Let me start by saying again, I love the church – the body of Christ, those redeemed by grace. When I criticize the institutions we call churches, I’m not suggesting that Christians can “go it alone” or have no need of fellowship with other believers. Having said that, here is a brief summary of my history and experience with church institutions which may help you understand my current views.
I was born in the US, and at a young age went with my parents to serve a missionary organization overseas. In one place we lived, there was no English-speaking gathering of believers, so we weren’t able to do church in the typical fashion. We sang songs and read Scripture as a family most Sundays. Every few weeks, we would travel to a larger city for the weekend and go to one of a few churches there.
I loved going to church as a child. It was an important rhythm to me. I also was very knowledgeable of the Bible, so I probably felt smugly superior to others, which made church fun for not-so-good reasons. When we would come back to the States to raise support, we visited a new church almost every week. They were pretty much degrees of conservative, Baptist or Baptist-like independent churches. My idea of liberal doctrine was carrying around an NIV Bible rather than KJV.
In my teens, we lived in a more Western-ized place, so we joined a church and were highly involved. I learned how to run sound mixers, learned the guitar and drums, and generally was at church about three times a week. I didn’t really think much of it. That was our way of life.
You might think college is where I changed my views, but it was about the same as my teens. I went to church every week, played guitar for two services, went to Sunday school, went to a Sunday night Bible study, was on leadership with a campus ministry, and shared a house with other Christian men.
When I met my wife, she was working for a church, and had just accepted a job with another church. I moved and changed jobs so we could work at that new church. After a year and a half of no budget, no direction, and no feedback, they fired her because she hadn’t brought in enough new families. They also, incidentally, had already planned to hire the stepfather of the local college football team’s star kicker to replace her. The pastor and one of the board members dragged it out for over an hour. My wife cried the whole time. She cried the whole drive home while on the phone with me. I’m pretty sure she cried for a week straight.
This experience was the beginning of the changes of my view of church. I knew I wanted us to be part of a smaller, simpler church, but I didn’t know where to look. We visited a few churches, but not more than a few times each. During this time I really began to question church institutions. I spent a lot of time studying passages like Ephesians 5:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 9, and found traditional explanations lacking. I came across Arthur Sido and Eric Carpenter, who have been thinking and writing about these things for much longer than I have.
Basically, I am convinced that the modern, Western church (which really has been spread to most of the world) is not healthy. I believe that on a whole, our financial priorities are completely wrong, and that we have unbiblical views of leadership and authority, among other issues. God can and does use an unhealthy church, just as He used a disobedient Israel and even wicked people, for His purposes. But that is no reason to be content with leaving the church as we have received it. I don’t want to bring the church down; I want to see her ready for the hardships of a post-Christian society. The era of superficial Christianity being the social norm is drawing to an end, and I do not want my children and grandchildren saddled with a weak and overfed institution that will be nothing but a weight around their ankles when real hardships arise.
So what will I do? For now, I will study and write, and try to converse with others with a similar vision and desire. I hope to eventually explore what a New Testament-style discipleship community looks like in this age with a local group of people. Lord willing, we will be able to leave future spiritual generations with a better understanding of and deeper love for the gospel of Christ and the kingdom of God.
Lord Jesus, build Your church! Amen!