Calvary Pastors This post comes from Calvary Chapel Pastors

I love the church. It is the Body of Christ. It seems wherever I look, the very term “church” has become a punching bag for critics both in and outside it’s walls. Loving Jesus while bashing the church is cool while loving Jesus and His church seems to be way uncool. Perhaps the disdain is a leftover of the “steeple and people” perception from times past. We now prefer synonyms. Those of us converted in the Jesus Movement liked the term “fellowship.” Some Pentecostals settled on the Old Testament word “temple.” Today’s postmodern church likes the new buzz term “missional community.”

The semantics are not important but the substance is. In every generation there seems to arise some bright lad or lady who wants to return to that elusive “New Testament Pattern” of the church (we now have 33,000 denominations!), often at the expense of what has gone before. First on the chopping block are church buildings, programs, liturgies, tithing, the sacraments, icons (except maybe Jesus tatoos!), and anything else that smacks of being “churchy” gets the axe. I’ve even seen the Lord’s Supper being observed with the same amount of holy reverence as a ping-pong game! Many creative innovators champion a “just me and Jesus” theology and don’t much care for spiritual authorities over them regardless of how Jesus-servant-like they are. They like to just meet very organically as the Spirit leads (see Barna’s “Revolution” [subtitled “Worn-out On Church?”], which opens with two fellows “having church” on Sunday morning at a golf course).

The oft-repeated challenge is heard, “Where does the Bible say I have to go to church?” Anything resembling an “institution” or “organized religion” (some more uncool words!) is off-limits. A favorite, though worn-out expression, is, “The church is not an organization, but an organism.” Much of such language is a sincere quest for authentic spirituality, but one wonders how much is a combination of an American spirit of independence combined with some leftover flower-child vibes from the 60s where our favorite bumper sticker reminded us to “Question Authority!”

There are many types of churches. First, there is the normal breakdown of Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Liberal, and Mainline churches. Then there are seeker, simple, missional, peace, green, house, indigenous, online, emerging (not to be confused with Emergent), Messianic, justice, Reformed, Catholic, Orthodox, mega, liturgical, neo-Calvinist, multi-site, “Back to the Bible,” and even “invisible” churches (I’m not kidding!). There is even a church in my city called “The True Jesus Church”. Does that mean the rest of us are in a “false Jesus” Church?!

While globe trekking, I have attended most of the churches mentioned above. I have not found the perfect church and still can’t even define the perfect church. It has been said if I found the perfect church then I shouldn’t join it because then it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. Ironically, I have found a lot of people who are so sold on their church brand that they freely criticize others who are not in their camp while they sport “Christians Aren’t Perfect, Just Forgiven” bumper stickers on their cars.

Traditional Bible churches tend to think that seeker churches are shallow and superficial. Seeker churches tend to think that Bible churches get stuck in ruts and are short on applying the Bible. Some Pentecostals accuse the Baptists of being too dry while some Baptists think the Pentecostals are all wet and proclaim “repent and be Baptist!” The younger “missional” churches take issue with the more established churches because they aren’t “incarnational” enough and fail to bring “transformation” to their communities. The Emergent churches (who are shrinking almost as fast as they grew) preached “deeds, not creeds,” disdained “doctrine,” and became increasingly intolerant of those they considered intolerant. Unfortunately their cure may have been worse than the disease.

Smaller churches accuse the mega-churches of compromising quality for the sake of quantity, and on and on it goes. One mega-church pastor told me he was criticized for pursuing excellence, and shouldn’t be so “professional.” He then turned to his critics and asked, “What would you suggest we pursue; non-excellence?”

Not long ago I asked a traveling musician if he ever found one type of church that seems to produce a better quality of obedient disciples than other types of churches. He immediately replied, “No, all churches have good, bad, and ugly things going on.” I had to nod my head to concur.

I wonder what would happen if somehow we could call a moratorium on all in-house judgment of Christ’s body and begin to highlight the positive contributions each church/denominational label brings to the Lord’s table. What would happen if we celebrated the light instead of curse the darkness? Case in point: I spoke at a church not long ago and made a reference to the church I had been at the week before. Someone came up to me and confidently asserted, “That church doesn’t get into the Word.” My reply: “Well, they weren’t using the Koran, and yes, they did get into the Word but maybe not in the same way that you think a church should ‘get into the Word.'” Then I naively enquired: “Have you ever been to that church?” “No, but that’s what I heard,” was the reply. I lightly exhorted the brother that even in secular court of law hearsay evidence is not admissible. The biblical standard is much higher: Just don’t judge! (Mt. 7:1-5; Rom. 2:1-3 14:4, 12-14; Jas. 4:11-12). Sorry I’m criticizing the critics, but somebody’s got to do it.

Paul warned us very clearly not to divide over personalities: I am of Paul … Cephas … Apollos … see 1 Cor. 1:10-13,3:4-5. While there is nothing wrong with honoring leaders or even being “proud”(in an appropriate sense) of being a part of a church or movement, we must recognize there are simply different strokes for different folks and we need to cut others some slack, or to use a biblical term, extend “grace.” Are there times to sound a trumpet, warning about false teaching? Yes, but there is a difference between heresy and personal taste.

Local Church vs. Para-church

Back in the 70s, there was much controversy about “para-church” organizations. (An unfortunate term as “para” means “alongside of” and misrepresents structures that are not simply local churches. Hence I have chosen the term “mission-church”). It was even declared by some that these organizations have no right to exist because they are not “biblical” and existed only because the local church was not doing its job. Most of these judgments have subsided because the critics have realized the ludicrous nature of their assertions. Without these mission-church structures there would be no Christian schools, hospitals, orphanages, denominations, Bible colleges, seminaries, radio/TV ministries, mission agencies, Christian bookstores, rescue missions, aviation ministries, justice ministries, relief and development programs, etc., not to mention Paul’s traveling teams who were not “local.”

Now the shoe is on the other foot. People from some mission structures have in some circles rendered the local church irrelevant. Some have told me they “do church” all weeklong where they get fed and experience God and see no need to serve in or even attend church on Sundays. I spoke with one worker who said he searched but couldn’t find a church good enough for him (this was in a city with hundreds of churches!). Remember, it is a church service, not a self-service!

It is my humble opinion that every mission-church worker should not only attend, but give to and serve the ministry of the local church where they live. There will always be exceptions (i.e. – those doing church planting or where there are no biblical churches available), but the exceptions further emphasize the rule.

I am grateful that as a new believer coming off the beach I had a good church to care for me and teach me the value of a local church. Joining YWAM did not change my commitment to serve the church. Time and space will fail me to tell of the incredible blessings I have received because I have been committed to my local church and served under my pastor.

When people tell me that they are too busy to serve at or even attend church, I simply say, “then you are too busy!” I like to point out that most of the folks who serve in local churches are already working 40+ hours a week, doing chores around the house, and various other “soccer mom”- type activities, and yet they still find the time to serve.

All this to say… I love the church!

    continue reading the views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of Calvary Southampton

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