What is acceptable “practice” in the American church in the 21st century?
Sparked by some very interesting conversations with some dear old friends, my wife and I have lately been pondering the WAY we do church here in the good old U.S. of A. It’s not that I see anything particular that I’m bugged about in the American church, but that some of the questions and ideas that our friends have been suggesting have made me think through some new possibilities.
I’ve always been an “outside the box” kind of temperament – meaning that I’m willing to try new things (some of the churches I’ve served have regretted that on occasion… I remember this one time…).
So I’ve enjoyed our conversations back and forth over email about some of the things they are considering for their family. I guess this isn’t really a “new” idea… some of our more modern manifestations of this “experimentation” mindset in the church are:
- Multi-service churches (one building, many services throughout the week)
- Multi-site churches (with or without the same teaching Pastor piped in via video)
- Internet church (www.lifechurch.tv for one example)
- House churches
- Cell churches
- Family integrated churches
- and many others I’ve failed to recall, I’m sure.
And we must admit, gladly so, that none of these models actually define THE CHURCH.
The church is the people, saved by the blood of Christ, gathered to worship, grow, and work together to spread His saving message.
So, wherever the church gathers, however they gather, whenever they gather, they are still the church.
When it comes to a local gathering of people who are members of this world-wide church, I believe that there are certain criteria that make a local assembly of believers an actual local church – rather than a Bible study, prayer group, etc. As long as these things are met, I think they can call themselves a church – no matter where or how they meet. The easiest way to detail these criteria is to say that I agree with Mark Dever, who has written a book, “9 marks of a healthy church.” His 9 marks are:
- Biblical Theology
- The Gospel
So… back to my original topic: If a group of believers is meeting and including each of these criteria in their organization and church life, then I consider them to be a “local church” – no matter what other practices (video teaching, multi-site, house groups, etc.) they engage in.
With all that said…
What do you think about the following ideas?
- A house church that utilizes video sermons from a respected pastor who is not part of their local fellowship?
- A larger church that makes use of the internet to broadcast sermons into the homes of those unable to attend?
- Rural churches who cannot afford full-time paid staff, but can afford to pay a little bit in coordination with other small churches to fund a modern-day “circuit-riding” pastor?
- Various combinations of any or all of these?
- Other thoughts you have?