Are There Biblical Alternatives To Church?

David Wells, a highly respected theologian and author of many books, comments at the 9 Marks Blog on a newly released Barna Report. It’s pretty amazing stuff and well worth reading. Perhaps all of us to examine whether our attitudes toward church participation are biblical.

A recent Barna report offers an interesting snapshot of the current mood.

Surveying those who are “Christian” by self-designation—which, we know, is not of much use as a category—Barna found that a majority of adults believe that there are six alternative ways to attend a conventional church service that are biblically acceptable:

worship at home (89%),
active in house church (75%),
watching religious TV (69%),
radio broadcast (68%),
special ministry event (68%),
and participating in a marketplace ministry (54%).

Keep in mind, these are not both/ands, but alternatives! Each of the six was deemed by most adults to be “a complete and biblically valid way for someone who does NOT participate in the services or activities of a conventional church to experience and express their faith in God.” Barna also found two more alternatives regarded as legitimate by a significant minority of adults, including:

interacting with a religious website (45%)
and engaging in spiritual activity on the internet (42%).

Appended to this report are the conclusions from Barna’s latest book (Pagan Christianity, co-authored with Frank Viola) which argues that much of what conventional churches do are rooted in pagan origins: church buildings, formal sermons, official pastors, the truncated form of the Lord Supper, as well as later accretions like stained glass, pews, altar calls, pulpits, pastoral prayers, church bulletins, clergy attire, choirs, tithing, seminaries, infant baptism, and funeral processions.

Assume for the moment that Barna’s numbers are correct and that they really do identify a prevailing mood. This mood will be in our churches. How are we going to respond to it? It seems to me that this has become a central question and we need to be careful that we are not caught fiddling while Rome—the reality of the Church—gets burned down. The problem, though, is that the consequences in our churches of increasingly vapid biblical teaching, personality-centered pastoring, invasive individualism, contempt for the past, and an egregiously non-theological kind of evangelicalism have now been accumulating for years. And this makes for easy-pluckings by anyone who seems to have a better idea or who offers more for less.

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