Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Churchapreneurs: a Reformed response

As we take up our final installment in this series, I want to conclude by offering a way forward. Before I do that, I want to briefly review what we have said. We began by defining a churchapreneur: a churchapreneur is a pastor of a local church who views Christianity as a product to be marketed and sold. In other words, churchapreneurs see the church and Christianity as a means of seeking financial gain and gaining access to power and influence through growing a big business. The churchapreneur creed is well articulated in the poster that hangs outside of Bill Hybel's office: what is our business? who is our customer? what does our customer consider value? This view is prevalent throughout Protestant evangelicalism today. To confirm that, all you have to do is take a look at the "whose who" of North American Christianity and the overwhelming percentage of them are churchapreneurs, from Chuck Smith, to Robert Schuller, to Joel Osteen, to Rick Warren. All of these men have compromised Biblical standards and replaced them with pragmatic practices designed to build their megachurch empires.

With that brief overview in mind, my purpose now is to offer a way forward that is Biblical and CONFESSIONAL. My aim is not to rehash critiques of broader evangelicalism, but to propose a model for confessionally Reformed churches to follow in order to counteract the devastating effects of the churchapreneur model upon the image of the church today.

First, Reformed churches need to stress the nature of church. One of the most significant questions that has to be answered in order to offset the business model of church is, what is a church? That's really the nub of the debate; if scripture did not include any teaching on the nature of the church, if it did not condemn using the church and Christianity to get rich and acquire influence and power, we would have no quarrel with churchapreneurs. The fact is however, scripture forbids using the ministry and the church as a means of financial gain, and it does give explicit teaching about the nature of the church. Over against the the business model of church, scripture teaches that the visible church is the covenant people of God and exists to be a word and sacrament institution governed by duly called and appointed elders. The church consists of believers and their children, and is authorized to worship collectively and Biblically, shepherd the saints lovingly, and evangelize the lost relentlessly. The primary way all three of these objectives is accomplished is through the public preaching of the word by a lawfully ordained minister of the word; and then secondly, that public, verbal ministry of the word is publicly reinforced through the proper administration of the sacraments, which are designed to visibly signify the gospel, and to seal and intesify our union with Christ. So, the first way for Reformed churches to work to counteract the unbiblical, churchapreneur business model is to identify the nature and function of the church, and then to faithfully implement that at the local church level. The visible church is not a business and it is not a social organization, it is the covenant people of God, believers and their children, and it exists to preach the word, administer the sacraments, and lovingly shepherd God's people.

Second, the Reformed church needs to recommit to the regulative principle. The regulative principle, as stated in our Reformed confessions, is that we may worship God in no other way than he has commanded in His word. That means, that the church, when it gathers for worship, may only do what God has commanded in scripture. This is a very challenging principle, because it is so clear cut: it does not permit good intentions, people's preferences, or church traditions to determine what is done in worship; it only permits what is commanded either explicitly or what is deduced by good and necessary inference. Just because some people find certain things "meaningful" or "enjoyable" does not mean that its warranted to have in worship. Additionally, just because we think certain practices or styles of music might attract unbelievers to church, that, of itself, does not authorize the church to worship in that manner. God is worshipped only in the way He has commanded. If you think about that, it makes perfect sense. God knows Himself and what glorifies Him better than we know Him and what glorifies Him; and therefore, we must not presume to be wiser than God by offering worship to Him that seems fitting, proper, and even satisfying to us, if He did not command it. To do so is to put ourselves above God and dictate to Him what He should like.

If the church submitted to this principle, much of what passes for worship, in the name of "innovation" or "creativity" or "seeker sensitivity," would be eliminated from worship since it is included in the service purely for human consumption, and, is not commanded by God. Its what Paul called "self-made religion" in Colossians 2:23; it has the appearance of a religious experience, makes people "feel good," might even attract a crowd, but it is of no value because God did not command it. The Reformed church could do much to counteract the churchapreneur phenomenon by conforming its own worship to the regulative principle which it confesses, and then call other Protestant churches to do the same thing.

