Long Live Organic Church

Christianity Today‘s Mark Galli wrote an article in his online SoulWork column a couple of week ago titled Long Live Organic Church’.

In it he explains his rather interesting, if not a little negative, or maybe pragmatic, viewpoint about the future of the organic church movement and its main proponents, advocates and ‘thought leaders’, such as Neil Cole, Alan Hirsh, Bob Roberts and Frank Viola.  He expresses some admiration for them and what they dream to achieve, but also worries that the disappointment of experiencing inevitable failure will cause disillusionment with church in general:

“I love the passion. And the prophetic word to institutionalism …. and the vision to make Christ’s love and grace known to the four corners of the planet…..What I worry about is the coming crash of organic church. And after that, I worry about the energetic men and women at the forefront of the movement. Will they become embittered and abandon the church, and maybe their God?”

As he continues:

“That the organic church movement will crash, I have no doubt. Every renewal movement in church history has either derailed immediately or produced temporary renewal at the expense of long-term unintended consequences. Church historians tells us that in 11th- and 12th-century Europe, churches and chapels sprang up all over the continent, signaling a revival of faith after the centuries formerly called “the dark ages.” It was one of the most viral, church-planting movements in history. Unfortunately, it nurtured a fervency that longed to transform the world for Christ—which soon bore fruit in the Crusades.”

He follows this with what he calls a ‘more excellent way of love’, which basically means not to desire to change the world but to focus on obedience to God’s call on our lives and not expect too much, because if we do then we will inevitably end up disappointed:

“When the focus is on loving obedience to a loving Father, what difference does it make if it doesn’t seem to do any good? What difference does it make if the world or church is not transformed by our lights? When our motive is results, we are bound to be disappointed, because we live in a tragically fallen world that is stubbornly resistant to transformation. But when we focus on obedience to a sovereign heavenly Father, who in love is redeeming his creation in his own time and way (often mysteriously)—well, how could we ever be dismayed?”

What sort of gospel is that?  Just plod along and don’t expect too much because you’re not going to make any difference and you’ll end up disappointed.

I agree with his focus on love and expressing the purposes of God through our function as salt and light, and that our primary focus should be on obedience not making changes for changes sake – but does he honestly believe that Jesus doesn’t expect transformation as a result of the ministry of His church?

When the focus is on loving obedience to a loving Father, what difference does it make if it doesn’t seem to do any good? What difference does it make if the world or church is not transformed by our lights? When our motive is results, we are bound to be disappointed, because we live in a tragically fallen world that is stubbornly resistant to transformation. But when we focus on obedience to a sovereign heavenly Father, who in love is redeeming his creation in his own time and way (often mysteriously)—well, how could we ever be dismayed?

I wonder what the world would have been like today if the Apostles and early church has taken a similar view?

To be honest though, I think I get where he is coming from, that as Christian people in a fallen world we should be good news to people and not expect reward – the fact that we are being obedient in serving others should be enough . 

But is this really all God has planned for us and His church? 

Personally, I don’t think so, and I think that the likes of Neil Cole, Alan Hirsh, Bob Roberts and Frank Viola are with me on this one.

Thankfully, Neil Cole and Frank Viola are much more articulate than I am – and they have responded to Mark Galli’s article, Neil Cole with five posts on his blog, Cole-Slaw (here, here, here, here and here) – the first of which has also been reproduced in Christianity Today (here), and Frank Viola in on his blog, Reimagining Church (here) – also in Christianity Today (here).

All five posts are worth reading and make a coherent and convincing rebuttal of Mark Galli’s original post.

Mark Galli seems to have resigned himself to the conclusion that the expression of church that we see today is the best we are ever going to get – that somehow we shouldn’t expect any more or anything better.  And yet many, many Christian people want more, expect more and are finding more through ‘organic’ expressions of church.  To quote Frank Viola as he considers organic church as a movement:

“I believe it would be more accurate to say that there is a phenomenon today where countless Christians are leaving institutional forms of church and exploring non-traditional forms of church in pursuit of authentic, shared-life community.  I’ve been gathering in organic expressions of the church…for the last 21 years. And from my observations, many of the people who are leaving the institutional form of church presently are leaving because they are following a spiritual instinct. They are saying and thinking, “There has got to be more to Jesus Christ and his body than this.” Or as Reggie McNeal once put it, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.””

Rather than accepting the status quo as inevitable, maybe we should be on our knees pleading with God to send revival to our churches – to breath life back into our traditional denominations and expressions of church!  Who says the organic church has to be separate from traditional church?  Who says it is bound to fail?

The story goes that Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith, the noted evangelist from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, often pleaded with God to do great things by drawing a circle around himself with a piece of white chalk and praying, “Lord, send a revival, and let it begin inside this circle.”

Sounds good to me – now where’s my chalk?

 

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