Monday, April 27, 2009

On Being the Church

A sister church in our area has announced an initiative to "be the church" rather than "going to church." According to press coverage (which I always take with a grain of salt), the capstone of this initiative is the cancellation of all Sunday worship services for a given Sunday in favor of a number of community service projects.

First, I want to commend the concept of emphasizing "church" as someone who we are rather than someplace that we go. It is a needed and biblical correction in our day. And yet, having determined to be the church rather than to go to the church, I can't help but wonder whether a set of community service projects can constitute being the church in any New Testament sense.

In the New Testament, although I find the careful attention of the church to the needs of church members, I find it difficult to build an exegetical case for the policing of city park litter and the changing of old motor oil as the essence of ecclesiology. One might pretty easily argue that the New Testament church not only did none of those things, but further that they did nothing which might be construed as the first-century equivalent of them. Or perhaps I misread the scriptures.

The only hermeneutical basis I can conceive for defining the being of the church thusly is to exalt (a selective reading of) the Minor Prophets over the Pauline Epistles and to build more of an Old Testament social movement than a New Testament church. Starting off each morning with a daily passage of Rauschenbusch would go much further in building such a mindset than would a daily encounter with Acts.

Community service projects might be a great public-relations move for a church. They might present opportunities to share the gospel with new people for a church. I've led our church to participate in similar ventures. I do not write to express any personal opposition to the activities in and of themselves. Rather, I object to the labeling of community service projects as the church actually coming to be itself. The history of The Salvation Army has demonstrated, I believe, that warm-hearted and caring people can actually allow a passion for community service to get in the way of a church being a church as biblically defined.

When I think about FBC Farmersville coming to be the church rather than going to church, I think about the Church Covenant that I will be presenting to the congregation in May for a vote on it (along with our new Constitution & Bylaws) in July. It is as we two or three (or more) gather together in covenantal agreement in the name of Christ, worshipping Christ, with Him gathered with us, and we fulfill the "one anothers" of the New Testament that we are being the church which Christ founded.

Note: I comment on this matter because I believe that it addresses important questions that we can all benefit from considering. I neither name the church in question nor link to the mentioned press releases out of my fraternal love and respect for a sister congregation in our local area. Although we may answer these questions differently, and even if the topic merits our consideration, I have no desire to be gratuitously derogatory toward a sister church with whom we cooperate.


volfan007 said...


I guess my question would be, "Why could they have not done this on a Saturday?" I mean, why pick Sunday? Or, at least, have morning worship, and then do this on Sunday late afternoon, or evening. We do have a lot of daylight left at the end of the day.

I suspect they called off worship, because this would be the only time that people would give to do such a thing. I dont know that, but I suspect that to be true. And, if that's true, then that's sad; and it says more negative about a Church than good. I mean, if they have to call off morning worship service in order to go do these community service type things, then what does that say about the members?

Bart, I, like you, am for doing these type of things, and I've led my Church to do these things in the past. But, calling off worship to do them. I'm not sold on that, and I think it's not a wise move to do so.

Of course, this would go right along with "The Shack" type of philosophy. You know, where "God is our Papa, and the Church is about relationships and living life, it's not about looking at the back of someones head in a building" type of thinking.

I believe that the Church needs to worship, and we're commanded to assemble ourselves together to worship God and learn about God. Acts of service ought to be something you do at other times, if your members are willing to give more time than just a couple of hours a week to work for the Lord thru His Church.

Again, I say along with Bart. I'm not talking about this particular Church, because I dont even know what Church he's talking about. It's the concept that I'm talking about.


Dave Miller said...

Is your covenant available online? Or could someone send a donation to the Bart Barber Evangelistic Association and get one in the mail?

It is something I've been considering.

Dave Miller said...

Also, my son has that t-shirt. one side says, "Don't go to church." the other side says "Be the church."

It seems kind of cool, but I have never really understood it.

Tim G said...

There appears to be some movement somewhere for this has occured in several different sates etc.

You raise some great questions and some great thoughts. My first perspective is that in these events, if the Gospel is being shared, then the church is "being the church".

From several scenerios I have seen though, the usual effect is that they simply accomplish community service (which is important) but miss "being the church" due to a lack of evangelism and one to one ministry (the one anothers).

Just few more thoughts :)!

bapticus hereticus said...

