Tuesday, February 07, 2006

An Odd Parallel

Little did I know that when I picked up the little book revolution by George Barna that I would be handling such a controversial topic. I've been reading some of the many reviews and reactions to Barna's book around the blogosphere, and have recognized the age-old (at least my age) argument of whether a Christian needs to be a part of a local church. Tod Bolsinger is doing an extremely good job of taking on Barna's ideas point by point and I refer you to his blog for individual posts like these linked in this run-on sentence. At Pyromaniacs, James Spurgeon is dealing with the same issue in a current series of posts also. His position is bluntly put in this quote:

I'll say it again. When you quit church, you quit following Christ. I don't say that to be mean or nasty. I say that in love and in hopes of getting some to re-think their actions.

Then I ran into this note from Al Mohler's blog about the passing of feminist leader Betty Friedan over the weekend. Here are a couple of quotes from that post:

Her thesis was that American women were coming to recognize that the arena of the home, with the traditional role of wife and mother, was just not enough. As she famously posed the question, women were supposed to be asking, "Is this all?"

In any event, the death of Betty Friedan reminds us that the modern feminist movement's beginnings can be traced directly to a deep dissatisfaction with the arena of the home -- and to the denial of the roles of wife and mother as truly satisfying, truly important -- and truly worth the devotion of a woman's life.
As I read these quotes, I was immediately drawn back to the controversy of the need for belonging to a local church. The genesis of the feminist movement, as illustrated in the quotes above, was a dissatisfaction in the way things were. Some women didn't feel that home or kids or the life of being an unpaid slave was the way things should be. So they set their sights on having more. Meanwhile, the "revolutionary" held up by Barna is also someone who isn't fulfilled in a local church, so he leaves and sets out looking for more. Like the feminist, the revolutionary isn't searching for rules or expectations. Each is seeking a sense of freedom. Yet in this freedom is a desire for finding a way to please God by pleasing oneself.

As Bolsinger points out, this isn't a new or revolutionary phenomenon. People have been looking for their own breed of religion for centuries. They see the obvious flaws in the organization known as the Church and feel that they can't deal with such imperfect people. The trouble is that each person brings his or her own imperfections. And someone with only a desire for selfish fulfillment misses the point of taking up one's cross to follow Another. Those who reject the institutional church miss out on the opportunites which only a group of like-minded, accountable-to-others believers can provide. Sure there are problems in each church. That's the point. Together we are the body of Christ. Separately we are all thumbs, and far too liable to interpreting our faith through the filter of what pleases us. We become dissatisfied when we forget that the Church is not about pleasing us, but pleasing God.

I don't know why Barna's book reads like a recommendation of abandoning the local church. He is a researcher. I fully accept his read on a current trend happening within the boundaries of what is labelled Christianity. But somewhere along the line Barna goes from reporter to cheerleader, and perhaps that's what has set so many people on edge. But that's a post for another day.


julie said...

I agree. Without the united effort of the local church, I could accomplish little of eternal significance.

A Human Bean said...

I have never read any of Barna's books and do not intend to start. I would much rather read something done by a practitioner. This is not to say that Barna does not have important things to say, it is just to say that I think his research is better interpreted by those who do.

I completely understand why people have been leaving the established church. If it was not for the emerging church movement, I would likely not be going either. That being said, I believe in the local church and believe every person who follows Christ must find a place they can belong and invite others to belong to also. I don't care if it is a house church, mega church, traditional church, emerging church, or some new expression of church. If truth is coming out from it, lives are being changes, people are becoming more like Christ, then I am fine with it. When you don't have a group like this to be part of you are likely not to continue to grow yourself. Even if you are able to keep your own spiritual health, I don't see how you can pass that on to others who are far more immature. Your only reasonable option would be to start meeting with them and voila, you would have a church.

rev-ed said...

I wouldn't toss all of Barna's books out the door over this. As I said, he is an excellent researcher, and I have no doubt that this trend he reports is accurate.

This is the first time I've noted him taking an "advocate" position on much of anything.