CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Is It Time To Close Our Churches?

Nov 26, 2011

OK, now that I have got your attention, let me explain. I was again having a great conversation with a godly brother about the state of the church and related matters. I mentioned the sad state of so much of Australian – and Western – Christianity, and what might be done about it.

We were talking about how basically all churches and denominations have some amount of the traditions of men. Most would claim to be merely biblical, but perhaps none are entirely so. We all have various traditions we tack on to our faith, thinking everything we do is all gospel truth.

I mentioned, as an example, how in so many of the churches it seems almost mandatory to have worship conducted in what can only be described as a disco: black walls, strobe lights, smoke machines, etc. There is not one bit of biblical warrant for any of this, but so many churches seem to think that without all this they would somehow be quite deficient.

I have written before about such matters: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/08/31/christian-atheism/

And here: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/11/29/david%E2%80%99s-mighty-men-godly-discontentment/

My brother fully agreed with me, but said that they would argue they need such things to draw in the young people or make it relevant. To which I replied, “What’s wrong with the Holy Spirit? Is he not sufficient to draw in both young and old?” The Holy Ghost was all the early church had. They had no gimmicks, no techniques, no marketing strategies, no advertising, and so on.

But they did have a growing and thriving church. They did not need or want manmade mechanisms to grow a church. They knew God alone would suffice. My friend, again agreeing, and again playing devil’s advocate, asked how we will keep people, especially our youth, coming to church. They need some sort of draw card.

I said we don’t really need entertainment and celebrities to draw people. If that was all we needed, then we should go the whole hog and have free pizzas, door prizes, and other appealing things 24/7. That would certainly bring in the crowds.

The trouble is, if the only way we can get people into our churches is through gimmicks, entertainment and worldly lures, then that will be what they come to expect for their entire Christian life. If their Christian journey is not fun, entertaining, feel-good and me-centred, they will go elsewhere for better and cheaper thrills.

We cannot start  believers off on the wrong foot and then expect they will continue on the right foot. A false initiation to the Christian faith will always disappoint in the end. Such shallow gospel gimmickry can only result in shallow Christians.

The entertainment and celebrity culture (by which I mean not just the songs but the sermons and the whole feel-good experience), needs to be radically rethought. Indeed, I would suggest that we can probably dispense with most of it, and start asking ourselves how God in fact builds a church. One thought which has exercised my spirit for some time now I will throw out here.

If it results in even more believers thinking I am a bit of a strange duck, well, that may be the price I have to pay. I try not to worry too much about what people think, but I do endeavour to take seriously what God thinks. (Of course I am fully aware that God speaks through his people. So I do actually take all criticisms on board, and try to treat them like a fish dinner: take the meat while leaving the bones behind.)

So let me offer a real hardcore suggestion here. My recommendation is this: it may well be the best thing in many cases to simply shut our church doors and post a big sign on each entry with words something like this:

“Dear friends, sorry but our church is now closed for repairs. It will be closed for perhaps a few days, perhaps a few weeks, and maybe even longer, until a full and thorough renovation has taken place. These doors will remain shut for as long as it takes. We will notify you when the doors will reopen. In fact, there will be no need to notify you, because it will be apparent to everyone when the renewal work is completed. Thank you for your patience.”

Am I being facetious here? Not really – at least not too much. I do believe that sometimes the very best thing we could do for some of our churches is shut them down for a spell. When the church is shut down, God’s people and their leaders can then spend as much time on their faces before God as possible, beginning with some serious repentance.

The list of things to repent of would be extensive. We could repent of our worldliness, our compromise, our disobedience, our laziness, our lukewarmness, our apathy, our carnality, our waywardness, our sloth, our cowardice, our sinfulness, and our fleshliness. And that’s just for starters.

We could repent of relying on man-made techniques, pagan gimmicks, carnal entertainment, worldly celebrity status, and whoring after money, fame and fortune. Above all we could repent of thinking that the Holy Spirit is somehow just an optional extra, and that having lots of entertainment and things to do will somehow compensate for his absence.

We must take very seriously the words of Christ: “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Until our hearts are broken and malleable and contrite and soft, we will never be able to do much good for God. That is the clear teaching of Scripture:

“A broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

“For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
‘I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite’.” (Isaiah 57:15)

“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)

And we should stay on our faces before God in an attitude of contrition, repentance and humility for as long as it takes. When, by God’s grace, the garbage in our churches and in our lives is weeded out, and we are at a place of brokenness before him, where we are willing to say, “Lord, whatever it takes,” and God then gloriously and wonderfully meets us and renews us and fills us afresh, then we can reopen the doors.