Bart: ... to build more of an Old Testament social movement than a New Testament church. Starting off each morning with a daily passage of Rauschenbusch would go much further in building such a mindset than would a daily encounter with Acts.

bapticus hereticus:

"Prayer for the Church"

"O God, we pray for thy Church, which is set today amid the perplexities of a changing order, and face to face with a great new task. We remember with love the nurture she gave to our spiritual life in its infancy, the tasks she set for our growing strength, the influence of the devoted hearts she gathers, the steadfast power for good she has exerted. When we compare her with all human institutions, we rejoice, for there is none like her. But when we judge her by the mind of her Master, we bow in pity and contrition.

O baptize her afresh in the life-giving spirit of Jesus! Grant her a new birth, though it be with the travail of repentance and humiliation. Bestow upon her a more imperious responsiveness to duty, a swifter compassion with suffering, and an utter loyalty to the will of God. Put upon her lips the ancient gospel of her Lord. Help her to proclaim boldly the coming of the Kingdom of God and the doom of all that resist it. Fill her with the prophets' scorn of tyranny, and with a Christ-like tenderness for the heavy-laden and down-trodden.

Give her faith to espouse the cause of the people, and in their hands that grope after freedom and light to recognize the bleeding hands of Christ. Bid her cease from
seeking her own life, lest she lose it. Make her valiant to give her life to humanity, that like her crucified Lord she may mount by the path of the cross to a higher glory."

-- Walter Rausenbusch

"Permission is gladly given to reprint single prayers in newspapers, church programs,
and similar publications, provided no change is made in the wording except by omission or abbreviation. I should be glad if proper acknowledgment were made in every case so that the attention of others may be called to this little book and its usefulness increased."

Rochester, N. Y.

Prayers of the Social Awakening, pp. 119-120. Pilgrim Press, MA.

Bart Barber said...

I thank each of you for your thoughtful comments, especially Dr. Rauschenbusch, whom I did not know to frequent my blog! ;-)

I want to reiterate something important at this juncture in the comments: I am not opposed to the conducting of community service projects. Rather, I differ with suggesting that a congregation has begun to "be the church" rather than "go to church" when it starts to go out and conduct acts of community service. Such a conception of what it means to really start to be the church—well, it just has not a shred of good foundation in the Bible.

volfan007 said...


The book "The Shack" really promotes what you are saying here, about being the Church, rather than going to Church. Maybe that's where this idea is floating around from. Sadly, many Christians are reading this book, and our Lifeway Stores are selling it. This book is full of Biblical errors and heresies, from universalism to denying the Trinity, to God being submissive to people. But, the author does promote this idea in a big way in the book.

I agree with you, that this is not the Biblical concept of Church.


Jeremy Roberts said...

Bart -
While I have not commented on a blog in quite some time, I feel the need to comment here. Two Sundays ago, the church I have the opportunity to serve as pastor here in the Knoxville area conducted "Reverse Church: From Going to Church to Being the Church."

As our church typically does not have Sunday evening services, we conducted Reverse Church on a Sunday morning, and conducted our Sunday service in the evening on that day. It worked really well as seeds were planted, disciples were encouraged, and our church family exercised their faith.

The Great Commission is all about turning people into disciples as one is going. As our fellowship went into the same places they go throughout the week, they went with strategic purpose to turn people into disciples. Sure, they should do this daily, but they must be trained and equipped to do so. This was a training exercise for my flock, and quite an effective one at that.

David -
Comparing this evangelism strategy to "The Shack" is a stretch, to say the least.

Bart Barber said...

Jeremy Roberts,

Thanks for adding to the conversation here. To make certain that you understand what I am saying:

1. I have no problem with a church making some alteration to its normal schedule of Sunday worship to do something exceptional. We do that sometimes. That's not the point.

2. I have no problem with a church performing acts of community service. We do that sometimes. That's not the point.

3. So, what's my problem? Here it is. The language employed is simply saying that the normal gathering of believers to worship and study and exhort and encourage is something less than being the church, while the going out to plant azaleas and install lampposts is the church being the church.

Lovingly and fraternally, I stand by the point of my initial post—no New Testament church ever did anything like a community service project. I am open to being proven wrong at this point.

I'm no primitivist, so I'm NOT saying that, because the New Testament church didn't do it, your church in Knoxville or my church in Farmersville can't do it either.

But I would say that it is just plain inaccurate and unbiblical to suggest that what finally makes the church start to "be the church" is something that no church in the Bible ever did.

Bart Barber said...


I meandered a bit. Let me reiterate my main point with specific regard to your comment. Let me do so by illustration:

Group of People A: Gets together on Sunday and does community service projects.

