can. We are called as Christians to be counter-cultural. Maybe how we do community is a place we should begin.

Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV) 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The "Worship Experience"

Driving home from a meeting one night recently I heard an advertisement on one of our local Christian music stations that used a phrase I had heard many times, but that had never stuck out to me. The ad was placed by a mega-church in our area looking for musicians and worship leaders to help create a “worship experience” at this church. For some reason I began wondering what was meant by the term “worship experience?” Is it only an alternative to the more traditional “worship service?” I expect that is the case, but are the users of such a term unwittingly, or intentionally, changing the nature and objective of corporate worship? Such usage certainly seems to reflect the growing, and to me disturbing, trend toward experientially grounded faith in the contemporary church.


So is it right to use the term at all? Well, I suppose that it depends on whose experience we’re talking about. The only person whose worship experience we should be concerned with is that of God, who should be, but all too often isn’t really, the object of our worship. I fear that what most mean by “worship experience” is their own pleasure in it: whether their favorite song was sung, the musicians were skilled, the prayers were eloquent, thing started and ended on time, and the sermon was entertaining and/or made them feel good about themselves. Nothing at all to do with whether God was glorified or pleased with the service of worship.


As I read and study more and more of the Scripture, I am struck by the Bible’s emphasis on God’s perspective on things. The study we’re doing on Isaiah at Orange Hill points to this again and again. Whatever we may want to think about the reason we gather and what we do when we do, God’s idea about this seems to be that we are there to give praise and honor to him, not satisfy some want of our own. In fact, the real shame, and I mean that in the sense of how we should feel when doing wrong, is that our main want should be what God wants rather than all these other things.


Next time I wonder why the Sunday worship was unsatisfying, I need to remember to ask myself why I was there and who I was trying to satisfy with the songs or prayers or anything else that was done that day. Most importantly I need to ask myself if my heart was pleasing to God. Did I want what he wants…to worship him? That’s the “Worship Experience” we need to be concerned with…God’s and God’s alone.

Creed or Chaos?

It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of
Christian morality unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the
fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma
does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose
that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist
that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is
hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple
and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex
doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal
to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a
little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this
Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the
Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.

-Dorothy Sayers in “Creed or Chaos?”

Thus begins essay number four in “Letters to a Diminished Church.” This essay was the title piece of a collection of essays Sayers published under the same title in the late 1940s. Yes, that’s right, sixty years ago. (By the way, you may have noticed I skipped over the third essay in he book. Its title is “Creative Mind,” and while it was interesting in its own right, I have yet to figure out exactly what the editor thought it had to do with arguing the relevance of Christian doctrine.)

When I read this over my dinner at the office tonight, I about choked on my chicken finger, and I had to stop work for a bit to write this. And this is only the beginning. Sayers goes on to elaborate on the nature of the ninety-nine percent with a razor sharp perceptiveness and prophetic relevance to us that will take your breath away. She describes three classes of people: frank and open heathens, whose ideas about Christianity are a jumble of “rags and tags of Bible anecdotes and clotted mythological nonsense;” ignorant Christians, whose idea of Jesus is based on a mild, gentle sentimentality combined with “vaguely humanistic ethics” that she associates with the Arian heresy; and, finally, more-or-less instructed churchgoers, who know what the Bible says about some things, but whose battle readiness on fundamentals against a Marxian atheist or a Wellsian agnostic is comparable to “a boy with a peashooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns.”

This is unbelievably good, relevant, challenging stuff for us to soak in. Besides Sayers wonderful skill with words, her laser focus on perhaps the most crucial issue for the church of our day make her work must reading for all of us. We have two choices–two ways–creed or chaos. There are no other options.

An Anthem for Today’s Church Culture

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright


I don’t care what they may say, I don’t care what they may do

I don’t care what they may say, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright


Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright


I don’t care what they may know, I don’t care where they may go

I don’t care what they may know, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah


Jesus, he’s my friend; Jesus, he’s my friend

He took me by the hand; led me far from this land

Jesus, he’s my friend


Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright


I don’t care what they may say, I don’t care what they may do

I don’t care what they may say, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah


My wife and I went with a group of friends to see the Doobie Brothers in concert last night. Wow! So many of the reunion concerts you go to just show how the artists skills have declined over the years, but these guys were amazing. I guess after playing together thirty years you get to know each other’s moves pretty well. Three of the guys in the band were early members in the 1970s and are still on top of their game.


