Is the Next 'Revolution' the Demise of the Local Church?
- Tuesday, February 14, 2006
These high-demand Christians represent a threat to the established church. With an amazing lack of nuance, Barna consistently presents his Revolutionaries in a positive light and the local church in a negative light. When Revolutionaries are criticized by established churches, this is "simply because of their determination to honor the God they love."
Consider Barna's description of these brave souls. "Like their role model, Jesus Christ, they ignite fierce resistance merely by being present and holy. It is perhaps that holy presence that will get Revolutionaries in the deepest trouble they will face--and that will bring lasting healing to a culture that has rebelled for too long against its loving Creator. These Christian zealots are radically reshaping both American society and the Christian Church. Their legacy is likely to be a spiritual reformation of unprecedented proportions in the United States, and perhaps the world."
Beyond this, Barna warns that Christians are not to judge these believers "who are dedicated to pleasing God and blessing people" when "they are true to biblical principles and commands." There lies the main problem with Barna's Revolutionaries and the revolution he so eagerly promotes. Where this revolution falls short is seen precisely in light of the Bible's presentation of the normative Christian life and the means of grace whereby believers are shaped into Christlikeness.
We should be fair and open-minded in understanding the passions Barna presents as formative for the Revolutionaries. He identifies these as a desire for intimate worship, faith-based conversations, intentional spiritual growth, servanthood, resource investment, spiritual friendships, and family faith. While some might describe these passions with different language, no one can doubt that Barna is on to something when he points to these issues as the reason for the Revolutionaries' dissatisfaction with so many existing congregations. Almost everything he says about the inadequacy of local church life is validated by even a brief acquaintance with the superficiality of American evangelicalism.
We should remember that Barna's dissatisfaction with the church is not a new development. In 1998 he published The Second Coming of the Church, in which he warned: "At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I believe the Church in America has no more than five years--perhaps even less--to turn itself around and begin to affect the culture, rather than be affected by it."
Still, something has gone tragically wrong when a marketing researcher declares that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is simply doomed--especially in terms of local congregations. "There is nothing inherently wrong with being involved in a local church," he argues. "But realize that being part of a group that calls itself a 'church' does not make you saved, holy, righteous, or godly any more than being in Yankee Stadium makes you a professional baseball player. Participating in church-based activities does not necessarily draw you closer to God or prepare you for a life that satisfies Him or enhances your existence. Being a member of a congregation does not make you spiritually righteous anymore than being a member of the Democratic Party makes you a liberal wing nut."
A closer look at that argument reveals a glaring non sequitur. It completely avoids the question of what the church should be, and it undercuts a basic biblical premise--that the local church is supposed to be the very place where Christians are drawn into the very passions Barna identifies--and into so much more.
The fatal attractiveness of his argument is found most clearly in this short paragraph: "Being in a right relationship with God and His people is what matters. Scripture teaches us that devoting your life to loving God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul is what honors Him. Being part of a local church may facilitate that. Or it might not."
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