In other words, until the Lord meets us with a new, deep and serious work of God, breaking forth into a transforming revival, we should maybe take a break from all our busyness. When God-breathed revival breaks forth, we will not need to waste our time on entertainment and fleshly gimmicks and cheap tricks to keep the crowds amused.

We will be too busy falling before the holy and living God. We will have to think about how to deal with the overflowing crowds. That will be a much nicer problem to have. Remember, Jesus never left as his parting commandment, “Go into all the world and make megachurches, draw big crowds, and entertain the masses”.

He said “Go into all the world and make disciples.” That is an altogether different matter. And the only real way that can be done is by the power of the Spirit. Instead of so much relying on every method under the sun, we need to more fully embrace the only true means Christ has prescribed for us: the Holy Spirit.

As usual, A.W. Tozer had it exactly right: “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”

Postscript

OK, let me offer a much-needed afterword for all those ready to tar and feather me and run me out of town. Are there a lot of great churches, Christians, and church leaders doing great things? You bet. Is God ever so gracious and merciful to us that he shows up week after week even though we have so much carnality and fleshliness in our gatherings? Yep.

It is the overwhelming grace of God that he so often uses us frail, weak and often selfish servants. My point is simply that instead of relying on so many gimmicks and techniques, maybe we just need to go back to basics and invite God back and ask him how he would like things to be done.

And my proposal is not all that radical. Pastors will often take a sabbatical; church leaders will often do a weekend retreat; and lay people will often go to a week-long church camp for spiritual renewal and refocusing. So my suggestion is simply a bit more of the same.

I thank God for all the faithful Christians, faithful churches, and faithful leaders who are sold out to Jesus and are intent on glorifying him. May their tents increase and may there be many more of them.

[1560 words]

36 Responses to Is It Time To Close Our Churches?

  • I remember reading about a pastor who actually did put a sign on the church door to inform the congregation that he was taking some personal time out to wait on the Lord. From what I recall, a time of revival followed.

    Annette Nestor

  • Hi Bill,
    An arresting piece. A good call for renewal. Here in England we desperately need it.
    Alan Williams, UK

  • “The entertainment and celebrity culture (by which I mean not just the songs but the sermons and the whole feel-good experience), needs to be radically rethought. Indeed, I would suggest that we can probably dispense with most of it, and start asking ourselves how God in fact builds a church.”

    Bill. Thanks for this very thoughtful and much needed comment. Aside from the more obvious elements of the ‘world’ you mention above which certainly need rejecting, there are I believe other clearly identifiable and well entrenched structural problems.
    Your question therefore ‘How God in fact builds a church’ is highly relevant one to raise.
    I had penned the following comments before reading your article, and in response to your previous one, upon which I had been reflecting. I offer only a few tentative thoughts as follows:
    By and large nearly all the mainline denominations have little to justify their existence as ‘denominations’ apart from accidents of history when they were formed, some centuries ago. These constitute the majority of churches and are rightly dubbed ‘institutional’ . (This is not to enter into a judgement of their memberships or leaders, most of whom may well be Godly, and well motivated, but who have simply inherited what they now have) . I am concerned only to identify what is in effect a closed systems common to the great majority of churches.

    The common element is that such churches have by tradition, and do by consent maintain traditions which are alien to a NT view of the church of Christ. Briefly some of these common elements are “fixed” and structural. They include mandatory:

    ‘worship services’ (no NT precedent for these, except perhaps on an occasional basis)

    The omnicompetent place and role of ‘the pastor’ concept, with its assumption of a clergy/pastor/laity divide as being “normal” “preaching” (directed at and to Christians) in the form of monologues, which entirely exclude the priority that Paul gives to the importance of the functioning of the whole body (potentially) when gathered. 1 Cor. 12-14 spells it out. Thus a FUNCTIONING priesthood of ALL believers, as opposed to one or two leaders, is denied.

    The “sermon event”, entrenched and inflexible in its application as it is, deliberately excludes any input by other gifted members of the body – brothers or sisters! Paul identifies the functioning of “every part” as being vital to the ongoing spiritual maturity of the whole body when gathered, and (Eph. 4:7-16) sets outs this rationale.
    In a word: all new Covenant priests have a responsibility to actually exercise their God given gifts and abilities in the body of Christ (to Him, and to one another). Is this not to be the norm, not the exception?

