Friday, February 14, 2014

Please Make It Stop

Another day and another clumsy defense of the institutional religious status quo. The latest entry comes from Jared Wilson at the Gospel Coalition, What We Talk Like When We Talk About God. The post is obviously a response to the Donald Miller kerfuffle from last week. It is instructive to watch the response of defenders of the status quo when anyone dares to question our religious traditions. I saw it in response to Frank Viola's books. I saw it when Jefferson Bethke posted his Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus video on YouTube, a video that has garnered almost 27,000,000 views as of this morning. I see it again with the frenzy surrounding Donald Miller and his admission that he doesn't much care for traditional religious services and doesn't go.

Wilson's attempt to frighten/guilt people into "going to church" starts off with a terrible assumption:

I think a lot of the rejections in evangelicalism today of God’s sovereignty and biblical infallibility are not unrelated to the more recent conversations about the need to attend regular local church services. They are all simply manifestations of a rejection of authority, and while of course those who make these rejections will not say they are rejecting God — but rather the artificial or modernist fabrications of those who claim to speak for God — the treasured principle nevertheless does not seem to be what God has actually said but what one feels in the heart (or some similar thing). I think it’s because we don’t want anyone being the boss of us, and because doctrines like biblical infallibility (and biblical perspicuity) and experiences like church services are too restrictive, too conforming, too narrow a space for “me to be me.”

Oddly enough I consider myself to be something of a champion for God's sovereignty and biblical infallibility. I would less than humbly suggest that I have a more comprehensive theology of infallibility and sovereignty than many of those with a vested interest in the religious culture. In fact it is precisely because I believe that God is sovereign and that the Bible is inerrant and authoritative that I reject the religious traditions of man. They simply are not in the New Testament and most have no function for a New Covenant people. I am insistent on the point that a person with no cultural religious background in Christendom would not read the New Testament and see the Western "church" in what he read. When you have hundreds of years of religious tradition coupled with the majority of those subcontracted by the church to be professional clergy clinging to a system that provides their compensation it is little wonder that people have a hard time separating the church from the institution.

What irked me (and this is why I should stop reading this stuff) was the next two paragraphs:

There’s probably lots of reasons for this, but some of them are teased out in Donald Miller’s recent post where he triple-downs on his admission of not attending church services. It has something to do with embracing the “agency” taught in Hebrews apparently, and embodying the “organized chaos” of Acts. You know, the Hebrews where we’re told not to forsake the regular worship assembly and the Acts where we’re told the church gathered regularly in devotion to the apostles’ teaching and to hear a guy preach.

And so I think we ought to see the talk about agency and enjoying the church outside formality and institutions and the traditions of singing songs and listening to monologue teaching for what it really is: self-worship. A self-indulgent love of our own voices and preferring of them above all others. In church, after all, no one can hear you tweet. 

If you are at all familiar with the arguments rolled out by the defenders of the religious status quo these arguments will seem painfully familiar. Acts 2:42, Acts 20 and Hebrews 10:25 are rolled out, without context, as the rock solid proof text that require weekly mandatory attendance at religious events. I left the following comment:



"You know, the Hebrews where we’re told not to forsake the regular worship assembly and the Acts where we’re told the church gathered regularly in devotion to the apostles’ teaching and to hear a guy preach"

Well not really.

The oft quoted passage in Hebrews, 10:25, says we are to gather together for the purpose of encouraging one another and "stir up one another to love and good works". Notice it is "one another" not "one and all the others watch". That is one of the most commonly cited passages to guilt people into "going to church" and it actually says nothing at all about weekly attendance at a religious event. The church as we are taught in Acts 2:46 lived their lives together "daily", not once a week at a mandatory religious meeting.

As far as the passages in Acts you obliquely reference. Acts 2:42 does speak of devotion to the apostles' teaching but it is a huge leap to pluck that one phrase and impose our prepared monologue called the sermon onto it. Did they have specific periods of sermon type teaching? Maybe but we are not told that here or anywhere else. We also see that they were at the same time breaking bread together, i.e. having a meal as the church, fellowshipping, which means more than shaking hands as we scamper out to the parking lot, and prayers, presumably not just one guy praying while everyone else bows their head.

The reference to Acts 20 is grossly misleading. We don't have to guess what was happening, we are told in Acts 20:7 why the church gathered. It was not for a sermon (or "preaching"). It was to break bread. THAT was why they gathered and to miss that is either extremely poor exegesis or intentionally inaccurate. Defenders of the cultural religious status quo often paint this as Paul delivering a prepared monologue sermon but it is more consistent with the text to see Paul having a conversation with the church rather than imagining him standing behind a pulpit with his outline in Powerpoint projected on the wall behind him. Certainly he lead the conversation as an apostle but to assume that he was the sole speaker who delivered a sermon all night is borderline silly.

It is also instructive that where you are not misquoting the New Testament, you turn to the Old. Trying to force Old Covenant practices on a New Covenant church has been the cause of all sorts of mischief through the ages (i.e the Roman Catholic Church). If you are going to defend the mandatory weekly meeting at least try to use verses in context and focus on the recorded practices and commands of the church.

Perhaps a bit heavy handed but when people bear false witness against fellow Christians for  not adhering to man-made traditions I get a bit riled up.

If people choose to show up week after week to sit in the same pews to listen to the same guy giving essentially the same sermon, that is their business. I think it is harmful to the church and suppresses  spiritual growth but I understand the inertia of institutionalism. When you start to accuse people of things like being "anti-authority" and engaged in "self-worship" I have to stand up and call them on it.

It is not only possible to adhere to what the Bible teaches as authoritative and still reject the institutional manifestation of the church, it is the more consistent interpretation. If your only recourse is less than subtle insults and turning to the Old Covenant to enforce religious traditions on New Covenant people, it really exposes just how weak your argument is. 

OK, rant over.

6 comments:

Alan Knox said...

The response to your comment is priceless...

-Alan

Aussie John said...

Arthur,

Hear! Hear!

Eric said...

Arthur,

You've got to stay away from the Gospel Coalition. They stand for the Institution as much as they do the Gospel. It will only give you ulcers.

Neil Braithwaite said...

"When you have hundreds of years of religious tradition coupled with the majority of those subcontracted by the church to be professional clergy clinging to a system that provides their compensation it is little wonder that people have a hard time separating the church from the institution." Great quote! It's on my site now and linked back to this piece. http://honorgodsword.com/

Elvis Alivodi said...

I consider it providential to having had come across your blogg. Excellent response.

Arthur Sido said...

Eric, I know when I read anything about the church I am going to get a defense of the status quo and yet much of what the other topics cover I find profitable so I keep going back for more.