Recently Jonathan mentioned that he was reading through it so I picked it back up to refresh my memory. Hence this post.
To illustrate my point let me quote a few passages.
The book started well. The foreword (by John MacArthur) stated:
...All these metaphors feature the common characteristics of unity and shared life and fellowship.
Believers compose one priesthood, one nation, on race, one temple, one plant, one flock, one family, and one body. We have all been made one spiritually, and we belong together in communion, living out that oneness in local churches.
I was encouraged by this statement. I hoped it foretold a deep exploration of these metaphors.
The Introduction was likewise appetite whetting:
church (church) n. 1. a building for pubplic worship 2. public worship; a religious service 3. a particular sect or denomination of Christians 4. church government, or its power, as opposed to civil government 5. the profession of the clergy 6. a group of worshipers
Those definitions of the word church, taken from the Student Edition of Webster's New World Dictionary (1981) betray the confusion that exists in our day regarding that institution. We reflect the first five definitions when we say things like, "It's about time to redecorate the church," "I enjoyed church today," "My church is the Lutheran church," and "I believe in the separation of church and state." But not one of those meanings of the term church can be found in the Bible. Rather, the Greek word translated in that way (ekklesia) is used over a hundred times in the New Testament, and it always refers to "a group of worshipers," which is the last definition mentioned in Webster's!
The church, according to Scripture, is not a building, a denomination, or an activity - it is a group of people...So throughout this book we will be referring to "the church" in that sense - the local body of believers who meet together to worship God and serve one another.
Technically speaking, those people do not worship "at a church" or participate "in church" - they are the church! And if you are a member of the body of Christ, you do not "go to church" or "sit in church" - you are a part of the church who comes together for worship with the rest of the body. This is important to understand because the quality of a church is therefore not measured by the condition of its buildings or the appeal of its services, but by the state of the people themselves. They are the church, so the church is only as good as they are.
If you have read Discipleship and the Institution you may imagine my reaction to the previous quotation. I was incredibly excited. They basically summarized the whole article in 4 paragraphs! Here were two guys (Mack and Swavely) that "got it." Or so it seemed.
Three paragraphs later was this:
Not only is the meaning of the word "church" misunderstood today, buy many Christians are ignorant or confused regarding their roles and responsibilities in a local body. For example: Do you know why most church have a membership process, and is there any substantial difference between a "member" and a "regular attender"? What kind of church should a Christian attend, and what are good reasons to leave one for another? What kind of relationship should you have with the leaders of your church, and what role should they play in your life? How can you keep the Sunday services from becoming routing? And how can you either cause or prevent a "church split"?
There's some good stuff here, but a close look at this paragraph will reveal some important presuppositions.
First the good stuff:
The meaning of church really is misunderstood, not least by Christians.
Many really are ignorant/confused regarding their roles and responsibilities.
I would like to see a solid defense of why many churches have a "membership process."
I would like to read about relationships with church leaders and the role they play in the lives of those they lead.
The idea of a "regular attender" presupposes there is something (like the typical "service") that is available to be attended regularly. This doesn't seem to fit with their previous definition of church. A "people" is made up of members, but the idea of someone regularly attending a "people" doesn't make sense.
The idea of "leaving" a church connotes images of a church as a place rather than a people. This is just semantics, but I think a more accurate phrase would be "breaking fellowship" with a church.
Attempting to keep "the Sunday services from becoming routine" presupposes that such services are something that the church necessarily conducts. Even if its granted that services are necessary, the services are not the church. They would be a second-order matter.
The rest of what I read (through chapter 5 or so) hits on these presuppositions over and over. That isn't to say there isn't any good material in the book. There is much to commend, but most of it is stuff that we all have heard before.
I may continue my review of this book in subsequent posts, but my aim was to get a discussion about our presuppositions going.
What presuppositions do you think we have about "church"? Where do we contradict ourselves? How do we illuminate our presuppositions? Once illumined, how do we overcome them?
Hopefully I'll have time soon to post my own answer to these questions, but my laptop battery is running low. I'll see you guys tomorrow.