Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Equivocation on “the church” and the church it’s destroyed - by Dr. Joel McDurmon

Kevin DeYoung’s brave piece “Stop the Revolution. Join the Plodders” gained considerable attention, but not nearly as much discerning pushback from Reformed folk as it should have. I need to say a few words about it, especially because it concerns a very careless, but common, fallacy that destroys the true meaning and mission of this thing called “the church.”
I want to draw your attention to a particular fallacy that surfaces multiple times in the piece. There are multiple fallacies that more discerning Reformed folk should be howling about across social media—straw men, epithets, equivocations, poisoning the well—but worst of all are the repeated examples of false dichotomy. These are worst not only for their content, but also for their presupposition. They arise from an entrenched two-kingdoms dichotomy which keeps the evangelical industrial complex going.
Remember, it was not so long ago that DeYoung got candid as to why he likes “two kingdoms” theology: it provides, in his words, “a bulwark against theonomy and reconstructionism.” And how does it do this? DeYoung doesn’t tell us so much as show us in this latest piece. Just witness the fallacies:
It’s sexy among young people—my generation—to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church.
Notice how the two choices are structured here: either “real Christ-followers living in real community” or “the confines of the church.”
Problem: A group of “real Christ followers living in community” IS the church. In order for DeYoung’s statement to remain coherent, the implication would have to be true: anyone engaged in a more flexible ecclesiology than DeYoung’s four-walls-on-Sunday model is by definition not “the church.” Next:
What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono—Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church.
Notice the choices he presents: emphasize either “social justice” or “the church.”
Problem: social justice (truly conceived) is a mission of the church. It is not either-or, it is both. If the church isn’t speaking to issues of social justice, it has neglected a huge chunk of the Word. Then, only pagans will be addressing these issues, and you’ll have a pagan-raped society, which is exactly what he have thanks to the denuded, bifurcated pulpits DeYoung here represents.
The church’s failure in this area is precisely why church and society are both in such a mess, precisely why the young people leave the church in droves, and precisely why the Christians like Bono end up being the ones who have to carry the message of social change.
If, tomorrow, God gave me a choice to spend the rest of my life serving the ministry of either Bono or Kevin DeYoung, there is no question whom I would choose. Bono, at least, has shown himself capable of learning the biblical teaching on some social issues. I’d go with Bono (and I don’t even really like his music).
Social justice is a calling of the body of Christ as a community of faithful believers. If your church is not preaching, teaching, and its members are not engaged, in some work for justice, you ought to question as to whether that church even still has its lamp stand.
Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church.
Notice the dichotomy: either “nameless faceless” or “globe-trotting rock star.” Only the former can be part of the church (which implies the latter are damned to hell?).
Problem: the church includes all people of all walks of life, all social classes, and many callings of varied sizes, shapes, and scopes. Setting one against the other is irresponsible, especially when membership within the body of Christ is attached to the criteria. Nameless, faceless people can still be engaged in all kinds of social issues based upon biblical law and a spiritual, God-given, “Gospel saturated” calling. DeYoung’s fallacy hides this option from his readers, and labels all such would-be Christians as egomaniacal, wannabe rock stars who are outside “the church.” Shameful.
The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t invite people to join an anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration.
Likewise, “The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders.”
Notice the dichotomy: either “the church” (as DeYoung envisions it) or you must be “anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration.” Either “visible church” (DeYoung’s brand) or else you’re a boneheaded, clueless liberal in a “Che Guevara t-shirt.”
That’s the greatest problem in all of this: DeYoung’s view of “the church” is not just “visible” and “institutional,” it is a very limited, gelded, bound version of it. For him it seems that “church” in all its traditional “confines” means “church building” and “what we do between 11 and 12:30 on Sundays.” Everything else—work, government, social justice, charity, art, and apparently even Bono—is outside the church.
This is a message I have been combatting for a long time now. I even just gave two lectures in Australia and Tasmania on this very topic. I need to write more on it as well as make those lectures available soon. Let this suffice for now:
We use the word “church” in multiple ways, but more often than not we (as DeYoung here personifies) use it to mean “church building,” “church meeting on Sunday,” or possibly “church government (i.e., her officers and their decisions; i.e. the church establishment.” But these are not only highly limited views, they have grown complacent, truncated, and in some cases, corrupt. In the Bible, the most important view of “church” is that of the body of Christ made up of all believers in all times and places.
When I say that social justice is a mission of the church, I do not mean that we replace corporate worship with rallies for some social cause—although the pulpits ought to address such issues far more than they do. What I mean, however, is that the members of the body of Christ (“the church” in its fullest and most important sense) should be building and exercising their faith in such a way as to apply God’s word to every area of life. This would include business, education, social justice, criminal defense, criminal justice reform, racism, and on and on—issues that are central to God’s law and often in the early church’s mission in the book of Acts.
When DeYoung keeps bifurcating between “the church” and all these other things, he is severing the legs from the body of Christ and limiting its mission to sitting for sermons and corporate worship on Sundays (and Sunday school, “VBS,” and the other trappings of American churchianity, administered by the establishment). DeYoung says he wants plodders, but he really wants sitters. Anything else he labels a revolutionary with Che t-shirt.
It’s simply time for Christians to explode this myth. If you are a Christian, you are part of “the church” no matter where you are or what you are doing, at all times and in all places. You ought to be carrying out the great commission in obedience and teaching (where appropriate and applicable) at all times. Whenever any leader in “the church” speaks as if we must neglect all those things in order to make “the church” what it ought to be—four walls and corporate worship on Sundays—a chorus of rebuke ought to arise against that person from a million knowledgeable members of the body of Christ. Or, if you are the type who does not like the confrontation, simply ignore such a leader and get on with the 99 percent of the rest of the work of the church which they have so far neglected and destroyed.