The church is in a rut.
And many of us evangelicals are just a guilty of it as the progressives. In fact, this has nothing at all to do with that. As far as this rut is concerned, it doesn’t natter what your theological position is.
The fact is, we all tend to see the church in the same pattern: The church has a building, generally made of bricks. The church has a sanctuary where we meet on Sunday mornings. The sanctuary has pews for the members to sit in. In the front of the sanctuary there is an altar, a lectern or two, and chairs for the minister(s) to sit on. We will most likely see a cross or crucifix on or above the altar. The church has an organ, in many cases a pipe organ, either up in front of the sanctuary or in the back, possibly up in the balcony. There is also an area, either in front or in back, where the choir sits. There is also a fellowship hall, a kitchen, and Sunday School classrooms, and very likely a church office or two. There will be carpet of some color or another, and very likely some stained-glass windows.
When we go to church on Sunday mornings, we will sit in the pews, sing hymns or more contemporary Christian music, hear scriptures read and a sermon. The minister(s) will in many cases wear a robe(s). When we have the Lord’s Supper / Eucharist / Holy Communion the elements will have been blessed and served by the minister. (Communion cannot be served without a minister of the church.) We may see people baptised by the minister. (Baptism can only be performed by the minister.) We will sing out of hymnals or from music projected up on a screen.
Does this sound like your experience of church? It probably is, more or less. There is some variation, but for the most part, that is what church is like in America today.
What would happen if somebody in the church proposed that your church got rid of the organ, the stained-glass windows, all the robes for the minister and the choir, and that the carpet be torn up and replaced with plain, wooden floors? What if they got rid of the choir? You would have a big fight on your hands, right?
What if somebody proposed that the church doesn’t need an ordained pastor to preside over the Lord’s Supper? What if somebody wanted to baptise their own family without a pastor? What if somebody wanted to baptise other people? (Why, you can’t do that yourself! You have to be an ordained minister!)
You see, none of these things are biblical requirements for a church. They’re not in the Bible. They’re traditions of man – they’re human traditions! They’re not God’s laws!
A couple friends of mine, Michael Hinton and Joe McManus, are starting a new Methodist Church, called the Ecumenical Methodist Church of America, or the American Methodist Church for short. Now I am not advocating that we all up and join that new denomination, but I would like to draw your attention to an article that Mike Hinton wrote that to my mind was stunningly revolutionary. Here are a few excerpts from that article:
WHERE TWO OR MORE ARE GATHERED
Michael Hinton, M.Div.
If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask
It will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered in my name,
There am I in the midst of them. — Jesus Christ
Any two people that declare a time and place together “in the Name of Jesus Christ” constitute a true congregation of the Lord and are recognized as a church by American Methodists.
It doesn’t need to be a “good” church, whatever that means, or even a Methodist Church. In fact, our Lord is brilliant in the way his saying above cuts across our carnal requirements for numbers, money, ownership, control and denominational bickering to say to us, “Hey, these are my people and I am among them.”
Did you catch that? Do you see the revolutionary concept there? Two people, gathered in Jesus’ Name for the purpose of worshipping Him are recognized as a congregation!
It doesn’t say a word about having a building, or an educated and ordained pastor, or a choir, or a pipe organ, or robes, or a youth program. It doesn’t even say anything about pews or carpeting!
According to Christ himself, it only takes two to accomplish what anyone needs to survive and even thrive as Christians – agreeing in prayer together to receive the gifts and graces needed in life from the Lord Jesus himself, who meets with his people.
Man, we’re really talking about getting back to basics here!
Warning, though – any such small group that avails itself of the Lord’s promise may not stay “two or three” for long because once the Lord starts blessing such faithfulness, others may notice. In addition, one of the prayers Christ loves to answer is that his faithful congregations grow in spiritual power and legitimate numbers. (Legitimate numbers occur where there is no compromise of the Name, where the nature, will and reputation of Christ remains intact.)
Sounds like an open door to starting a new church to me! Our hands are no longer tied!
For those of us in denominations where we cannot in good conscience continue to support the programs, boards and agencies of our denomination, and where many of us cannot in good conscience even attend services, here’s the kicker:
There are cases in which an entire congregation, except for a very few, refuse to exercise the proper Christian order and discipline. That is, the majority sometimes will not meet “in the Name,” consistent with the will, purpose and reputation of Christ, but will corrupt themselves by compromises. In such a case, the minority group feels like they should part company. But where should they go?
What are “two or three” to do if a larger group, sometimes an entire denomination, is unable or unwilling to meet “in the Name,” rightly understood?
Does the smaller group merely submit to the tyranny of the majority? Or do they make their appeal directly to Christ himself, who deigns to meet with them in the Spirit to answer their prayers for holy fellowship?
The answer is clear from what we’ve considered. Large groups are not necessary to viable Christian discipleship. In fact, a false loyalty to groups, churches, denominations can be detrimental to one’s spiritual growth. And the Lord would never abandon his faithful followers to the whims and fancies of a failed ecclesiastical system. He would prefer to meet wth two or three faithful ones than a thousand unfaithful!
So, standing on the promises of Christ’s presence with us, those that seek the Lord’s will and holy ways should feel free to meet “in his Name,” in groups as small as “two or three.” There is no telling what the Lord may be able to accomplish through such a group, for his love and power are limited only by the level of our willingness to serve him.
This is a revolutionary idea these fellows have proposed. If any of us were to actually do this, we would probably be accused of ecclesiastical anarchy. But would that be the truth? No. In my humble opinion, it would simply be a return to the early Church, the Church as Christ ordained it, the Church without man’s traditions.
At least it’s something to think about.