[anzac] CRITICS of BARNA's "REVOLUTION"

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From: "REVIVAL List" <prophetic@...>
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 2006 17:26:24 -0600
NOTE:  I think it is important to hear the "other side" of the 'Out-
of-church' debate that has arisen out of George Barna's book
REVOLUTION. While I think there is some misunderstanding, I
also think that some of the critics make good points that we would
do well to ponder. Unfortunately the below article was very long -
so all I could do is take extracts from it. But I think we will get the
main points. If you want to read the entire 2-part article, please
see the web-link at the end.

Barna's "REVOLUTION" - Or REBELLION?
-by Sam Storms.

Barna’s thesis is that one can be a Christ-loving, Bible-believing,
soul-winning, God-exalting Christian without any formal involvement
in or connection with the “church”. In his first chapter, Barna starts
with two examples of Revolutionaries. David and Michael play golf
every Sunday morning (their “Church on the Green”, as they jokingly
refer to their athletic venture). Barna describes them as “born-again
Christians who had eliminated church life from their busy schedules”
due to its boredom or failure to make room for their “considerable
skills and knowledge”. Both men thought of themselves as “deeply
spiritual” people who believed that “the Bible is God’s true and
reliable Word for life”.

David, it turns out, has retained his commitment to reading the
Bible, reflecting on God’s handiwork in nature, and doing what he
can to foster a healthy and vibrant spirituality, while Michael has
simply coasted. David, says Barna, “is a Revolutionary Christian.
... He is typical of a new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ [a
“discipleship,” evidently, that entails playing golf rather than
involvement with a local body of believers]. They are not willing to
play religious games [so they play physical ones with clubs and a
little white ball] and aren’t interested in being part of a religious
community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing
God’s Kingdom [OK. So be a part of a religious community that IS
intentionally and aggressively advancing God’s Kingdom!]. They
are people who want more of God – much more – in their lives.
And they are doing whatever it takes to get it” [which would include
abandoning the local church]. I hope you realize that the comments
in brackets are mine, not Barna’s!

As far as Barna is concerned, “it’s not about church. It’s about the
Church”, as if God designed for the latter to exist and express its
life in a multitude of ways independently of and without regard for
the former. In all humility, I beg to differ.

Ultimately, notes Barna, 'we expect to see believers choosing from
a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored
alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal
"church" of the individual'.

In a recent (January 2006) review of Revolution in Christianity
Today magazine, Kevin Miller comments that the phrase "personal
church of the individual" must be the most mind-spinning phrase
ever written about the church of Jesus Christ. "Could it be," he
asks, "that we evangelical Protestants, who have done more to
fragment Christendom than any other group are now taking that to
the logical extreme: a church at the individual level, each person
creating a personal 'church' experience? At any other point in
church history, "personal church" would be nonsensical. In
today's America, it's the Next Big Thing." [-christianitytoday.com]

Our mistake, [Barna] contends, is that we simply don’t understand the
Bible. We “counter-Revolutionaries” have failed to study the Word
and what it says about the nature of the local church. “Neglecting
to meet together” (Heb. 10:25) is a serious sin, he contends. But
“such interaction could be in a worship service or at Starbucks; it
might be satisfied through a Sunday school class or a dinner in a
fellow believer’s home”. Of course, Barna fails to mention that
later in the book of Hebrews those very people who are “to meet
together” are also commanded to “obey” their “leaders and submit
to them,” for they are keeping watch over their souls (Heb 13:17).
Perhaps I’m missing something, but that sounds an awfully lot like
established and official leaders that elsewhere in the NT are
identified as Elders and Pastors. I’m not sure how one “obeys”
and “submits” to leaders if one is unrelated to and uninvolved in
the local church where such biblically constituted leadership exists.

Perhaps I’m just an old stuck-in-the-mud traditionalist, but in my
mind it strains the limits of credulity to argue that sharing a mocha
at Starbucks is a valid and sufficient fulfillment of the biblical
mandate that we not forsake “the assembling” of ourselves together!

When I read 1 Corinthians 5, 6, 7, 11, and especially chapters 12-
14 (above all, chapter 14), I sense that God has profound interest
in how our worship and conduct and exercise of ecclesiastical
authority, etc. are to be regulated. And 1 Cor. 16:1-4 certainly
indicates apostolic expectations concerning our monetary giving
and the frequency with which it should occur (see also 2 Cor. 8-9).

