In theology, I have learned what the three most controversial topics are:
1. Women in ministry
2. Creation/Evolution issues
3. Calvinism/Arminianism stuff
I would put them in that order too. Talk about these topics, and be prepared for a divided crowed. Blog one of these issues and get ready for the comments section to explode. Take a stand on one of these and prepare yourself to be assigned with some nasty label. Stay away from these issue and live long and prosper . . . or something like that.
As controversial as these topics are, I have also found that there is one greater than all of these. It is not necessarily in the area of systematic theology. It would fit better in practical theology. While those referenced above may get one’s blood boiling in the heat of the battle, there is one that has a greater more sustained and nuanced effect upon our disposition. I would call it “ecclesiology” (the doctrine of the church), but I think that such an academic designation would detract from its broader appeal. Simply put, it is How we do church.
I make it a habit to take breaks from my local assembly and visit other churches that are not of my ilk. Sometimes it is just a one time visit. Other times it is for an extended stay. (Some people are shifting in their seat right now, others have quit reading.) Sometimes it is a church with a “high” liturgy. Others it is at a church that would say “litur-what?” I do this for self-preservation. I do this for spiritual edification. I do this for ecclesiastical exercise. Most of all, I do this so that I can have grace.
I believe that one of the greatest grace killers that we can have in our lives is an overly critical spirit about other churches.
I was having lunch with a pastor not too long ago who only wanted to talk about another church in the area. His opinions about the way they do church were not favorable. Though he had never been to this church, he had heard enough. His church was a “Bible-centered Church for believers.” Their church was a “Seeker driven church for unbelievers.” In his opinion, they were too fast and loose with their accommodations to the world. They were trying to build bridges to the lost, but now they had taken on the identity of the bridges, not the Kingdom to where the bridge was supposed to lead. Though the Gospel was preached, it was only milk that they offered. In his opinion, they should have a “Meat unavailable” sign out front.
I was reading another local pastor who was going off about another pastor in the area. This time it was just the opposite. This guy led a “seeker” church (which essentially means that more than fifty-percent of the intentionality of the main church service is based on getting the lost saved). He came down hard on the other pastor because he was referencing Greek and Hebrew during his message. “The church is not a seminary,” he said. He emphasized that this will do nothing but produce high and mighty arrogant Christians, and will run the rest off.
The main point that both of these pastors expressed was that their church was the one right way to do church (or at least much more right than the other). Veer just a bit from their sanctified methodology and hands are no longer held in the missio dei.
I used to be this way. Let me rephrase: I am this way, but I am in recovery.
“Hi, my name is Michael and I am a Church critic.”
My approach to evaluating churches is becoming quite simple. I am starting to be able to appreciate just about any church where the Bible is being taught and the Gospel proclaimed. There can be all kinds of things I would do different. There can be all kinds of weaknesses in other areas. But when I find a church where the word of God is consistently proclaimed, more often than not, I find the power of God. When I visit a church where the Bible is respected as the final authority, I find those who are on the same mission as I. When I find a church where people are led to the Gospel, I find myself among brothers and sisters. Most importantly, when I find a church where the Bible is believed, I am surprised. It is a rare treat these days.
Sometimes we go to churches and think:
“Maybe the Bible is being taught, but it is not expositional. God is only slightly here.”
“Maybe it is expositional, but the music is compromisingly loud. God cannot exist in such chaos.”
“Maybe the Gospel is strongly proclaimed, but people don’t know what to do next. God is waiting for them to get to step two.”
“Maybe there is good discipleship, but the Gospel is not clearly proclaimed each week with an alter call. God does not appreciate the snub.”
“Maybe people open their Bible’s here, but they use the Message. God does not like the Message.”
“Maybe these people know doctrine, but I never see them at the downtown mission. God does not like inlets with no outlets.”
On and on we could go. Yes, we could do this about your church too. I promise.
I have to train myself continually to appreciate the methodology that others are using. I have to train myself to recognize God’s presence in any number of situations. I have to remember that the Bible does not give too many “hows” of doing church.
Today I sat at a certain worship service of a church I do not normally attend and saw so many things that I could criticize, come down upon, and get worked up over. Here and there I had to stop myself. At my best moments I knew, as the Bible was being taught, that I was at the house of brothers and sisters. I knew that God works in spite of all our methodologies. I know that we are all traditionalists at heart. There is no one perfect way to do church. But there is a way to kill grace. And if grace has died, what have we got?
How do we become children with regard to our criticism of other churches? How do we unmake our beds of methodological triumph? Who’s victory are we proclaiming when we look down on other Bible believing churches? Why are we so territorially inclined?
“Hi, my name is Michael and I am a critic of Church methodology.”
Don’t get me wrong. I have a particular way in which I would conduct a church. A bit more traditional than some. A bit more progressive than others. Neither high-church nor low-church. But my way is not the right way. It is not necessarily even more right than another. It is just my way, with its relative strengths and weaknesses. I am glad God gave us this freedom. I think it is why the church can shape itself in every culture and in every period of history.
In my opinion, to say that there is a “biblical liturgy” or a biblical way of doing church is about as unbiblical as we can be. It is a grace killer. And in the end, it is not the Spirit of God you are quenching in that church, it is the Spirit of God in you.