One thing was often debated when talking about church services: regulative or normative? The regulative principle commands that we do only what God has explicitly commanded. The normative principle rules out only what God has explicitly prohibited. Tony Morgan recently posted 20 Politically Incorrect Thoughts on the Church in America. In his article, Mr. Morgan makes several pithy, matter of fact statements on ecclesiological matters. He founded The Unstuck Group, an organization that operates like a doctor for churches. I have not made myself an expert on his writings; however, I can presume upon what I’ve read so far that he is a proponent of the modern church service model. Sadly, I cannot really begin to define this model because of it’s constant flux. However, the modern church model’s main buzzword is simple.
After the debate over regulative and normative was never mentioned again, the biblical foundations for church models vanished. In stead, these models were swallowed up by programs, appealing to the world, age segregation, and relevance. This produced churches that maintained several programs and different worship services all trying to captivate people so they didn’t get bored with “church”. Now, throwing that model out, the rebellion simple came to the scene. This model doesn’t prefer several services, “It’s not possible to offer three different types of worship services and do them all well. It’s also confusing to the people you’re trying to reach.” Mr. Morgan’s first appeal follows this simple mantra. Under the good intentions of making the Gospel relevant to our culture, have we forgotten to test the biblical nature of our church service models? Although I agree with Morgan’s statement at face value, several flawed presuppositions come to mind:
1. The Church Service’s Main Purpose is Evangelism.
Did you notice one of the reasons Morgan stated it wasn’t good to have multiple types of worship services? Because it’s confusing to your congregants? No. “It’s confusing to the people you’re trying to reach.” Wait…what? The line between worship service and evangelism has been blurred for so long that there seems to be no difference any longer. One of the Bible’s references to the word church is an assembly of believers (the other being all believers not necessarily in a local gathering). No where in the Bible do believers invite unbelievers to church for evangelism. The assembly was designed to encourage and exhort believers so they could go out and evangelize. The “laymen” in the Bible aren’t going around saying, “hey, why don’t you come to the temple tomorrow and here this really cool relevant Apostle Peter speak.” The early believers were themselves telling the story of Jesus.
2. The Church should Cater to Culture.
What appeals to modern Americans today? Be simple. Be real. If the church is designed for people who are already believers, why should we cater to what unbelievers desire? Let’s say we start a book club. In this book club, we read books. One day, we notice that we’re not very popular and assume it’s because most American enjoy watching movies. So, we decide to set aside books and start watching movies at our club meetings, but we still call ourselves a book club. When appealing to the culture, does the culture assimilate to the church, or does the church assimilate to the culture? Simple church services stopped exhorting believers through biblical preaching, true fellowship, and biblical worship.They have turned to the culture for ‘relevant’ messages (as Morgan puts it, “Every church should do a marriage series, a money series and a series on life purpose every year. Christians need it, and I’m guessing unchurched people do too”). They have gathered for themselves so many people that there can be no true fellowship in that body. They have turned aside everything that makes a church what it is, but still call themselves a church.
This is a practical denial of the sufficiency of scripture. Is what God gave us sufficient to equip us (2 Tim. 3:16-17)? Or do we need to add to it? Simple church looks to the surrounding culture to determine its services. This draws a large crowd that assimilates to a particular entity. That entity becomes an identity that smooths out the differences the world tries to shove on us. However, the point of the church is, by the power of the Christ, we set aside all our extreme differences and come together for one purpose (Jesus). It’s not to separate out different people groups to cater to their fleshly desires. Jesus was born in a manger. He went outside the camp to the outcasts. When church service models cater to the majority of society, they stiff-arm those whom society has cast aside (for example).
3. “Every Church should be Actively Planning to Add a Service, Add a Campus or Plant a Church.”
The modern protestant church model has somehow been drawn back to the Roman Catholic model. Rome’s motto is “sola ecclesia.” The Bible describes the church as the people that make it up. Under the modern movement, the church entity (NewSping, or whatever relevant name you give it) has become higher than the people that make it up. Under this model, when people say, “I love my church,” they aren’t saying, “I love the people that make up my church.” Rather they are saying, “I love the services my church provides me, the way my pastor I’ve never met in person speaks, the things people (I don’t know who identify with my church) do that are put on display in the services.” That’s how one church entity can have multiple services, multiple campuses or “plants” and still be considered one church… just like the Roman Catholic Church. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for planting new churches. But, the new churches should be separate and autonomous. They don’t need to identity with some higher “entity” other than God. I would revise the above statement, “Qualified men to whom the Lord has given conviction and burden should plant a new church with the support of their current church, but separate and autonomous from their current church.”