Welcome to the bonus blog entry of New Direction, where we search the Spirit, Scripture and more discovering the New Direction God is leading his church in this post modern culture. Today, we take a look at a statement from John Piper stating that those who walks away from the viable, traditional church, walk away from Jesus.
A while back, I had a conversation with a local pastor. Eventually, as part of the conversation, I shared that I do not regularly attend a traditional, organized church. The conversation went rather well, and I kept my mind open to the possibility that God may have placed this gentleman into my path to bring me back into a traditional group.
Boy, was I wrong.
I wrote to the pastor, suggesting that we have a follow up get-together. In his email response, the pastor made it clear that he could not call me a ‘brother.’ He felt the need to point this out because of love, since I had used the term towards him. He stated that Jesus established the visible church system we have today, and to not attend one means you rebel against what the Lord has clearly established. You cannot say you follow Him, and ignore his commandments.
I do not know what astonished me more… the leaps in logic he used to get to his conclusion, or the brashness and speed in which he disassociated himself with me (at least, on that level). While he felt his approach was, in fact, driven by love, I could only feel, especially in a post modern culture, that using an approach of disassociation could only hurt and offend… rather than lovingly draw in.
As I shared this story, most of my friends, including those who regularly attend and support a traditional church, were likewise astonished by this pastor’s approach. However, most wrote it off as a somewhat isolated pastor who might be a bit out of touch.
So, imagine my surprised when yesterday, while watching YouTube, I heard John Piper use very similar language.
For those who do not know, John Piper is a prominent reformation (Calvinist) pastor. Desiringgod.org states, “John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.” I have listened to a number of John Piper’s sermons via the internet. While I do not favor the reformation line of thinking towards the doctrines of free will and grace, I generally find his teaching spiritually edifying.
In the clip below, John Piper answers a number of concerns about organized religion in the light of the recent fall of prominent pastor Mark Driscoll. The first eight minutes start out as I would expect, with John explaining that pastors do sin and make poor decisions, as do all in the human race. We should not, however, judge a faith or theolgy based on the person espousing it. For the most part, I agree. We should judge theology in the light of God’s Word.
At 8m.25secs, the interviewer asks, “Specific to that, they [some followers] go ‘Pastor John, I’m not walking away from Jesus, but I’m done with the church. Can’t trust, leadership… held this guy in high esteem. So, I’m not going to walk away from Jesus, but I’m done with organized aspect of the church.”
Piper answers, with no hesitation, “If you do that, you’re walking away from Jesus.”
Wow. That’s quite a jump. He continues, “Here’s the reason. To say that, ‘I love Jesus, but I don’t submit to His Word, is a lie. ‘He who loves Me will keep My Words.’ Jesus founded the church. I didn’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus founded the church.” John goes on to share where and how God’s Word establishes the institutional, organized church.
Now, I want to carefully insure that I do not put words into John’s mouth. I have too much respect for him. At the same time, I want to convey how people might take what he expressed, here…. especially those who currently do not attend a traditional church.
To me, it sounded like he stepped perilously close to saying, “If you do not attend church, you are not saved.” He did not say that directly, of course. Regardless, I certainly hear the echoes of that local pastors proclamation that he could not call me a brother, after finding out that I do not attend a traditional church.
In talking about the organized church, John Piper emphasizes, “This is not man’s idea.” I would maintain that while the universal body of saints known as the church is not man’s idea, the organized system we have today certainly has plenty of man-made ideas under the hood. This, in and of itself, does not invalidate local churches, but we need to separate what the Bible calls the church, or ekklesia, from the organization and structures today that we call ‘church.’ I discussed this in more detail in a previous article.
Now, the Bible clearly shows us local church bodies in the New Testament. We have letters from Paul addressing issues as they popped up. However, first, I would point out that the New Testament is hardly a list of rules and regulations of exactly how to run a church. It seems to me that these local bodies, guided by the Spirit (and sometimes by their own sin), followed their own path. While some of what they did glorified God, other things drew sharp criticism from Paul.
Second, if it is an exhaustive set of guidelines we should follow, modern churches clearly pick and choose which passages they want to use as guiding principles. 1 Cor 14: 26- 40 provides a great example. The center passages provide a proof text that churches utilize to defend the idea that only men should preach to the church. However, most completely ignore the first part of this section which indicates that during meetings, if God lays a word on another’s heart, the first speaker should fall silent and let the second speak. I have never, ever seen this exercised in any modern church service.
Paul follows this up indicating that by that God’s truth doesn’t just come through one person (v36). He punctuates it by pointing out that this command comes from God.
When I used to believe, as Piper implies, that the New Testament lays out a bone fide structure for how ‘local church’ should look like, passages like these caused me to struggle. How one go from the vague picture that the New Testament paints of early church culture and structure, to what we have in place today, escapes me.
In expressing this to the local pastor, he explains that God has provided further revelation to the established, visible church over the centuries. In other words, they follow the guidance of the Spirit. Which, incidentally, some people, like myself, feel God led us when we left traditional, institutional churches.