The blogosphere was all abuzz last week when Donald Miller, well-known author of the best-selling book, Blue Like Jazz, announced that he no longer attends a local church. Continue reading . . .
The blogosphere was all abuzz last week when Donald Miller, well-known author of the best-selling book, Blue Like Jazz, announced that he no longer attends a local church. I won’t go into his reasons or the multitude of responses, many of which were extremely insightful (others weren’t). What struck me most was the element of surprise among many evangelicals. They acted as if this choice of Miller’s was unexpected. “How can this be?” they asked. “What could possibly lead an educated and articulate professing Christian to abandon local church life?”
For my part, Miller’s decision makes perfectly good sense, given his rejection of the functional authority of Scripture. If one does not believe that the Bible is authoritative for belief and behavior, all options are on the table. To say that the inspired and infallible text of Scripture functions authoritatively means, among other things, that our minds are not free to believe whatever seems preferable. It means that our choices are limited to what Scripture approves. It means that God exerts his rule over us through his written Word.
Of course, many bristle at this. Such limitations on their “freedom” are highly offensive and ultimately stifling to any meaningful sense of personal development. Scripture, on the other hand, would have us enjoy the superior “freedom” of conformity to the will of God so revealed. Freedom is not the multiplication of options and the unfettered opportunity to select whichever ones suit our fancy. Freedom is the Spirit-wrought alignment of one’s mind with what God declares to be true and the joyful conformity of one’s will with what God reveals as right and good.
But if one does not believe and submit to the right of Scripture to govern our every thought and deed, the abandonment of active participation in local church life makes perfectly good sense and is likely only the first of many deviations from biblical instruction. I don’t want to be guilty of caricature in this regard, so perhaps we should listen to what one of Miller’s like-minded friends has to say about this. In his book, The Church on the Other Side (Zondervan, 2000), Brian McLaren [by the way, whatever happened to Brian McLaren?] describes how the typical “new church” views the New Testament. It is not a book of rules or a fixed, detailed blueprint that applies to all churches in all cultures across time, says McLaren. Rather,
“the New Testament serves as (among other things) an inspired, exemplary, and eternally relevant case study of how the early church itself adapted and evolved and coped with rapid change and new challenges. In place of a fixed structure that is to fit all, the new church advocates a flexible, adaptable, evolving structure that is developed to meet the current needs. The key word is adaptability” (23).
The NT is “exemplary,” that is to say, it provides an “example” or “model” of how one might choose to live in this fallen world. It is a “case study” of how early Christians “adapted and evolved and coped with rapid change and new challenges.” As such, we can learn much from it (as we might from Plato or Shakespeare), but we are by no means obligated to submit to it as if it were the written embodiment of God’s will for all Christians throughout the age. By all means use the Bible, he suggests, to facilitate your adaptation to current needs. But by no means are you bound to it.
Well, that being the case, why not abandon local church life? Makes sense to me. Why not abandon biblical standards for sexual conduct? Makes sense to me. Why not embrace alternative religions as revelatory and salvific? Makes sense to me. In fact, in the absence of the functional authority of Scripture, pretty much everything makes sense to me!
Now, perhaps Miller wouldn’t endorse McLaren’s view of Scripture, in which case I must write another post and ask his forgiveness. But it’s hard to believe that anyone who embraces the functional authority of the Bible could find grounds within it to justify church-less Christianity. That simply doesn’t make sense to me.
Finally, let it be said again that if it’s genuine freedom you seek, there is no greater or more joyful liberation than what is found within the loving parameters of God’s revealed will. There is no more meaningful, edifying, soul-satisfying spiritual experience than that which comes from the accountability, instruction, and encouragement that one finds in active participation and membership in a local body of Christian men and women. I pray that Donald Miller and those who follow his path might do an immediate about-face and find their way back into the fold of God’s flock.