As I try explain my new-to-me ministry vision to friends and family, I’ve found that I’m encountering some resistance, and I can appreciate that. My actions seem to be saying loudly and clearly that I don’t believe in the church anymore. But I need to clarify, as publicly as I can, that that’s not at all the case. I believe as much as I ever have that the local church is still the hope of the world (which is a sentiment that long predates Bill Hybels, by the way.)
It’s just that I don’t believe the church as I’ve always known it is the only possible expression of a biblical community of believers anymore. I don’t see anything in the text that tells us we have to have programs, staff, organs, pews or reserve funds. In fact, while each of those things might have been intended for the growth of the body and the glory of God, I fear some of them have become not only irrelevant, but even dangerous to the continuing ministry of the gospel (to quote the Venerable Bode). I get the feeling that we’re only holding onto outdated structures because we’re afraid of what will happen if we let them go. But the trellis is meant to support the vine, not the other way around (see the aptly titled book, The Trellis and the Vine, by Marshall and Payne).
Reading and preaching topically in the book of Acts this winter has me more certain than ever before that the only thing necessary to the foundation of a church is the proclamation of the eternal and unchanging gospel of Jesus. If two or more people can gather together in agreement that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, it’s a community of believers, a legitimate local expression of the universal body, and therefore a church. I can’t see it any other way. I’m afraid we’ve overcomplicated it, and focused so much on maintaining the trellis that we’ve all but forgotten to tend to the vine. My intention for my own life, and my challenge to others, is to cling only to the gospel, and experiment with the rest. What if there’s a simpler, more efficient way of doing church?
I know there are dangers inherent in reducing church this much. I’ve seen some of the crazy things people come up with firsthand. Maybe it’s arrogance that says we’re not like them. Maybe it’s folly that has us walking away from agreat life. Maybe it’s a messiah complex that has us thinking we can change it. We’ve actually considered these things, and prayed about these things, and sought the wise counsel of friends and family about these things. Just so you know.
Yet what you need to remember is that we’ve got nothing to lose. We’ve already lost it all. Having faced death recently, we were reminded that all the wonders of this life are temporary and unsatisfying. The purpose of our lives is not to build our own kingdom, but God’s. That’s the only way we’ll arrive at eternal fulfillment. So having grabbed hold of that truth, maybe we’re finally crazy enough to step out in faith and in hope that, as Andrew Peterson said, “The blood of Jesus, it is like the widow’s oil: when it’s all you have, it’s all you’ll ever need.” The local church is the hope of the world because it’s the only community where Christ is declared to be sufficient for all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).