Yesterday I wrote a review of George Barna's Revolution. Many fear that Barna dismisses the need for local churches. I don't know if Barna goes that far. What Barna dismantles are particular sociological expressions of church -- those of American congregationalism, rather than particular gatherings of believers. “Revolutionaries realize --- sometimes very reluctantly – that the core issue isn’t whether or not one is involved in a local church, but whether or not one is connected to the body of believers in the pursuit of godliness and worship." Barna writes that one needs to be connected to a body of believers in the pursuit of God, he doesn't say where and when, and his readers find that worrisome.
Barna writes about small "c" church and big "C" church. "You see, it is not about church. It’s about the Church –
that is, the people who actively participate in the intentional advancement of God’s kingdom in partnership with the Holy Spirit and
other believers." Small
“c” church represents those local believers with whom we seek to follow
Christ together face-to-face, and big “C” church are those faceless
others with whom we follow Christ. Barna is right, the church has made a shift from small “c” to big “C”, however, not in absolute terms.
Barna seems to say we are either small "c" Christians or big "C" Christians. Instead, I see Christians on a spectrum with little "c" on the left end and big "C" on the right. The whole scale equals our participation in church. For the last few hundred years, be have continued to shift to the right on the scale. How so? I will list a few recent examples.
Many functions of local churches have been displaced by global “C” influences. Witness the many who download sermons from Rob Bell. Do these sermons function as ancillary activities for these listeners, or do they significantly form them spiritually? Do we learn more about the faith from our pastor's sermon or from theological books or online communities? The same goes with music – is our primary musical expression of worship in the Sunday meeting, or do we connect with God through many other sources? For many, itunes functions as worship leader. In terms of community, do we experience community within our “official” local church, or do we share connections with many others, including friendships, occasional gatherings, and online conversations? Indeed, we are formed by the many activities of which we are a part – and our connections of church are global and go beyond the 'brick and mortar' of Sunday morning.
Modernity stretches space so that more of our lives are connected to those with whom we do not share a face-to-face relationship. The church has stretched as well, so that much of how we pursue God works within relationships transcends local church walls. Many Christians seem afraid to acknowledge this.
Barna summarizes his ideas with …"the Revolution is
about recognizing that we are not called to go to church. We are called
to be the Church.” Indeed, Christians need other believers in order to
be a sign, to point to, and our best days, to be a foretaste of the coming kingdom. Christians continue Jesus' mission in diverse ways, both locally and globally, through face-to-face and faceless
commitments. To call one 'real' church and the other secondary belittles the significance of the global body of Christ. Just as modernity stretches space, we need to stretch our thinking on what it
means to be the church in a globalized era.