    Finally it is well to ask the question. Why do we gather as churches?. Answer from 1 Cor 12-14, and other NT passages; in order that Christ may be expressed corporately through His body – all of it!
    Much more could be said, but I think reform of these practices is a first step.
    May I strongly recommend a reading of Jon Zen’s new little book which expands on these issues:
    ‘The Pastor Has No Clothes – Moving from clergy centred church to Christ centered Ekklesia. (Ekklesia Press Nebraska USA. Only very few dollars via Amazon)

    You will thank me for this recommendation!
    Graham Wood

  • An excellent post, Bill.

    I don’t think Graham is quite on the money. The Lord’s Day gathering of God’s people is certainly NT. (I note that in the first century AD in the Roman world the first day of the week was a holiday.) When we gather as God’s people we are gathering at the call of our Lord to meet with him in response to his grace and to hear what the Lord would say to us from his word. Not many are to be teachers but some are called the role to proclaim God’s word. There are other functions of course and every member has a contribution of one kind or another no doubt – but I think Graham is over-reacting.

    Rowland Ward

  • They are certainly radical ideas, Bill – especially allowing the Holy Spirit to direct the service and closing the church doors for repairs. However, I can’t see the rock ‘n roll church and its trappings agreeing to your suggestions. My wife and I have recently moved to the northern suburbs of Brisbane and trying to find a responsible church, without the worldly trappings, has been a challenge. Most have gone the entertainment route but we are currently attending one that is the very opposite – so traditional in everything they do that it is as dead as dead.

    I like Graham’s ideas and I have read enough of Jon Zen and the house church movement to be encouraged in that direction. But I’ve been to a few loony house churches where the leaders have said, “Anything goes here”, and chaotic, trifling stuff followed. I agree that he church is in crisis, but are there many churches or denominations who care about this and want to do anything?

    Spencer Gear

  • Hi Bill,

    Very much agree.

    Parody of the Modern church service, funny if it wasn’t so sad.

    Modern Church Service

    David Clay, Darwin

  • A church which is no longer a physical building and spatially located, but rather a church which is spiritual, made up of those who love and serve Christ and which is found amongst the people of our community, where instead of obedience to a pastor and denominational structures we have obedience to Christ and submission one to another … wow … that would be something indeed!
    Stephen Frost

  • Amen, Bill! I can’t remember who said it but someone said that the church should not try to out-entertain the world, because the church will never be able to compete. And once it did win the battle for the youth vote, it would have become exactly the same as the world.

    Revelation 2-3 says what is happening among the candlesticks, right now, not just 2000 years ago. And the lights are being extinguished.

    Steve Swartz

  • Bill, I agree that the entertainment gatherings can be rather light on the Holy Spirit, but so can traditional “sermon events” that do little to lead people to repentence.
    I suspect the Holy Spirit just gets pushed out of man’s agenda because it is uncomfortable to have the spotlight on our sins. Too hard to do it the real way so we fake it and go through the motions.
    The judgement on Ananais and Saphira is the heaviest I can find in the whole Bible – and it’s in the New Testament!
    Can you imagine a modern Ananias and Saphira event? No? But how is it any different to dropping an empty envelope on the plate for fear of what others might think.
    But anyway, in the end anyone who knows Jesus can start revival today. It can only be my laziness and fear to let another day pass…
    And hell is reserved for.. cowardly… (Rev 21:8)
    I think I need to keep preaching to myself…
    Tim Lovett

  • We never need to close our churches for repair — we just have to shake the dust from our feet (Luke 9:5)
    There is a movement of many churches away from apostasy and back to orthodoxy within North America:
    The Anglican Mission in the Americas
    http://www.theamia.org/
    (“Established in 2000 as a missionary outreach of the Anglican Church of Rwanda”)
    The conservative parishes that deserted their far more liberal national Church in the past decade received their moral support primarily from the conservative bishops of Africa. In the Anglican Church, the influence of African orthodoxy is being deeply felt in churches in Canada and the United States.

