Tuesday, May 24, 2005

WHAT OR WHO IS THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH? (aka - intro to Trickle-Charge Christianity 101)

The other day I received the following email:


Read through the ROT blog, and since I'm new at this blog stuff I figured I would just e-mail. I am impressed with your yearning for a church that will have a greater impact on our post-modern culture. I need a little clarity. What or who is the established church? How does rebelling against the established church translate into Christ's call for unity(Jn.17:20-23)? What is the injustice that you are rebelling against? How do you define tradition? Your ideas of your next church seem vague and abstract.

I replied to the sender that I would try to tackle each of their questions and concerns in a series of Blogs, so here goes...


In a couple of postings on the Rebellion of Thought BLOG the term "established church" is used. But what do we mean by this?

In my research I learned that back in history some would equate the "established church" with the official "state religion", but this is not the definition we are using. It may touch on our distinct brand of North American cultural Christianity, but since we have no "state religion" it certainly would not mean that.

A simple definition would be to say that the established church is the church which has been handed-down to the current generation. In all of it's varieties and flavors from Catholic to Anglican to Protestant and back again. But this definition would be too simple for our use.

I stumbled upon a website that offers this defintion: "An established church shall be defined as one which (1) has a baptized membership strong enough to be self-supporting, (2) meets regularly for worship, Bible Study and fellowship, and (3) has a natural leader." They go on to outline the church planting priorities, the work assignments and the methodologies of their mission in Taiwan. What's interesting about this is that they also write "no missionary will be permitted to remain in an assignment to work primarily in an established church." They can partner with established churches, but their main focus will not be working in an established church.

This goes hand in hand with what I consider to be the main calling of believers... to be missionaries in the culture around them. Some people get freaked by the idea of becoming a missionary. Visions of African jungles or ugly clothes from the "missionary barrel" invade their minds, but what becoming a missionary means is simply living out the two greatest commandments wherever you are. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind... and love your neighbor as yourself. We do the later through relationship and by attempting to understand the needs of our neighbor... whether we're in the jungle, the backwoods, the big city, or the small town.

This is where I think an understanding of post-modernism can be helpful. Post-Modernism is the language of many of our neighbors and for us to effectively reach them we must be able to speak their language. Just as the missionaries in Taiwan will be more effective if they can speak the language of the people.

My roots were grown in Protestant soil and evangelical Protestant soil at that, so I recognize that my definition of the established church will be influenced by this background. But I strongly believe it to be more universal in nature, reaching across denominational bounderies and into the hearts of believers everywhere. Please remember that this is a working definition, so your input through replies to this post can help shape it. Here goes...

The established church is any church whose focus of it's faith is on it's coming together rather than on it's going out. This is a simple definition that attempts to address a more complex issue which may or may not include your church or the church down the block. But the philosophy that "church" has become about Sunday mornings and perhaps Wednesday nights has invaded our cultural mindset.

I liken the believer to a rechargeable powertool. A cordless drill, for example, is designed for a purpose... to drill holes, or to install, tighten, loosen, or remove screws and nuts, and depending on the attachment it can even stir paint, etc. The drill is also designed to be plugged into a power source to have it's battery recharged. Why? So that it can once again fulfill it's purpose. It's purpose is not to remain continually plugged into the recharging source. But often times isn't this what believers tend to do? They find a church, they get recharged, they get "plugged in", and then they stay there, continually receiving the trickle-charge that the church provides through it's programs, services, and pot-lucks, all-the-while forgetting the purpose for which they've been created and called.

Pastors across the country and around the world are guilty of promoting what I call trickle-charge Christianity. We build bigger sanctuaries, add more programs, more services, additional opportunities to "plug in" and then we stand around and scratch our heads as to why we are not relevant to the culture around us?!?! All of the programs, services, etc. combine to create churches whose mission is to "come together" with other believers, but few church calendars allow or schedule time specifically to "go out" to spend time with non-believers.

The culture around us doesn't care if we have two or three services on Sunday morning. They don't care if we have traditional or contemporary worship styles. They don't care if we have the latest "insert Christian celebrities name here" Bible Study. Post-Moderns want authentic relationships and experiences. They don't want sugar-coated or plastic-smile anything. They desire realness and they deserve realness... which can only be given through true relationship... through us followers of Christ authentically loving them as ourselves. This is how the gospel message will spread in a post-modern world. The challenge will be to keep converts from becoming Trickle-Charge Christians.


Brad Williamson said...

Just a few thoughts on the email that might be relevant.

How does rebelling against the established church translate into Christ's call for unity (Jn.17:20-23)?

Christ's desire for unity expressed in John 17 appears to be for unity among the body of Christ, not among those who believe and those who don't. Christ Himself refers to the Church as the body of Christ. We commonly assume that when we use the word church, we are referring to the body of Christ, but that is not the case. It is clear from the behavior of many of those who attend the organization we call church, the established church, that they are not necessarily believers.