When I read the NT I come across numerous “regulations” concerning
church discipline, a practice that is moot in the absence of covenant
and commitment between believers in a local assembly (see, for
example, Matthew 18:15-20; Acts 5:1-11; Romans 16:17-19;
1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; 1 Timothy 5:17-20; etc.).

One example of Barna’s tortured logic is the following: “In fact,
there is no verse in Scripture that links the concepts of worshipping
God and a ‘church meeting.’"  In the first place, no one is suggesting
that the only place to worship is in a “church meeting.” But surely
there is something significant in the fact that virtually all NT epistles
are addressed to Christians in local churches. As far as I can tell,
no Christian in the NT existed outside the local church. In fact, as
I read the NT it would seem that no one, certainly not the apostles,
would qualify as one of Barna’s Revolutionaries... The simple and
inescapable fact is that one looks in vain in the pages of the NT
for a Christian “Revolutionary” who followed Jesus independently
of the life and accountability and nurture of a local church.

I’ve been a pastor for twenty-five years, a professor in a Christian
liberal arts college for four, and an itinerant preacher for nearly two.
I’ve been in virtually every denomination and variety of local church
in America and around the globe. Yes, the church has serious
flaws and countless failures. But I find not the slightest hint in the
Bible (to which Barna and his Revolutionaries pledge allegiance)
of any other means that God has ordained by which his redemptive
purposes in the earth and the advance of the Kingdom are to
proceed. By all means, let the lifestyle of Jesus and the ethical
and spiritual qualities that Barna celebrates be embraced and
encouraged. But do so within and on behalf of and for the renewal
and revitalization of the local community of faith, not independently of it.

Barna sums up the Revolution in glowing and altogether uncritical
terms. [It] is comprised of people “who are determined to let nothing
stand in the way of an authentic and genuine experience with God”,
and “entails drawing people away from reliance upon a local church
into a deeper connection with and reliance upon God”, as if reliance
upon God through the resources and life of the local church were an
impossibility (or extreme unlikelihood).

By way of conclusion, let me say a few things I believe are relevant
concerning the role of the local church in the life of the believer.

First, as noted before, every word of exhortation in the NT epistles,
every ethical principle, every theological truth, every fruit of the Holy
Spirit, is addressed to people who were active participants and living
members of a local church. There is not the slightest hint that any
NT author, writing under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit,
envisioned living out one’s life as a disciple of Jesus Christ
independently of or unrelated to the local expression of the body of Christ.

Second, if Barna actually believes that the NT says little concerning
the nature, structure, function, and necessity of local church life,
I can only wonder if he has read with any degree of attentiveness
the pastoral epistles of Paul (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus). The
things Paul wrote therein provide God-given instruction on how we
“may know how one ought to behave in the household of God,
which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth”
(1 Timothy 3:15).

Third, all Christians are responsible “to respect those who labor
among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you”
(1 Thess. 5:12). Again, there is no evidence to suggest that a
Christian can exempt himself/herself from the responsibility of
accountability and submission to the authority of the Elders or
duly appointed leaders (whatever title may be given them) of a
local assembly.

Fourth, I am the last person to endorse or support the lukewarm
and ineffective “programs” of local churches that exist for their own
sake alone. Nothing that I have said in this review should be taken
as encouragement for the perpetuation of business-as-usual, save-
the-status-quo-at-all-costs “Churchianity”. I, no less than Barna,
long for a vibrant, authentic, genuine, sincere, passionate, sacrificial
expression of the life of Christ among his people. But God did not
give us the option of pursuing this “at arm’s length” (to use Barna’s
phrase) from the local church.

...And finally, the bottom line is this: whereas I appreciate Barna’s
zeal for zeal, his deep longing to see the people of God live
powerfully persuasive and culture-shaping lives, and his yearning
for authenticity in one’s relationship with God, “Rebellion” against
the biblical mandate for local church life (and no, there’s no way to
tone down my terms) is not the way to attain it.

I hope and pray that people who read this book (if they must) will
have the discernment to recognize its flaws and resist its gut-level
appeal. With all due respect to George Barna and his many
accomplishments for the sake of the Kingdom, this is a bad book
that encourages a bad agenda for the people of God.

~To read the entire 2-part article by Sam Storms from which the
above extracts are taken, please go to the following web-site:
http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/home.asp  [-LOWER LEFT].
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