Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This Little Church Stayed Home

I've never read a book which made me want to shout for joy and throw it against the wall in anger all at once!

This Little Church Stayed Home is a reaction to churches 'selling out' on the gospel in favour of 'marketing' themselves to both Christians and non-Christians alike.  Gary E. Gilley explores the dangers of churches focusing on being attractive, rather than remaining firmly grounded in the Scriptures.

I agree!  If a church forgets that they should be on about Jesus and His gospel, then why do they even exist?  They have lost their saltiness.  Watering down core beliefs that are unsavoury to the rest of the world may make the church more palatable to non-Christians but, in the end, what are they being attracted to?

To be honest, I don't know why churches try to sell themselves by having 'good coffee'.  I know there are a lot of coffee snobs out there, but there are plenty of cafes that do coffee better than any church.  Why would someone be attracted to a church purely by the promise of 'good coffee' when they can get one at the cafĂ© down the road (and don't have to hear anything which challenges their views on God and their lifestyle)?

When I think back to what attracted me to Jesus before I became a Christian, it was seeing the lives of my Christian friends at high school.  Then I realised what I truly craved....acceptance, true friendships and community, and deep joy.  All of these I found at church: I learned that when I trust Jesus' death and resurrection, my sins are forgiven and I am totally accepted by God; I have genuine relationships, and the deep joy that comes from knowing Christ, that no matter what happens to me on this earth, one day I will be spending eternity with Him and His people in a renewed creation.  But it was more than that.  I learned that the world doesn't revolve around me and what I want, but it's all about Jesus and giving Him the glory He deserves.  After I became a Christian, it was the solid Bible teaching at church and encouragement from other Christians which helped me along in my walk.  If the church sells out on the gospel and focuses on being cool, then they have lost their reason for existence.  When churches focus on what Jesus can do for people, they risk promoting Him as just another fad to bring self-fulfilment.

I have a lot of respect for Rick Warren, but I did agree with Gilley's criticism of The Purpose Driven Life (which I have mostly read).  While it offers sound, practical advice, many of the Scriptural references are taken out of context.  In Warren's gospel presentations no mention is made of sin, repentance or even the Cross.  Real life (i.e., a life with purpose) seems to be the reward, and lack of real life (purpose) the problem. (page 90)

Now for the bit that made me want to throw it against the wall....

Just because a church wants to change how they do things does not mean they are not prioritising the gospel.  A church that has hymns is not more holier than thou than a church that has modern, upbeat music.  A church that has stain glass windows and a steeple and looks like a church building is not more faithful than a church who meets in a community centre, on a university campus, in a pub, in a park, or in someone's home.  A church which uses the King James or New King James Version is not superior to a church which uses the New International Version, the Good News Bible, or the New Living Translation.  Let's face it....we find it hard to invite non-Christians to church because church often seems like a foreign culture.  If a church wants to do things differently to help break down the barriers to faith, then I applaud them for that.  Reaching out does not equate to selling out.

I think one reason I didn't like this book so much was that I heard some older people raving about it.  When a book appeals to older people who I know don't like 'modern churches with loud music', I get very suspicious.  They might have completely missed the author's point, but it was like they were equating being small with being faithful.  Just because a church is growing in epic proportions, doesn't mean the gospel is not being presented faithfully.  Likewise, just because a church is small doesn't mean they aren't doing all they can to reach out to their community.  I don't like it when some churches pat themselves on the back for being small.  I would never want to go to some churches because they are so stale.  They say they want young people, but I get the feeling a young person with a fresh attitude and a few ideas would be thrown out onto the street and labelled a heretic for wanting to change the music.

Anyway, it's still worth a read.  Gilley presents a lot of good information and rebukes to alternate teaching from postmodernism, mysticism, and the emergent church in the US.  There are a lot of subtle threats and temptations to be unfaithful to the gospel and it's good to be informed of such things.  I'm glad he had the guts to say it, even if I didn't agree with everything.

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