    We are shining in the light of Christ, We only hope that those who walk out of our darkening liberal churches will walk toward the light coming out of our orthodox churches.The church will never die, though its flame may seem to flicker at times (Matthew 16:18)
    Monica Craver

  • So, so true, what an amazing article, one that is relevant for everyone who passes under a church door. Once again Bill, you have demonstrated your right to be acknowledeged as a person used by God!
    Steve Davis

  • Most people prefer to be told their fortune rather than their faults; which is probably reflected in the ‘average’ sermon & the trite “Did you/ Hope you enjoy the sermon”.
    So! If the preacher doesn’t give some comment on the Biblical view of what’s happening, why go to Church?
    Arthur Hartwig

  • G’day Bill,

    Goodonya again. I preached today on Acts 2v42: ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’

    It seems to me, and it’s not rocket science, that those first century Christians had the heart of doing ‘church’ right. After all, they were closer to Jesus than our 2000 years of traditions and religious stuff.

    Any ekklesia of Christians that are devoted to the apostolic teaching (i.e. the New Testament) and devoted to koinonia (fellowship) with meals together, and are devoted to prayer has it right.

    Perhaps Acts 2v42 doesn’t mention music because it too comes under apostolic teaching, fellowship and prayer. Whatever, religious entertainment is not on the agenda, whether that be a pipe organ or a high tech band.

    Oh to be part of a church that gets Acts 2v42 right!

    Andrew Campbell

  • Thanks to all, and to Bill for this post. Let me offer some comments both to you, Bill, and to you, Graham.
    Graham:
    Your prescription sounds new and radical, but it is really a re-hash of already suggested prescriptions. You call for a total rethink of “the pastor concept”. Well, the Brethren movement tried that in the C19th, and still does in some of their congregations to this day, but many in that “tradition” (I use the word advisedly, and ironically) now realise that the whole call was a mistake, and now have pastors, even if they don’t call them that. In Presbyterianism there is an ongoing debate about the offices in church: pastor, elder, and deacon; or elder and deacon only, with the pastor as a “teaching elder” (1 Tim.5:17). So in summary, the church has “been there, done that”, so it is idle to come out with it again and pretend that it is something new.
    The “sermon event”: is this just another call to arms in the ongoing war on sermons? Where does this place all the sermons in Acts (in original delivery much longer than what is recorded there, of course, but that only reinforces my point)? Or Paul’s instruction to the pastor Timothy in the congregation at Ephesus (1 Tim.4:13; 2 Tim.4:2)? Or the entire “epistle” to the Hebrews, which certain recent study has concluded is a full scale sermon? Read 1 & 2 Timothy and note the authority which Paul insists Timothy has; you will find nothing there about “congregational participation”.
    Worship services are commended in Scripture: Paul spoke at one such at Troas, which met on the first day of the week, where he went on for a good three hours (Acts 20:7ff)
    I’m afraid your “radicalism” is nothing more than an echo of bleats which have become fairly conventional from certain modern iconoclasts. I have not read John Zen’s book, but if your post is anything to go by I have read similar books in the same vein in years gone by. One called “Wineskins” is a book that comes to mind. While eschewing “tradition” they have a tradition all of their own.

    Bill: I agree with most of your post, especially how much of what passes for worship is mere entertainment, but would point out that it is, as you would no doubt realise yourself, that your post is in an essentially negative vein. As such it provides an open door for the sort of “radicalism” espoused by Graham. In fact as it stands it becomes an opportunity for all sorts to propose their various agendas: Brethren with their traditional strictures on an ordained ministry; strict Presbyterians like Rowland calling for abolition of hymns and organs, and advocating that we all embrace classical Presbyterianism; the house church movement advocating a free-Spirit type of worship – something like the early Quakers in the C17th etc. etc. So while I agree that the church is in a parlous state in many ways, let us beware of a free-for-all for various groups with their various pleas and prescriptions from simply advancing what we have seen before.
    “Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been in times before us.” Eccl.1:10.

