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It’s sexy among young people—my generation—to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being unbiblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church—a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.

My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without follow through. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono—Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church. As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too—same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people. But in all the smallness and sameness, God works—like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days. Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

It’s possible the church needs to change. Certainly in some areas it does. But it’s also possible we’ve changed—and not for the better. It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community but we aren’t willing to live in it.

The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t invite people to join an anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration. He showed people how to live, to be sure. But He also called them to repent, called them to faith, called them out of the world, and called them into the church. The Lord “didn’t add them to the church without saving them, and he didn’t save them without adding them to the church” (John Stott).

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). If we truly love the church, we will bear with her in her failings, endure her struggles, believe her to be the beloved bride of Christ, and hope for her final glorification. The church is the hope of the world—not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her Head.

Don’t give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders. Fifty years from now you’ll be glad you did.

 

 

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Anthony Harris

commented on Sep 29, 2016

Such a needed article. So many have chosen to define the church by her blemishes, rather than by the excellence given her by Jesus Christ. What you described is another form of self-righteousness, which we must continue to warn people of. Great article.

Steve Darnall

commented on Sep 29, 2016

I guess it depends upon whether we are Disciples of Jesus in real community discipling others in Christ. I have a number of friends who lead many to Christ and then put in the time and effort discipling them (2 Tim 2 pattern) who do not go to a church building as we traditionally think of it. And the explosive growth in the more unreached parts of the world seems to often be among those who have a deeper view of community than we typically display in the west (probably not coincidental that they also endure suffering and sacrifice more than we as well) who also do not (in many places can not) do church the typical western way. One thing common among all of them is that they are too busy reaching the lost and serving to be critical of anyone else's way of doing church. Let's be careful not to be critical of them because they do not do church our way.

Andy Au-Yeung

commented on Sep 29, 2016

I know of several Christian teachers who disciple other Christians outside of the church and teach that discipleship cannot take place in a church. Instead, they believe discipleship takes place in non-church affiliated groups like theirs. After a decade, their students are not committed or have accountability in the churches that they attend. They go to a number of churches based on their needs and do not normally serve in a church or in a Christian group. Many of these students could have been the next generation of church leaders but sadly they are not.

Pastor Michael Salman

commented on Sep 30, 2016

Most excellent Article!!! One of the best I have read in a long time! Good job to listening to the Holy Spirit!,

Dave Edden

commented on Sep 30, 2016

Hey Kevin, thank you for your honest and timely article. Not many people want to hear this as truth but that's just what it is. So much of our walk is the daily dogged discipline of living life for God. Bless you

Blanton Hardy

commented on Sep 30, 2016

Dear all, good evening to you all. Hope you are all blessed today. With all due respect I incredibly disagree. We are revolutionaries because Christ brought a revolution of the heart. Remember that the church is a called out assembly at the end of acts chapter 4 we look at a true vision of a church, where each one gave to each ones need and laid down what they had to each other. Christ love was spread among the group. They made a culture of Christ out of that group of believers. That's how a revolution starts and it builds from there. I am an anti religionists myself because John 4 says that God is a spirit, not a religion, and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. There needs to be revolutionaries more than ever to get the gospel out. It's still stuck in the four walls of a building because that is where we have confined it. So to me it's not whether it's an idea whether it's sexy or not which is irrelevant, it's the fact of carrying out the great commission while being with humility but at the same time like Paul said in Ephesians 6 that I may open my mouth boldly and make known the mystery of the gospel. Because while we are not being radical with our faith, trust me Jehovah witnesses, Hinduism, Buddhism and radical Islam is and we are losing more than we are gaining almost because people are not just seeing anything there in institutionalized religion. We need to display the greatness, awesomeness of being a Christian and continue to bring this gospel to the nations in a God led radical way led by God through this generation.

Steve Darnall

commented on Oct 2, 2016

I think we need to be careful about making generalizations on both sides of the issue. I have been (and am currently) part of churches that actively make disciples, develop intimacy, reach the lost etc. And I have participated with groups that are actively part of the Church in that they give of themselves to the Lord, spend great amounts of time serving and disciplining others, do fellowship with other believers and also support overseas indigenous church planting. They just found themselves spending their time with people and the volunteer time they were asked to spend in their previous churches was focused so much upon the physical building and raising support that it got in the way of leading people to Christ and discipling them. So they find it fruitful to be part of the Church yet their fellowships do not own buildings or have paid staff. So, we cannot say only one way of living in community is right, or that the other is wrong. There are church going Christians not making disciples, and there are people who do not go to traditional church that are not making disciples. The does not prove that either method is wrong in itself, there are also people in both groups who do make disciples and are being used to reach the nations. It is not the form, but whether we are really living Spirit lead lives in Christian community - true intimate relationships of the forgiven and the forgiving -- if so the fruit in our lives will be evident. Evaluating based upon external corporate form/structure is looking at "forms of godliness" that may or may not deny God's moving in real power in our lives.

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