Notes on Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck’s
Why we Love the Church:
in praise of institutions and organized religion
Chapter 7 : The Theological (The Church of Diminishing Definition)
In Chapter 7, DeYoung responds to two main theological objections to the church. The first, that a Christian need not belong to the visible church; and the second, that “the church” means something entirely different from the religious organizations we know as churches.
I can hardly bear to even comment on the first objection. The idea of a churchless Christianity is a preposterous to me as the idea of a boneless vertebrate. After all, the church is the structure that gives form and functionality to Christ’s body here on earth. Without the church, we are not a body but a blob of cells incapable of being or doing anything.
“The church is unique. Though individual believers are indwelt with the Holy Spirit as temples of God, only the church constitutes the body of Christ. One church-leaver argues that may of the premises of institutional Christianity are suspect ‘given this one cold, hard fact: Christ indiscriminately, bully, and equally establishes his presence and life within every believer.’ While it is true that Christ establishes life in every believer, the church alone is ‘the fullness of Him who fills all in all’ (Eph. 1:23). Churchless Christianity makes about as much sense as a Christless church, and has just about as much biblical warrant. John Stott’s assessment of evangelism in the book of Acts is right: The Lord ‘didn’t add them to the church without saving them, and he didn’t save them without adding them to the church. Salvation and church membership went together; they still do.'”
Kevin DeYoung, Why We Love the Church, page 164
The second objection DeYoung addresses is the argument that we can have “church” without having structure, regular worship services, and religion. This is the “church” of those who reject organized religion and delight in “Christian spirituality”–making this concept of “church” perfect for today’s postmodern, who likes to sample everything without being constrained by anything.
Yet this is not the picture of the church we see in the New Testament. Instead, we have a church with an authority structure, defined assemblies for public worship that included preaching and sacraments, and had specific religious trappings: a Holy book, rules for proper conduct, definitions of orthodoxy, and religious rituals or ceremonies.
“The church, as the elect people of God, is both organism and organization. The church is a breathing, growing, maturing, living thing. It is also comprised of a certain order (I Cor 14:40), with institutional norms (5:1-13), doctrinal standards (15:1-2), and defined rituals (11:23-26). The two aspects of the church–organism and organization–must not be played off against each other, for both are ‘grounded in the operations of the glorified head of the church through the Holy Spirit.’ Offices and gifts, governance and the people, organization and organism–all these belong together. They are all blessings from the work of Christ.”
Kevin DeYoung, Why We Love the Church, page 170
On Church Structure:
I’ve already discussed tradition and the order of services in depth, so I will focus my attention here on the governmental structures of a church.
The clear pattern of Scripture for church government was that elders (also called bishops or overseers) who met certain qualifications (I Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9) were appointed over every church (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5) to shepherd, to teach, to discipline, and to exhort and pray for the body (I Tim 3:5, Titus 1:9, James 5:14, I Pet 5:1-4). Likewise, deacons who met certain qualifications (I Tim 3:8-13) were appointed to minister to the practical needs of the body in order that the elders/apostles might more fully devote themselves to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:1-4). Paul specifically singles out those elders who minister in the Word and doctrine as worthy of special honor (I Tim 5:17-18). The role of pastor/shepherd is affirmed throughout New Testament writing (Acts 20:28, I Peter 5:1-4).
This local form of church government is the pattern of the early church–and is given as a pattern for churches to follow (unlike the cautionary example of I Cor 14). But this does not mean that local churches had no oversight or association with other churches. We see in Acts 15 that the church gathers together the so-called “Jerusalem council” to resolve a dispute regarding circumcision. The decision of this council was then sent to all the churches of the region, that they might know how to deal with this situation. There is also evidence that the churches associated together to provide for each others’ needs (Acts 11:27-29, I Cor 16:1-4)
Unlike the modern day interpretation of church, the church of Scripture has clear organizational components that allow it to function in accordance with God’s will.
On Assembling for Worship:
Proponents of redefining the church would say that “church” is anytime two or more believers are gathered together. They cite Matthew 18:20 to say that anytime two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, He is there–and church is being done. There is no need, these would say, for a dedicated “worship service” or “church meeting”.
These will affirm the importance of Hebrews 10:25 “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another.” They see the value in meeting together for encouragement, for prayer, for worship, perhaps for informal Bible study–but many of these would say that preaching the Word is unnecessary.