    Murray R. Adamthwaite

  • I’ve looked at that clip and its nothing like my church service. We begin with repentance seeking God’s forgiveness for our sins . Then comes the liturgy of The Word – Old and new testament readings from Sacred Scripture. Next comes the homily which seeks to develop and link the scripture message to our daily lives. We’re in Matthew’s Gospel this year and in recent weeks the homilies have been about being ready for the second coming of Christ and the general judgement which will follow as well as the personal judgement immediately at our death — very challenging but necessary.—— Having been nourished by Sacred Scripture we re- affirm our faith by praying the Creed together . Next come the prayers of the faithful when we pray for the needs of the church , the world and our own faith community. Eucharist is next when we are nourished by our Saviour and Redeemer and finally we are sent forth to live what we believe. Its called Sunday Mass and we have shorter daily versions during the week as well as other prayer services. I belong to the Catholic denomination as would be obvious by now!
    I love the whole church despite her flaws . As well as being the Body of Christ , including all those baptised into Christ ,she is a vast and unwieldy human institution. —— A broken body too. As any thinking person would expect, Satan seeks to destroy God’s church and will get as close to the heart of it as divisions, sectarianism, human weakness and sinfulness and, occasionally, depravity will allow. All the more reason for all of us to pray constantly for all those called by God to lead and teach His people in whatever denomination He has placed them.
    Anna Cook

  • I watched the video clip and have to sadly say that I can see some churches heading down that path, what was sadder still was some of the comments below the clip, apparently some people really believe that’s the way to worship. I thank God that my own church service is not like that and we are growing in number without all the razzle dazzle and a large percentage (probably 30 – 40) are young people. Good biblical teaching aptly applied to today and made relevant will always strike a chord and people will respond.

    Bill, well done, despite the negativity. Jesus didn’t always speak a happy message, sometimes we need the doom and gloom to wake us up.
    Fred Merlo

  • Don’t treat the symptoms but the sickness.

    The hymn-singing church can be as guilty as the pop church.

    When God is in control nothing is out of control.

    Rather than fret over what is wrong with the churches – 2% of population? why not get together with like-minded Christians and start new churches and groups from the unsaved – 98% of the population?

    Then we can prove our ideas work.

    Steve Oh

  • Murray,

    While I endorse some of what you have stated. Yes, there are lengthy preaching/teaching events in Scripture. However, you are missing part of the evidence when you stated: “Read 1 & 2 Timothy and note the authority which Paul insists Timothy has; you will find nothing there about “congregational participation”.

    You need to read the pastorals alongside 1 Cor. 14:26, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (NIV). This requires congregational participation by those who are gifted by God.

    Yes, there are severe restrictions in the the Brethren form of ministry, especially on the sisters, but my experience with Brethrenism (my parents were Brethren; my sister and husband are Brethren) is that there was not an open 1 Cor. 14:26 approach to ministry. It was always restrictive because of their view of women in ministry and their denigration of the pastor/teacher role (Eph. 4:11-12).

    However, God’s design is for the participation of God’s gifted people when the church gathers – male and female – and not the restricted nature of the operation of the gifts that we see in most evangelical churches today.

    Graham was aiming close at the biblical mark, but I think that your serve against him was somewhat caustic and denigrating.

    Spencer Gear

  • Hi Murray, and thanks for the points you make – if I can respond briefly to one or two, for Bill’s article and your post really touch big issues. I posed the question which I think we should often ask ourselves- ‘Why do we gather together as Christians?

    1. I admit my suggestions may sound ‘new and radical’ as you put it, but I think that is because we have departed so far from the simple NT pattern. The fact that the Brethren movement have, to some degree, abandoned their earlier principles does not, I suggest invalidate those principles per se!

    2. My criticism of the sermon monologue is primarily to do with its roots – its not actually Christian! As we know the sermon concept did not originate in either the early church or Scripture, but from Greek culture, with particular emphasis on rhetoric and oratory.
    The more serious objection to it is that it entrenches a ‘closed’ system which cannot be questioned. The early church, following the established teaching Paul laid down in his Corinthian letters had open communication with mutual ministry being operative. I suggest the operative passages to check are 1 Cor. 12-14. Simple question then: Why do we not follow that pattern in some shape or form? (it is flexible and yet both descriptive, and prescriptive). Indeed, it was the norm in the early church right up to the 4th century when the ‘one bishop rule’ and the sermon then displaced the mutual ministry which Paul taught.

    3. You say “worship services” are commended in Scripture. I disagree, I do not know of one! (Acts. 20:7ff is not I suggest the precursor of the modern worship service. It was more of a one off valedictory meeting for Paul who the saints as Troas would never see again! The word translated “preached” there suggests dialogue and a question and answer discussion, not akin to the modern monologue. –
    The relevant passage re the objective of meeting is I think 1 Cor.14 where there is a heavy emphasis on mutual edification, (about 14 references to this in the chapter) not “worship”. (worship of God is all of life is it not?)