Of course the song “Jesus Is Just Alright” was one of their early hits, and when they started it up it occurred to me that these lyrics, taken literally, are the perfect anthem for most of today’s evangelical culture.


More and more today, those who identify themselves as “Christians” are taking the view that Jesus, my friend, my buddy, who I hang with sometimes when it’s convenient, or talk to when I need something, is OK with me. That is, so long as he doesn’t do or say anything inconvenient about his Lordship, or doesn’t interfere in my life too much.


My reading of the Bible leads me to the conclusion that Jesus is a lot more than “just alright.” Jesus is all right, if you’ll forgive the word play. Jesus is and never intended to be “just” anything, but he will be just in the end, to the great dismay of many who think that they will be alright when that day comes.


My friend? Yes, but not primarily. Jesus is my friend and brother in God’s family, but more importantly and first he is Lord, Savior, and God. In these roles, he demands things from us by right. Things like obedience, reverence, and worship; not just a call now and then to check in.


I DO care what they may say, because wrong thinking about who Jesus is on the part of the church is one of the big reasons people don’t see the difference between Christianity and every other world religion. They see it as just another menu choice, another brand of eternity insurance just in case God is really out there. We have to see the real, biblical Jesus and act accordingly so that the world around us will see that Jesus is far more than just alright.

Testing Ourselves

“In ordinary times we get along surprisingly well, on the whole, without ever discovering what our faith really is. If, now and again, this remote and academic problem is so unmannerly as to thrust its way into our minds, there are plenty of things we can do to drive the intruder away. We can get the car out or go to a party or to the cinema or read a detective story or have a row with a district council or write a letter to the papers about the habits of the nightjar or Shakespeare’s use of nautical metaphor. Thus we build up a defense mechanism against self-questioning because, to tell the truth, we are very much afraid of ourselves.”

– Dorothy Sayers in “What We Do Believe?

This is the opening paragraph in the second essay in “Letters to a Diminished Church.” In this essay Sayers goes phrase by phrase through one of the ancient creeds, expanding a bit on the meaning each phrase contains.

Before beginning the phrase by phrase discussion, she describes those moments when we are forced to come face to face with what we really believe, those moments of crisis where all the fluff is burned away and the real questions of life are forced to the front. Since this essay was written during World War II, the circumstance she uses is sitting in a cellar with a gas mask waiting for the bomb to drop. She says this about faith. “What we in fact believe is not necessarily the theory we most desire or admire. It is the thing that, consciously or unconsciously, we take for granted and act on.”

Her point here is that what we really believe is proven by the way we act when the crisis comes. What is it that we do without having to think? This is the kind of test that Paul had in mind when he told us, through the Corinthians (II Cor. 13:5), to check and see if we are really in the faith. Sadly, we have far too many people populating our churches today that are practical deists or atheists.

I pray that, painful though it may be, God will purify his church, and begin with me.

The More things Change…

“Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – dull dogma as pepole call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man – and the dogma is the drama.”

– Dorothy Sayers, “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged”

A few weeks ago I ran across a book while browsing the bookstore whose title and author intrigued me. The title is “Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine” and the author is Dorothy Sayers. The book is a collection of short essays Sayers wrote on doctrine and its relevance that has been compiled recently, and I think couldn’t be more timely. The quote above is the first paragraph of the first essay, which was originally written in the 1930s.

Dorothy Sayers is perhaps best known for her mystery writing. Her most most famous character is Lord Peter Wimsey.

While the book itself is somewhat poorly edited (a number of obvious typographical and transcription errors), the razor sharp insights of the author make it worth a read. I plan to post some thoughts on each essay over the next several days/weeks as I finish reading them. Here’s more from the first essay.

After a discussion of who Jesus was and how his life, ministry, death and resurrection fit in the big picture, she says this:

“If this is dull, the what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused hiim of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting houshold pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.”

How prophetic these words were for what we see going on today. It only goes to prove that
the more we think we have changed for the better, the more we find that we never really change. Something about a fallen world and a fallen nature perhaps?