Beyond conforming its worship to what scripture commands, the Reformed church needs to conform its church life to what God commands. The regulative principle extends not only to worship but also to church governement and by extension to church life. I say this in connection with the churchapreneur "program" approach to luring people to church. We talked about the "cutting edge" programs churches utilize in order to attract customers to church. These programs are designed to offer some sort of religious experience in a casual, attractive atmosphere. The problem with this approach is that it seeks to offer something that God did not command the church to do. Christ has instituted the means of grace, the preaching of the word and the sacraments, as the two means by which he communicates himself with his grace to believers. There is no other way, ordinarily, to receive the grace of Jesus Christ than the preaching of the word and the sacraments. Yet, the modern Protestant church has multiplied sacraments, far beyond Roman Catholicism, through instituting numerlous programs, as new and "fresh" ways to access the grace of Jesus. The church does not exist to be a social club, to hold karaoke meetings, to be a place to pursue personal hobbies with fellow believers, or to be a glorified recreational facility or amusement park; the church is a word and sacrament institution where believers may access the grace of Christ by making use of the means which Christ has appointed to receive his grace, and be shepherded through this life under the watchful care of the elders of the church; THAT'S IT! If Reformed churches are to please God and to counter the destructive influence of churchapreneurs they must recommit themselves to this regulative principle, remove from their worship and church life what is contrary to it, and seek to access the grace of Christ only in the ways which he has ordained: the preaching of the word and the administration of the two sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Holy Supper.

Third, the Reformed church needs to counter the churchapreneur paradigm by aggressively and relentlessly pursuing its mission, the Great Commission. The Great Commission is Christ's command to the church to make disciples by going, teaching, and baptizing. Its aim is to win converts to Christ by His grace, not to simply attract great numbers of people to church in order to have a big building, make lots of money, and acquire access to power and influence. The aim is not numbers, its CONVERTS to Christ. We don't know how many the Lord has determined to effectually call; but, we do know He has chosen to call His elect to himself through the preaching of the gospel by the church and therefore we must be busy pursuing that commission. Just as the churchapreneur paradigm is unbiblical in so far as it conceives of the church as a business and aims at acquiring wealth and access to power and influence, so it is wrong for the Reformed church to sequester itself behind the safety of the church walls, turning the church into a social club for personal enrichment and mutual admiration, to endlessly dot doctrinal "i's" and "t's," and to rarely, if ever, lift a finger to go out into the world where lost sinners are and seek to win them to Christ. It is fair to say that some of what goes on in the churchapreneur, seeker sensitive church world, is a reaction to the laziness and indolence of the conservative Reformed and Presbyterian church which decided to retreat behind church walls rather than to vigorously engage unbelievers with the gospel. The sad fact is, by doing this, not only have the lost not been reached out to by us, we have made it more difficult to reach the lost because we have allowed the churchapreneur segment of evangelicalism to be the public face of Christianity in North America, and due to the slick, business oriented packaging of the Christian faith, a vast segment of unchurched people in the United States have grown wary of Christianity and are turning a deaf ear toward its message because of the hypocritical, unscrupulous methods of the churchapreneur model. We can counteract this though, if we recommit not only to embodying, at the local church level, the nature of the church as described in scripture, by worshiping and conducting church government and church life according to the regulative principle, and also by mounting a vigorous campaign to go out into the world, and live among unbelievers, love them, pray for them, and seek intentionally to win them to Jesus Christ.

That's my Reformed response to churchapreneurs: recover the Biblical concept of the nature and function of the church, carefully and scrupulously follow the regulative principle both in worship, in church government and in church life, and aggressively pursue the Great Commission. I HOPE YOU WILL ENGAGE ME IN CONVERSATION ABOUT THIS MODEL.