What do we do about the church?
After examining Brian’s unchristian biases in his first 5 theological questions, I am reconsidering my commitment to working through each of his 5 practical questions (but I will keep slogging away, as it’s almost Lent). If Brian’s theological commitments place him outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy, why should we care what he thinks we should do about the church? To paraphrase Tertullian in his Prescription of Heretics, “It’s not your church!”
Here are Tertullian’s words against the Gnostic heretics, which seem relevant today: “Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, ‘Who are you? When and whence do you come? As you are none of mine, what are you doing on my property? Indeed, Marcion, by what right do you hew my wood? By whose permission, Valentinus, are you diverting my streams? By what power, Apelles, are you removing my landmarks? This is my property. Why are you, the rest, sowing and pasturing here at your pleasure? This is my property. I have long possessed it; I possessed it before you. I hold sure title-deeds from the original owners themselves, to whom the estate belonged. I am the heir of the apostles.”
With that understanding, I didn’t find a lot to disagree with in this chapter, probably because Brian wrote at a high level of abstraction. He tells us that “the one grand calling” of the church is to be “a space in which the Spirit works to form Christlike people, and it is the space in which human beings, formed in Christlike love, cooperate with the Spirit and one another to express that love in word and deed….” He encourages us to sacrifice everything to become “Christlike people, people who live in the way of love, the way of peacemaking, the way of the kingdom of God, the way of Jesus, the way of the Spirit.”
Brian’s instructions are like listening to a U.S. president encouraging us to “make America strong!” Who would disagree with that? But of course the devil is in the details. Just as Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to lead an American recovery, so Brian’s answers to his first five theological questions lead me to conclude that his way of living like Jesus is not what I or the Bible mean. Specifically, Scripture teaches that we can’t follow the way of Jesus without believing in him first.
When Brian asks “what one great danger do people need to be saved from?” he answers that they need to be saved “from the great danger of wasting their lives, becoming something less than and other than they were intended to be, gaining the world but losing their souls.” Brian then suggests that we “rethink our core mission” of the church around this great danger.
Brian’s answer here is profoundly inadequate. Neither I nor John Piper (Don’t Waste Your Life) are in favor of wasting anything, but we would say with every orthodox Christian that our greatest danger is to remain in our sin and go to hell, which of course, would be the greatest waste of our lives.
Here’s the point: Brian’s shallow evaluation of our problem (no Fall, original sin, total depravity, or hell) produces a shallow understanding of salvation (love as much as you can and let God’s judgment burn your bad stuff away) which produces a shallow view of the church (it exists merely to stop people from wasting their lives).
But we already have that job covered. Several institutions already exist to stop people from wasting their lives. Colleges prepare people for life, the Army challenges them to “Be all they can be,” and the Peace Corps provides an outlet to serve others. So given Brian’s description of the church’s mission, why do we even need it? Hasn’t his quest to make the church relevant merely succeeded in making it redundant?