Monday, October 27, 2014

Church Simply: An Introduction

I love Jesus Christ and his church. Since you are reading this blog my guess is that you do, too. We all want to see the church thrive, making a significant difference in this world. We desire to see a church that looks different from secular culture, but which still engages that culture with both the truth and love of Christ.

I strongly believe that practicing church life in a simple manner is the most effective way to edify the body of Christ. It's also the best way to interact with unbelievers. This should not be surprising to us since simple church practices are modeled directly after what we see practiced by the early church in scripture. The early church was by no means perfect (see for example the book of I Corinthians); however, we can learn much from their simple practices. A prime example of this comes from Acts 2:42. We're told that the early believers, "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." This is surely not all they did, but it does instruct us in the simple model they followed.

A simple model of church life avoids many of the time and money consuming practices that have developed through hundreds of years of man's traditions. These things include salaried pastors, worship services/ceremonies, large church buildings, and never-ending church programs. Instead, a philosophy of simple church is to get together as a large family to edify one another through simple means. This edification ought to lead the body both into living holier lives and into sharing the gospel more freely and frequently.

The longer I live the more I believe that the church (at least in this country) has generally lost its way. While millions of people genuinely love Jesus Christ and his church, most of those same people do not know or understand just how wonderful body life can be. This is not due to lack of intelligence; rather, most of these sweet folks have just never thought about it. Week after week they unknowingly follow the traditions of men.

This is the first post in a series I'm going to call Church Simply (thanks to Felicity Dale for the name inspiration).

My purpose is to discuss simple church forms and practices in a simple manner. I hope to encourage those already involved in simple church and to challenge those who are willing to accept it.

Church life practiced simply is a wonderful model for the church to follow. My hope is that more and more believers will turn from their current traditional practices to see just how exhilarating simple church life can be.


Tim A said...

I know your basis for simple church is revelation, not pragmatics or effectiveness evaluations or preferences, but you have not written as if they are in this post.

“I strongly believe that practicing church life in a simple manner is the most effective way to edify the body of Christ.”
When you say this are you not basing your convictions on pragmatics - effectiveness measurements. All someone has to do to throw out your belief is to say “I believe lecturing the Bible is the most effective way”. Now you have to use statistics and a bunch of other junk to debate which actually works better. You are merely comparing options or models of which either one could be right. Others will say your way may work better in your situation but my way works better in my situation or culture, etc.

“A simple model…”
The real basis is you believe God’s word asks specifically for a pattern of church relationship. It happens to be very simple. It works in all situations. It fulfills every identity theology presents of who we are, and who God is, and how he wants us to relate like he does. It is an actual practice of our theology. This is a completely different foundation than pragmatics and effectiveness claims. For us our basis is obedience to God’s commands, not figuring out what may work best by human evaluations. Since complex church folks use the same Bible, isn’t it better to point them to the word and keep that the focus? Isn’t it simpler to have the foundation just be scripture, and not include statements redirected to effectiveness. Since God is the one who makes things grow or “effective” we are completely incapable of discerning which is most effective except to show that when we obey God and not contradict him, we will always be 10 or 100 fold more effective.

When we engage as pragmatists or effectiveness evaluators, we will all be relativists, only beholden to opinions of men. Revelation is the only basis for absolutes. My brother in law is a missionary planting churches. He only talks about models and effectiveness options. He doesn’t seem to think revelation says anything about church life. It’s only models and cultural evaluations for effectiveness.

Neil Braithwaite said...

Tim A - Corporate church may be pragmatic or effective, but at what cost?

The corporate church model promotes and perpetuates ungodly spiritual warfare among the body of believers in a relentless and almost cutthroat competition for members - all in the name of Christ. It's evident that the battle for membership growth is a top priority for the exclusive corporate church brand. The corporate church strategy includes slick marketing campaigns to lure new members from other churches in their geographic area, where studies show that 96% of church growth comes from transferring members from other churches.

The financial aspect of the corporate church model is also very disturbing. Under the corporate church model, money is gathered from loyal members to support and operate the “church” business. Churches have ongoing weekly monetary collections, with occasional special financial capital campaigns designed to meet their ever increasing budget funding goals. They market their churches in the name of both independent and denominational brands, competing mostly for wavering members of other churches in their area - where studies show that about 96% of their (financial) growth comes from transferring members from other churches.

As with most corporate marketing strategies, you won't see much professional courtesy among churches in the highly competitive membership market. Evidently, in the battle for new members among corporate churches, all IS fair in love and war. You won't find disclosures on any marketing materials or promotions suggesting that people NOT respond to their invitations to visit or join if they are already members of another church. And for good reason, America’s local churches bring in an astounding $50 Billion in revenue annually from their members. Consequently, membership numbers are the financial life-blood of every corporate church, so it's easy to understand how gaining or losing members greatly affects the revenue bottom line. As it is in the secular corporate world, you need only to follow the money to find that corporate bottom-line.

Unfortunately, of the estimated $50 Billion in revenue generated annually from church members, most of that revenue is used to maintain the corporate aspect of those churches. Along with their annual revenue, corporate churches also hold combined real estate assets valued in the billions of dollars. Unfortunately, those billions of dollars in revenue and assets are primarily used for the carnal comforts and conveniences of man - not the scriptural directives of Christ and the Apostles for the church. According to a 2013 study by the Evangelical Credit Union, 86 percent of surveyed church budgets were allocated toward salaries, real estate, mortgages, building and ground maintenance, office and business supplies, insurance, utilities, security, marketing and advertising, multimedia production equipment, technology, internet and cable and many other expenses. Tragically, only the small remaining percentage (14%) of that $50 Billion annual revenue is left to help the millions of truly needy Christian brothers and sisters, or the church's commanded mission to spread the gospel of Christ in the local community and beyond.

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 1 John 3:17

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Mark 16:15

The grievous consequence of dividing the bride of Christ into literally thousands of separate man-made organizations has created a destructive battleground of competition among the body of Christ in America today, all of which goes totally against God’s will for true unity among the body of believers, and continues to do great harm to the gospel of Christ.

Tim A said...

Neil - I agree with everything you've said. It's all very complex, non-pragmatic, highly effective at lukewarmness. But they will still look you in the eye and say it's all God's will. We must call on God give grace to these folks so see their direct contradiction to scripture.