    In any event teaching ought to be IMO a top priority when Christians gather, but I cannot find anywhere in the NT the suggestion that this is to be done by one man week after week to the exclusion of mutual ministries by all, and especially those with teaching gifts. I Cor. 12:7 suggests that such gifts were the privilege of “all”.

    So, no I am not suggesting anything particularly new, but rather its a plea to return to the norm of the NT pattern found in those Corinthian/Ephesian passages.
    At least it will have the clear endorsement of the authority of Christ himself and Paul in Scripture!

    Graham Wood

  • At the church service I attended yesterday we had to fill out the National church life survey. Interesting it was full of political questions about aborigines, asylum seekers, national security, education, healthcare,environment, third world debt, poverty overseas and the like. They wanted a Christian response to the issues that we are most concerned about. There were no questions about pornography, sexualisation of children, same sex marriage, abortion , scripture in schools, the current attacks on religious freedom and its expression etc

    I am guessing that this survey will be used to pressure the government to say that these (their list) of issues are of the highest concern to Australian Christians and therefore need more funding and attention. Actually, I am very concerned about how our religious freedoms are being eroded before our eyes and very few churches or Christians appear to care. Sure we can do great social services, but surely the best, and of present and eternal benefit, we can give our world at home and abroad, is the truth of the gospel.
    I personally do think the time is coming where the ‘conventional’ church is shut – and possibly for good.

    Annette Williams

  • And from an un-intellectual point of view, the world is laughing at the church. For 3 reasons I can see, one because its irrelevant; two because its lost its way and is viewed as sort of a mad old women who rants and raves about nothing with no clear message; and three because we keep doing it.
    Two people in this post have said they are proud of their churches, oh dear.
    Daniel Kempton

  • Thanks, Bill. Appreciate your clarity. Pastors and lay people need to remember – Christ often went off alone, to Himself, away from the crowds (many who perhaps just wanted what he could give them (i.e. “entertainment”).
    Wouldn’t hurt a few churches to do this as well. Perhaps a month of fasting and prayer?
    Anita Cooper

  • Bill,

    I attend a church which has “black walls (the stage anyway), strobe lights, and (occasionally) smoke machines.”

    I don’t like any of this. Why do I stay? Partially out of denominational inertia. Only partially.

    The senior pastor (and his assistant pastor*2) are 50-70s y.o. They are excellent preachers and expounders of the word. No need for me to give you examples other than repeat one I previously expressed to you prior to the last Federal election when you asked something to the effect of “how many pastors will mention the election and tell their congregations to vote according to Christian principles” and I wrote saying “my pastor did.”

    In talking to the young kids, I do not speak to vacuous theological-air-heads. They are (generally) well founded in theology, including moral theology.

    Yet they love, the strobe lights and disco music. I think that criticism of this type of music (criticism I generally share) is generation-dependent. I was told 30 y.a. that the Salvation Army’s use of tambourines and trumpets was disdained similar to the way in which the “modern music ministry” is today.

    Would I like a return to “Amazing Grace,” “Just as I am” and even “scipture in song?”

    You betcha. But it won’t happen. And shouldn’t …

    Graeme Cumming

  • Hi Bill
    I completely endorse the comments by Anna Cook. As a fellow Catholic of almost 75 years of age, I love my church with all its faults.
    The parish I attend in Brisbane has 2000 worshipers every Sunday, plus many who attend everyday.
    Anna has put it more clearly than I ever could.
    Des Connors

  • Many, many, many years ago when I was a teenager, my (future) husband and I attended a small church where we sung hymns and listened to expository preaching every Sunday, in fact twice every Sunday. There was also a mid-week expository Bible Study. The church wasn’t fancy – there weren’t even musical instruments to accompany the voices when we sang. The (self-ordained) pastor operated independently of the larger church.

    I never liked it there though.

    A few years after we left, the church closed down. Why? Because the spirit that was operating there was not Holy – and in this case, the big sign that caused the church to close down was in fact the front page of the weekend newspapers.

