Presently, there is an incredible drive towards simplicity in the church. It is all about K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple stupid). There are certain elements about this movement that I agree with. I definitely think our churches have made things more complicated and clunky than the have to be. However, there is a point when a quest for simplicity dives off the deep end into ecclesiological reductionism. A recent web-surfing session provided me with some more evidence of the truth of this assertion. I stumbled upon this website that exist as, “a new Social Networking site for those exploring simple expressions of church.” The discussion forum on the site contained a thread that I think is representative of this movement’s ultimate destination.
The thread begins with what I interpret as a man that is sincerely in search of a healthy gospel community (aka the local church). He desperately writes, “I’m dying here, well my family and I are dying here for lack of true spiritual connection.” The churches which he has been part of have heavily focused on their Sunday service as the primary community and discipleship event. He rhetorically ask, “How do you build relationships with others like Christ commands us to by sitting for ninety minutes singing a few songs and hearing a twenty minute sermon and that is it?” He yearns to experience Christian community. He wants to know and be known. It is in this vein he poses he main question, “Can anyone give me pointers on how to start a house church?”
I can identify with this man. His experience isn’t all that unique. Sadly, his do-it-yourself reaction isn’t that unique either. Nonetheless, my particular concern finds its source in the replies his posting received. For example, one woman said:
“We’re in much the same situation and have discovered that a family makes a fine church. When God is ready, He’ll add others to us, but in the mean time, we bear one another’s burdens within our small family. We’ve gotten much closer–I believe this is the best “church” I’ve ever attended.”
Family makes a fine church? Actually, no it doesn’t. A church isn’t merely Christians-in-relationships. That is a reduction of scripture’s teaching on the local church. For example, a local church is supposed to have a local leadership that is comprised of a plurality of elders. A single family by definition can’t possess a plurality of elders and, thereby, can’t be a church in a biblical sense.
Another person replies:
“You see, simple church happens all the time. Did you ever run into someone in Walmart and have them share a concern? Did you share a word of encouragement or even a quick prayer? That is simple church….Remember, though, where two or three are gathered in His Name, He is there.”
Again, this is a reduction of biblical ecclesiology. A chance meeting of Christians at a local retailer that results in spiritual activity isn’t a church. A local church is a family of people that have made a deep commitment to “one-another” each other. This example in no way stresses that need for the regular and intentional involvement that the biblical authors emphasize as part of the dynamic of the local church. Moreover, the use of Matthew 18:20 to define church as where two or three are gathered is incorrect. The truth is quite the opposite. Matthew 18:20 is set in a larger context of “church discipline” that emphasizes the church is more than just two or three (see vs. 17).
In conclusion, the sin of our age is reductionism. I’m all for minimalism and simplicity when it comes to the church but not when it is at the expense of biblical doctrine.