Revisiting a group of writer-friends and their affiliated publication, I was reminded of the growing group of jaded Christians
who no longer worship in any kind of church setting. They call themselves "post-Church" as if they have somehow evolved beyond Christ's institution for his people. "The Nones" is another name they like, taking it from the check box they would self-identify to the question of religious affiliation on a census questionnaire-- None.
This post-Church crowd will argue that they just weren't getting what they wanted or needed from their local church community. It wasn't a satisfying experience and the church leaders weren't providing them with the faith journey they desired. So, they divorced their community for a different mistress, maybe a group who shares their affinity for popular issues of social justice, artistic expression, politics, dietary fads, some kind of on-line connection, or a gang with similar level of anger toward Christ's Bride. Interestingly, these post-Christians don't seek a different local church community where they might find opportunities to connect with, grow in, and serve Christ, but instead cast off Church, big-C Church all together. They would argue that they are still part of the Church but just hate local church. They "love Jesus, just hate Christians." But the truth is Jesus indwells his people and the local church is a part of the big-C Church; therefore, Jesus and his Church get tossed out too.
I've read of these new post-church communities meeting in coffee shops or homes for shared meals where a communal fellowship is touted but there is decidedly a void of any worship, teaching, Bible reading, or anything that may look like "church." Jesus is typically intentionally or unintentionally uninvited. Some of these gatherings will pray, but that's often the extent of it. (I wonder how God might receive the prayer of those who reject God's people as well as the institution he set up for them?) I am familiar with a single group that sits on the post-church precipice which does, on occasion, discuss Scripture, but generally is void of any deeper study or application because in fact, they are lacking any kind of shepherd.
Indeed there is a time to divorce a fellowship. When irreconcilable differences surface in the essential theological matters one should talk with the leaders to consider if finding a different local church, breaking fellowship, or some kind of further study may be appropriate. Cases of egregious unrepentant sin among the leadership may also be a time to break fellowship, after the appropriate course of action has taken place. (See Matthew 18:15-18.) False teaching too. But to toss up your hands and say your are done with any kind of Christian gathering only to trade it in for a cult community of your own making because you don't prefer what's offered is a very different thing.
Nowhere does the Bible speak of a Christian who rejects Christ's Bride, the Church. It's quite the opposite in fact.
For example, Paul opens his letter to the Philippians as follows: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with
the overseers and deacons" (Philippians 1:1b, ESV, italics added for emphasis.) Paul says these saints are with
the leaders and servants, not consumers of the goods and services the leaders provide or members of their social club. The saints are in community together. Many of Paul's letters open with this picture of community centered around the gospel called the local church. He also talks about the necessity of being part of the body, one body with many parts. His explanation of communion and his rebuke for the local church that shows favoritism toward the rich show Paul's concern and care for community within the local church. John's third letter is to an individual and yet it still seems to suggest that Gaius is part of a larger community. John's second letter is also to an individual and here he's calling this lady to hold fast to the teaching of Christ. Christ didn't ever tell anybody to be a solitary loaner or gather in a community that is held together with bonds other than the love of Christ. Christ is building his Church and the local churches are a part if they hold to Christ and his teachings. Christ is so serious about the Church that we often see the Church called the Bride of Christ, that is, Christ's special love. Men are called to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, the Church Jesus died for (Ephesians 5:25). There are many accounts of the believers eating and praying together, and being sanctified into Christ's likeness through those with whom they are in community. And these groups don't appear to be splinter groups rejecting the Church.
This post-Church movement raises a number of questions.
Were these disgruntled individuals actually Christians, or were they simply members of a social club for social reasons? Or maybe they were moralists and what they walked away from is not what they think they rejected because they were never truly a part of the Body in the first place?
Do these "post-Church" gatherings bring about sanctification and Christ-likeness or are these groups more about filling the community void?
How much does a member of the Nones hear from God and speak to him, read from his Word, worship, and grow? The Bible is the only book that reads us. From within it's pages we should experience transformation and sometimes that transformation is difficult and even painful. Is the post-Church experience bringing about gospel-centered change or is it all just a happy bed of roses that eventually leads to self-worship?
Is the exodus from the local church about pride? Is there a lack of humility? Is there fear to talk with with leadership about a problem? If the leadership did not listen, was there any self-reflection to see if personal repentance was necessary? And if personal repentance or pride are not the issue and it may be a legitimate time to break fellowship, is there a fear or laziness or cowardice to find the healthy local church body God may be calling them to?
What is the end result of the post-Church movement? Is it drawing people closer to Christ or further away?
If you are reading this because you are post-Church, call yourself a None, or are concerned about a friend or family member, I know that there are local churches that hurt people, and that is tragic! If you have been hurt by fellow Christians, I'd like to recommend a book called The Exquisite Agony
(originally titled Crucified by Christians
) by Gene Edwards. I hope that at some point you can find healing from this pain as well as find a fantastic body of believers with which to fellowship and grow. If it is not about a hurt, might it be about pride? If so, is this pride really helping you or is it self destructive? If you do still call yourself a Christian but struggle with the local church, pray about where to connect. Ask Jesus to show you his Bride in a new way. And by all means, don't give up! God has a great fellowship of believers out there for you. Hang in there and keep praying!
If this article connected with you in any way, encouraged you, or made you angry, you are more than welcome to contact me to share your story, ask questions, complain, or seek help finding a local body. Or if you don't call yourself a Christian but would like to find out more about becoming one, you can contact me too. Click here.