    Annette Nestor

  • Some interesting comments Graeme, my son goes to a similar church and I asked him the other night did they ever preach about Hell, he said that they talk about the consequences of sina and such but he did not recall a sermon or talk on Hell so I asked him to ask one of the leaders about what their stance was on it. He asked one of the youth leaders that mentors him what his belief on what happened to people that died in their sin and his response was – “they go to Hell!”. Thank God my son is with a guy who is happy to tell it like it is.
    Steve Davis

  • Graham,

    You have made some extra points that are very valid. It will be very difficult to move back to the 1 Cor. 12-14 model of the early church because of the hierarchically entrenched sermon and monologue model that the church has embraced for a long time.

    May I add a further comment about the model of the Brethren assemblies. Since I have relatives in these Assemblies, my wife and I have been to a fair share of their meetings. Our observation is that the male dominance in these meetings that we have attended is not based on giftedness. Many times a male will stand and introduce a hymn with reading out the first two lines. Often the ‘messages’ I have heard from the teachers have been of very poor standard, thus suggesting that many of these males are not gifted in the 1 Cor. 14:26 style of open ministry.

    At the moment, I’m investigating the possibility of attending a cell church where there is substance in the 1 Cor. 14:26 style of ministry, in opposition to the ‘anything goes’ house churches that I have attended previously.

    Your views are certainly radical if they could be put into effect with giftedness in ministry in the contemporary Australian churches. However, I have my doubts about it even being considered for, say, Anglican, Baptist, Uniting, Churches of Christ, and even Assemblies of God.

    Spencer Gear

  • Well again Bill you express many peoples sentiments. Only trouble is if the doors of the churches are closed the problem still continues because it is in our hearts.
    Years ago well known Pastor Johnny Ortis from South America shut the doors of his church and banned the Christians from using certain popular phrases. But the change was only temporary.
    Unfortunately he later ended up in the USA (like so many) and finally at that new age abomination called the Crystal Cathedral which praise God, has now disintegrated.
    Watchman Nee’s prediction that the use of electronic amplification of sound would do untold damage in the future has come true just as has Tozers numerous warnings.
    Grahams and Spencers, John Zen and the home church movement in the USA has been an interesting experiment and raises great questions but they don’t have the answers either as much as I tend to like this sort of thing. They end up replicating what has gone on before.
    I think there are far greater foundational issues at stake here summed up in the fact that the Church in general has held a wrong view of God for centuries as a result of being disconnection from it’s Jewish root. The prism we need to see God through. And I don’t mean embracing Judaism, singing Jewish songs and dancing the Hora, like some are doing.

    Obviously something is going on that is quite unsettling and what once worked no longer does, and lets face it if we cant handle now what is around us (Kindergarten stuff) just wait for what is to come. Karl Barth and Bonhoffer whom you have mentioned recently had to come to grips with an unexpected new horror (a trial run for the last days) and a God of a new dimension that blew their existing creeds out of the water. In less than six years 98% of German protestant Christianity collapsed,and became willing servants of the Nazi’s. why wont that happen to us?
    Art Katz timely book ‘The Holocaust. Where was God?” delves into this. Art was challenged by Barth more than anyone.
    So I am comforted by the thought that God knows exactly what he is doing and will have a people (a body) after his own heart prepared for what is to come. I do believe we need to be prepared to fall into line behind Him, Even if it seemingly defies previously and strongly held beliefs. After all we are called to be led by the Spirit, not the natural man and as someone said “faith has reason, reason knows nothing about” and as the Apostles found out Jesus boldly led forth along a seemingly very strange path.
    Frankly the old wine skins have well worn out and maybe what we have cherished and called Christianity may go its own way abandoned by God. If He leaves we need to fall in line and follow where ever He leads and if that means foolishness and shutting a church door behind us and martyrdom as last days scriptures indicate, so be it.
    There were numerous times in the OT when the Spirit of God was only found outside the camp and with only a minority people. When it gets down to it, is our loyalty to Jesus, specifically the living God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob the God of Israel or some other god, made mostly in our own western, Greek derived image and much more to our liking.

    It is not more self effort and striving we need (a curse on it) and certainly not another program or seminar, (will we ever learn?) we need to get down with our bibles and not get up until we have had a revelation of Jesus and the cross and what worms we are just like Isaiah did and when he finally managed to get his corpse up he took the world on and won, because it was not him but Christ living within him. His earthly king had to die first in order he could see his heavenly king and so does ours.

    The evident fact of our current powerlessness witnesses against us and has done so for centuries with a few exceptions. And how many currently think some rock concert (or something nicer) is somehow awesomely anointed of God, and the louder it is the more anointed it is, garbage, that’s deception!

