A few weeks ago Donald Miller posted a bombshell revelation: he doesn’t attend a church often! I’m not well tuned in to the blogosphere these days so I didn’t pick up on this until someone posted a link to a follow up interview on facebook.
Now I found this all very fascinating. Coming off a house church network retreat where I guided a session on “What is church” it has been an intriguing exercise watching people freak out over Mr. Millar’s comments.
I may not end up in the very same place as Donald but I feel pretty much exactly the way he does about conventional worship services. I usually don’t connect with God through corporate song nor do I learn much in a sermon. Much more than most of his critics I think I understand where he is coming from.
I’ve looked through a few rebuttals and I’d have to say I’m startled to see so many people appealing to scripture to prove Miller wrong. When simple church folks start appealing to scripture about church we start to hear answers like “there is no biblical model” or “the church has evolved from its primitive roots.” In other words, stop being so picky about making church look like church did in the New Testament. It is rich to see such staunch defenders of the status quo lean so heavily on scripture.
Inevitably people bring out the reformation ideal which defined church as the preaching of the word and the right administration of the ordinances. Noble thoughts, but they don’t carry much weight with me as I don’t consider the writings of Luther or Calvin scripture.
There isn’t much ink spilled on baptism in the New Testament and most of what we have on the Eucharist is a few examples and an admonition to leave enough food and wine for everyone to enjoy. The proclamation of the gospel was and still is an important ministry, but there is absolutely nothing in the New Testament that says said proclamation needed to happen through an exposition of scripture delivered using the Greek art of oratory. Neither word we translate as “preach” actually defines the medium by which we share the good news or make our proclamation. While a sermon can certainly be the medium of proclamation, lots of others things are as well, including the Eucharist.
We do see a description of church in 1Cor 14 where see an orderly but a broadly participatory gathering of people who above all else love one another. Alan Knox has done a lot of great work on this and he concludes rather correctly that the purpose of the gathering of the church is to build up one another in love.
The purpose of church isn’t to sacrifice oneself in dedication to an institution which claims their goal is bring glory to God through their corporate success. Shockingly, Miller doesn’t seem to consider how important it is to be in a worship service to glorify God regardless of whether he is built up, cared for, learns anything or communes with God. His critics thunder “Church is not about him and his felt needs! It is about glorifying God.” I wonder if the Pharisees thought similarly about the Sabbath. “We must remember the Sabbath in order to glorify God!” and in their eyes Jesus wasn’t remembering properly. Jesus’ response “God made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Let me introduce a radical thought…”God made the church for man, not man for the church.” Taking my cue from Jesus’ prayer in John 17 I’d say that the church is intended to be a community of people communion with each other and God. That the glory of God is manifested in us in our communion. We do not simply gather for the glory of God, we gather because of the glory of God. We become one, and through that we witness to the truth of Christ’s love, light and life!
When I look at the oft quoted Hebrews 10:25 in defense of assembling together I see the words “encourage one another.” How does one encourage one another in an event where one cannot speak?
When I look at Eph 5:19-20 I wonder how we might speak to one another, when all we hear is the amplified voices and instruments of a concert.
How can we teach or admonish one another in adherence to Colossians 3:16 when we meet in an environment that makes it near impossible to truly get to know one another?
If Mr. Millar has an informal network of relationships by which he participates in real fellowship, receives real encouragement and admonishment, where he has an opportunity to teach and to learn I dare say he has more essential elements of church than a typical church member.