What we rebel against is not the body of Christ, but the institutional, established organization we call church. If the organization stands between us and God counter to Scripture, then the conclusion should be obvious. (I leave that as an exercise for the reader.)

What is the injustice that you are rebelling against?

It is more than an injustice. If my speculation is correct, then it is a monstrous horror. A whole way of being, a lifestyle, a tradition and institution, that on the surface seduces people into believing they are doing the will of God, all the time creating an environment that cripples believers into ineffective shadows of the creatures God intended us to be. That sounds pretty strong, but if true, should be a lot stronger.

How do you define tradition?
Traditions are the unexamined beliefs and behaviors that permeate our lives. We act on them without analysis, assuming them to be truth or at least well grounded, when in reality they are no such thing.

An example might be singing hymns at a church meeting. People my age and older would say that an effective worship service should include hymns - because it has always been that way, i.e. TRADITION. There maybe other reasons why you want to want to sing hymns, but there is no scriptural perogative to do so. Hymn singing is not part of the truth of the Scripture, even though it is a very powerful tradition.

But if the tradition is never examined, you will not be able to make good decisions about including hymn singing in your worship services.

Just a few thoughts, no intention to offend, but intended to provoke further exploration.

Kent C. Williamson said...

From an email I received...

Some would disagree with your definitions of tradition and the established church. It leads me to ask, which came first, the Christian Bible or the church?

the grace of our Lord be with you,

Clara -

Know that our definitions are not set in stone... I look at them more as working definitions - a springboard, if you will, to get the discussion going. Please let us know what ideas you have for words like "tradition" and "established church". We are all on this journey of faith and the more we help each other, encourage each other, and challenge each other, the better our understanding of our place in the body of Christ will be.

I'm curious as to the root of your question "which came first, the Christian Bible or the church?", because on the surface it seems like a simple answer... the roots of the "body of Christ" run deep into the heart of Israel, long before Christ was even born and even longer before the "Christian Bible" was assembled into the form we have today. Is there a deeper meaning of your question? If so, please let me know.

People may look at MT 16:18 as the beginning of the New Testament church... "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." I found this in a commentary online (from Chuck Smith at BlueLetterBible.org) "v. 18 Jesus called Peter Petros, which means a little stone, and then said that upon the petra, giant rock, He would build His Church. The Church is not built upon the man, Peter, who Christ called a little stone, but upon the confession of faith in Christ as God's Son that Peter made (I Corinthians 3:11)." Something for us all to chew on as we examine church origins.

Ron Goetz said...

Brad, Scripture says that judgment begins in the household of God. You describe Christendom's failure in self-critique as an injustice, a monstrous horror which seduces and cripples us into pale shadows of our true nature.

You haven't overstated your case at all.

Today Christ has again put the ax to the root. The Spirit of God is leading a small but significant number of disciples to see the emptiness of institutional maintenance. God is leading them to--as they say--vote with their feet. [Or at least with their hearts.]

We wouldn't give to a charity if only 5% of the money went to the intended cause. Yet our churches easily absorb 95% of our time, energy, and money for sheer overhead, pure institutional maintenance. That pathetic 5% effectiveness certainly sounds like the Pharisees "scouring land and sea for a single convert" to me.

Why do people fight so hard to preserve that black hole which is Christendom? That black hole that sucks in all of your well-intentioned devotion, and from which nothing escapes?

Throwing out the baby with the bath water? No. It's more like flushing the rubber duckie down with the sewage.

This disgust with Christendom has many expressions. Whether it's the House Church movement, the emphasis on the Kingdom of God, or the Emergent Church, the Body of Christ is seething with discontent, with indignation when the monstrous, self-serving rationalizations and half-truths of Christendom finally lose all creedance.

Post-modernism is not a threat to the Body of Christ or to Christ's purposes on the planet. Post-modernism, in its deconstruction of logic and system and ideology, has simply given voice to the lies of Christendom. Post-modernism simply explains what our intuition and discernment have been telling us all along, that verbal formulas don't cut it, that talk is cheap.

The space that post-modernism gives us to re-read the Scripture is, however, a distinct threat to someone. It is a threat to that giant spectacle of theatre called Christendom. It is a threat to every denomination, every seminary, and all the salaried actors who make make their living there.

Christendom would mystify us with its talk of "classical Christianity" and "orthodoxy," and coerce our silence and submission with the fear of "heresy" and with cries of "error!"

The significance of the Parable of the Wineskins is not restricted to Judaism. It applies us today, and to the ferment of the Holy Spirit in our lives and ministries.

New wine needs new wineskins. The old wineskins are attractive, Jesus said so. But they will totally frustrate our desires to let God have his way in our lives. If we stay, all our well-meaning effforts are wasted.

Life is too short to screw around.