Helpful Tidbits for Organic Church Life                                               March 16, 2009
A Distorted Picture of the Church
My Reflections
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Dear ,
question_cropI'm often asked if I think Sunday church is a bad thing. No, I don't, but I think the question misses the mark at lots of levels. I feel the same way about questions such as "Where do you go to church?" The question itself is revealing...of one's missiology, of one's ecclesiology. In this week's excerpt, Craig Van Gelder sheds a little light on the misunderstanding and my candid reflections follow.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION/TOPIC: Is Sunday church a bad thing?
A Distorted Picture of the Church
Excerpt from The Essence of the Church by Craig Van Gelder 
vangelderMost Christians in North America have a distorted picture of church. We have a distorted understanding of the church's nature - its unique character as a community of God's people. We also have a distorted understanding of the church's ministry - its full expression of living as a community under God's reign. And we have a distorted understanding of the church's organization - how it is to structure itself to carry out its ministry consistent with its nature. We need to fundamentally rethink our understanding of the church's nature, ministry, and organization in our North American context.
We can best begin this rethinking by drawing on the insights of two distinct but complementary theological disciplines that seek to understand the life and ministry of the church. One is the field of missiology - the study of mission. The other is the field of ecclesiology - the study of the church.
  • Missiology: The Study of Mission. This field of theological study focuses on how to proclaim the gospel and grow the church in different cultural contexts. Attention is given to such matters as mission theology, world religions, cross-cultural communication, training missionaries, mission methods, church planting, and evangelism. All of this is framed in light of the mission of the Triune God in the world.
  • Ecclesiology: The Study of the Church. This field of theological study focuses on understanding the church in terms of its nature, ministry, and organization. Attention is given to such matters as biblical and theological foundations, historical ecclesiologies (different views of the church in different periods of time), and church polity (how different churches have been organized). All of this is related to God's redemptive purposes in the world.

There are many natural points of overlap with these two theological disciplines, but for a variety of reasons, they have developed separately in North America. This is true both in the ministry of congregations and in the training offered by theological seminaries. Discovering the common ground between these disciplines and identifying their relationship is critical to the task of rethinking the church in North America (2000:26).

 My Reflections
First of all I don't think the question of Sunday church is bad one. I do, however, think the question has a fair bit of baggage that comes along with it. What's the baggage? I'll have to limit this particular discussion to three possibilities.
First, it might be an unhealthy attachment to a particular day or hour not prescribed by God. Yes, God does ask us to observe special holy days, but Sunday mornings are not one of them.
Second, it might be an unhealthy attachment to "getting fed." Because we're a knowledge-based society (consumers) we generally walk away from a Sunday service asking ourselves questions such as, "So, what did I learn from that?" and "What can I apply to my life?" Now, learning and applying are good problems there. The problem surfaces in that we have a tendency to substantially overestimate the value of sermons. Although space won't allow me to unpack the why right now, suffice to say lots of church leaders are begining to have their eyes opened to the necessity of Christ-followers also being "self-feeders."
Third, it might be an unhealthy attachment to a particular leader (most often in the form of a preacher/teacher). While working in a Starbucks the other day I looked on as man, probably a Russian speaker, read the Bible aloud to two other men...for over an hour! I wanted to cry. For them, a simple Bible, each other, and the Holy Spirit was enough. I couldn't help but think to myself, How spoiled we western Christians have become. Once in exasperation, one of my friends lamented, "When will Jesus be enough?" It's a good question, I think.
So, in light of the above, what better questions might we ask? Here are three: (1) Since Jesus and the Apostles most often preached out there, among unbelievers (i.e., outside church walls), what would that look like today? (2) How can I be more like the Bereans (i.e., diligently studying the Word on my own and with others)? (3) Since God is looking for obedience, perhaps it's not just about getting fed, but exercising as well. Perhaps we should be asking, How can I make more disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them? Yes, it's true, I've seen my fair share of people get bent out of shape because they're not getting fed enough, but rarely do I see folks bent out of shape because they're not making enough disciples.
Lord, help us ask better questions!
Hope this was of some benefit to you.

Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table