This is clearly out of line with Scripture, which affirms the importance of preaching again and again. John the Baptist was a preacher (Matt 3:1, Mark 1:4-7; Luke 3:2-6). Jesus was a preacher (Matt 4:17, 4:23, 9:35, 11:1; Mark 1:14, 1:38-39, 2:2; Luke 4:43-44, 8:1). Jesus commissioned his followers, the 70 and others, to preach (Matt 10:7, 10:27; Mark 6:12, 16:15; Luke 9:6, 9:60). The church of Acts preached the Word (Acts 4:2, 5:42, 8:4-5, 8:25, 8:35, 8:40, 9:20, 11:19, 13:42, 14:7, 14:21, 14:25, 15:35, 16:10, 17:13…). In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul commands Timothy to “Preach the Word.” Multiple times, the epistles affirm the efficacy of preaching in the Christian life (Rom 10:14-15, I Cor 15:1-2, Col 1:23, Titus 1:3).
Preaching is an integral part of life in the New Testament church.
I remember asking my dad once, why the pastor in my grandparents’ Lutheran church read the Word from the lectern on one side of the sanctuary but preached it from the pulpit at the other side. My dad explained that this was an expression of the value placed on the preaching of the Word–the pastor would mount the much larger pulpit as he proclaimed the Word of God. It is not by accident that the two most prominent pieces of ornamentation in a Lutheran church are the pulpit and the altar. To Lutherans, these designate two of the most essential offices of the church (that is, the formal assembly of believers): to preach the Word and to partake in the Lord’s Supper.
While the symbolism of the pulpit and the altar are not required, the fact remains that these two offices (Preaching and Participating in Communion) are two essential functions unique to the formal assembly of the church for worship.
“The answer to bad preaching (and no doubt that’s what we have in some of our churches) is not no preaching, but better preaching–preaching full of meat and marrow; preaching that manifestly comes out of the Scriptures and leads us back to them week after week; preaching that is unquestionably soaked in godliness and the presence of God; preaching delivered with passion and humility as from a dying man to dying men. When pastors preach like this, some will love it and some will not. But no one will have the right to label the sermon ‘a little talk’ or ‘an inspiring oration.'”
Kevin DeYoung, Why We Love the Church, page 176
The rallying cry of proponents of the “new church” is that it’s relationship, not religion.
This is true….and false.
The essence of Christianity–and of church life–is relationship with God and through that, relationship with other believers. But that is not to say that Christianity is not a religion.
According to my American Heritage College Dictionary, religion is defined as “a set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.” In this sense, Christianity is indeed a religion, with its own set of beliefs, values, and practices.
Proponents of the “anti-religion” church equate religion with legalism–dead works that accomplish nothing. And truly, religion (beliefs, values, and practices) without relationship with Christ and other Christians is dead works that accomplish nothing. Religion divorced from relationship is meaningless.
But what the “anti-religion” crowd fails to take into account is that relationship without religion is not relationship. It is impossible to be in relationship with Christ and with His body without adhering to the set of beliefs, values, and practices Christ set up for His disciples.
Hebrews 11:6 says that no one can come to God unless they believe that “He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” We cannot be in relationship with God unless we have certain beliefs about (and belief IN) God.
Matthew 16:24-26 states that if anyone is to come after Christ, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow. This radical restructuring of values–and taking up the values of Christ–is required if anyone is to walk in relationship with Christ.
I John 2:3-6 states that we know that we love God because we obey His commandments and walk as He walked. Unless we adhere to certain practices in obedience to Christ, we aren’t in relationship with Christ.
Religion without relationship is meaningless–but it is impossible to have relationship without religion.
The error that anti-religionists make is that they equate the religion that proceeds out of relationship with Christ with the meaningless tradition of relationship-less religion. But the two couldn’t be more different. In every other religion, adherents cling to beliefs, values, and practices from the teachings of a dead man. In Christianity, our religion (our beliefs, values, and practices) proceed from relationship with a living God. The Christian religion is not one of dead works–it is one of works brought forth from relationship with a living God.
It is good for us to take a critical look at what we are doing as the church, to assess it in light of the Word of God, to seek to be effective in our culture. But in our attempts at relevance, we should not forsake these three essential components of the church: structure, preaching of the Word, and religion (adherence to specific beliefs, values, and practices).
- Review of Book
- Your Kingdom Come (Notes on Chapter 1)
- Self-Aware Revolutionaries or God-Aware Conventionalists? (Notes on Chapter 2)
- The Church in the Popularity Polls
- Traditional or Restorationist? (Notes on Chapter 5)
- How church oughta be (Notes on Chapter 5)
- New Testament Traditions (Notes on Chapter 5)
- Dogmatic or Emergent? (Notes on Chapter 6)
- Redefining Church (Notes on Chapter 7)