    Rob Withall

  • Couldn’t agree with you more Bill, I have raised this issue before with our pastor but didn’t seem to make much headway. The cross on the stage of our church keeps appearing and disappearing. I was at one stage told they didn’t know what to with with it. Great christian response.
    Patrick Brahams

  • Only the Holy Spirit? I’m reminded of a quote I put on my website a while ago: “Before going to China, I met with one of the missionaries who had been expelled in 1950. ‘We felt so sorry for the church we left behind’, he said. ‘They had no one to teach them, no printing presses, no seminaries, no one to run their clinics and orphanages. No resources, really, except the Holy Spirit.’ It appears the Holy Spirit did just fine.” – Philip Yancey on the phenomenal growth of Christianity in modern China, Finding God in Unexpected Places, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2002, p. 186.
    John Thomas, UK

  • Spencer. Thanks for your comments, but I’m only half persuaded that to “move back to the 1 Cor 12-14 model of the early church…”. is possible – due to entrenched traditions.
    I fear you are right where institutional denominational structures are in place, and where there is a ruling ‘hierarchy’ forbidding or discouraging radical change to the NT model.
    I also note your somewhat sad comment about Brethren assemblies practice and how these can degenerate through assertive egotism, or poor leadership as to a balanced format for the meeting (i.e. encouraging ALL the saints to contribute)
    But to get back to 1 Cor. 12-14 which I think are decisive passages. David Norington points out (in his little classic book ‘To Preach or not to Preach? The Church’s Urgent Question) that these Corinthian passages, especially 1 Cor. 14:23-40, are the ONLY extended description in the whole of the NT of a Christian gathering!
    Notwithstanding its abandonment by almost the whole of the contemporary (Western) church, are they not still to be the pattern for us to adopt today, and indeed for all generations of Christians?
    If the pattern was somehow workable for those early Christians, how is it no longer so for this or subsequent generations? Vs 37-40 seem to indicate that Paul did not have in mind any other type of gathering than the one described, in which the essential element is the priesthood of all believers as a practical reality.
    This in turn touches on Paul’s earlier teaching (1 Cor.12) on the essential recognition of EVERY part of the body of Christ as being vital for the edification of the corporate church.
    Let me sugest that those, say in missionary situations, where new churches are founded, and without the questionable “benefit” of current modern practice, have only the NT passages such as 1 Cor 12-14 and Eph. 4 to guide them. Are they completely in the dark? No!
    Because these scriptures are sufficient to inform and direct them in principle for their gatherings – if only based upon the sufficiency of God’s word – 2 Tim. 3:16, 17. “profitable for doctrine…. & etc.
    In other words, Paul’s teaching here is a permanent pattern.
    But again, I share your view about the near impossibility of denominational institutional style churches ever being sufficiently open to “re-invent the wheel” and return to NT practice. It often means that disillusioned Christians with more biblical views have to leave such churches and re-form out of perceived faithfulness to Christ and His Word.
    Graham Wood

  • This has ben a most interesting discussion, both the article and the comments. I wonder though if we are looking for solutions in how our services are run, rather than in what is the foundation of both our personal and our corporate lives. I see the principles of love, unity, holiness and suffering swell as biblically informed knowledge as foundational and through the connection to the Holy Spirit, whom we ask daily for instructions and wisdom, these things may be expressed in sometimes familiar or new ways, but because they are built on these principles mentioned above, their fruit will always be good and pointing people to Jesus, who He is, their need for Him, what He has done, and the warning about human destiny without him.

    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • I heard you with Eric Barger in the US, who I am subscribed to. I live in Australia, Queensland and find that the third church I am in now (left two due to apostasy) never mentions repentance. It is good to hear someone who contends for the faith in Australia.
    Blessings Marianne Ryan

  • Many thanks Marianne.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thank you for your informative commentary, and no I do not think you have lost your marbles. In fact I have commented on this very subject a few times on Facebook. Confronting key practices and issues in modern day churches does not make the watchman a favourite calling or member in the local church, but its Almighty God who is calling and doing the speaking. So I encourage you and commend you, stand firm in the Truth, because many will not listen to sound doctrine or correct biblical practice. This is nothing new.
    Andre Borrett

  • Graham Wood-I quoted you from your 11/27/2011 comment above-it was SO good and so relevant to me right now!

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