Group of People B: Gets together on Sunday to worship, study the Bible, encourage and exhort one another, and fulfill the "one anothers" of the New Testament.

I object to the suggestion that Group B is just going to church while Group A is being the church. The plain fact is that every church in the New Testament looks like Group B and looks nothing like Group A.

volfan007 said...




I was not comparing community service instead of worship to "The Shack." I was just saying that the concept of being the Church thru relationships and living life, instead of going to Church, is promoted in "The Shack." And, since "The Shack" is so popular amongst Christians, for some odd reason, then maybe that idea came from this book? Or, maybe the idea was around before it was even written, and the author of "The Shack" picked up on it and liked it. I dont know. But, it is promoted in this awful book.


Anonymous said...

David: You must have read(or not read) a different version of the Shack than I did by a different author, because that is not what is being promoted.

You can go to church and not have a relationship with either Christ or others and going to church would mean nothing. It is about relationship. It's both, being the church and going to church. But I see the former as something the Bible promotes strongly.

volfan007 said...


The Shack is so full of errors and heresies that it's not just a bad book, it's a horrible book. I read it, and I found 18 Scriptural errors and heresies in it. I found everything from universalism to denial that the miracles show that Jesus is God to saying that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven. I found in this book extreme errors in theology concerning God punishing sin....namely, the author claims that God does not punish sin. There's a denial of original sin in the Garden of Eden. Lying is not a sin, according to The Shack; it's just a way of surviving.

It's a horrible book that should not be on the bookshelves of Lifeway.

Forgive me, Bart, for this off topic comment, yet it is on topic slightly, because the book does say that Church is not about sitting in a pew looking at the back of people's heads. It's about relationships and living life. Church is you and me, out there, in the world, living life and developing relationships. It's not about worshipping together, and hearing the Word of God preached and taught. It's about us going out there and doing things together.



From the Middle East said...

Brother David (007),

You said:
"the book does say that Church is not about sitting in a pew looking at the back of people's heads. It's about relationships and living life. Church is you and me, out there, in the world, living life and developing relationships. It's not about worshipping together, and hearing the Word of God preached and taught. It's about us going out there and doing things together."

I have not read The Shack, nor do I care to, but I am wondering if you would agree with the following:

Church is not about sitting in a pew looking at the back of people's heads. In addition to worshipping and being being hearers of the Word, it is also about relationships and living life. One aspect of being called-out is you and me, out there, in the world, living life and developing relationships that honor Christ... being doers of the Word.

This is not some kind of trick question, but a sincere question so that I can better understand your understanding of Church.

Peace to you brother,
From the Middle East

volfan007 said...


Would you say that the Church should gather and worship together? Should the Church gather to hear the Word of God preached and taught?

And, yes, as I said, I do believe that the Church is also about relationships. We are to prefer one another, pray for one another, love each other, etc. And, I have led the Churches that I've been the Pastor of to do community service type projects in order to let the community know that we care about them, and to be a witness for the Lord out in the world.

But, Church is not me being out in the woods with my friends hunting. Church is not about my wife and me going to the park for a picnic.


From the Middle East said...

Brother David (007),

Thank you for the clarification. And to answer your question(s):


Peace to you brother,
From the Middle East

Chris Johnson said...

Brother Bart,

I am sorry to have missed this post while it was still simmering. But, I like the subject and I think you bring up an interesting point.

It seems that Pastors will try all sorts of stunts, things, etc. to try to move their folks off the bench and into the game. Even though scripture is clear that the church are the people of God, it has been at a minimum in these last several generations to view the church as a place to go…never mind the people. This is unfortunate, because the church herself, is a bit confused of who she is and why she is here.

As you know, the bride (church, all of the adopted) awaits the coming of the Christ…while we wait we praise Him, pray in His name, worship Him, and live only by the Spirit that He gives. Oh that the church would know better who she is in light of the facts.

This “be” the church thing is like saying “be” the “be”. Those that are the church meet to worship because we have been commanded to gather by our groom. Some of the church just simply need to know what that means in a more meaningful way…like worship in spirit and truth. Some simply have grown habit to using the phrase “going to church”… kinda like when I moved to Tennessee some 24 years ago…. People kept saying go get the “hose-pipe”. Well after a while in Tennessee I realized that people were referring to a “water-hose”. We tend to pour meaning into a whole host of descriptors.

I like the tenor of your question in the post….because there is a great difference in worshipping in spirit and truth versus running out to do self-help and/or community help projects. I hope we are able to teach the difference.