Saturday, June 28, 2008

Whose Idea Was the Church Anyway?

In a recent self-published Christian bestseller The Shack, author William P. Young’s Jesus character says: “I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I’m not too big on religion.” In an interview Young explained why he’s not part of a local church: “It [The institutional church] doesn’t work for those of us who are hurt and those of us who are damaged.”

Now if you are a Christian who has been well-taught in the school of Existentialism, you’ll shrug at the above paragraph and think, “Who cares. If church doesn’t work for this Young character, what is that to me? My experience with church has been mostly positive so I’m going to keep going for now. But if church doesn’t appeal to some Christians, that’s what is right for them.”

The book of Acts tells us: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11) How did we somehow lose the idea that it is a noble thing to examine teaching and start believing instead that it is noble to let each one believe his own things? An idea that is promoted in a novel is no less teaching than a sermon. A novel is a great big parable where an author tells how he sees the world, kind of like Jesus’ parables but a lot longer. Our job is to examine the message against scripture.

Sometimes Evangelicals remind me of Lemings--does anyone remember the old computer game? I don’t remember the object of it; I only remember that there was a line of little people that followed the front person. If the Leming in front went down a cliff, the whole line followed right behind him. This is sometimes how I view this anti-church movement. A bunch of individuals join the “go-against-the-flow” line of thinking and all fall off the individualistic cliff together.

Here are some scriptures to challenge Young’s teaching:

Hebrews 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Titus 1:5 5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
1 Timothy 5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
James 5:14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

1 Timothy 4:14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

Let’s do some addition: a command to gather together with other believers plus commands about the nature of the gatherings, (there should be elders, some who are paid, the elders have qualifications, and special spiritual authority) and bam you have an institution.

Eugene Peterson is quoted on the front cover of The Shack as saying: “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyun’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his.” Other than the fact that God the Father is portrayed as a heavy-set black woman, God the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman, God the Father bears marks from the crucifixion, and the anti-church spin, it may be every bit as biblically sound as Pilgrim’s Progress as well. Or does it really matter? Yes, this book may have a profound impact on our generation, but the nobility of evangelicalism in America will determine whether that outcome is positive or negative.

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