A Partim…Partim Response to Zerochurch

From the main page at Zerochurch:

“We have a talk, but no preaching. We have an offering, but not for us, for the poor and oppressed. We have a warm community, but don’t care a lot about formal membership We have a band, but not much worship music. We have a worship service, but not to the exclusion of new worshipers.” (Chris at The Daily Scroll)

Confessional Reformed might actually find some hope here. Well, okay, the first one is right out. The NT doesn’t show the church meeting to “talk” or even “dialogue” amongst themselves. If folks want to hold an evangelistic outreach or meet people in a coffee house (where “coffee, couches, and candles are apropos) that’s fine. The dialogue that confessional Reformed Christians envision is between God and his people. God speaks and his people respond with his Word. The vocabulary of the NT is quite clear and explicit. The verbs are “to preach,” and “proclaim” and the like. Sure, there’s a place for casual conversation but let’s get the setting right. The Scriptures place us at the foot of Sinai and Zion, not in a coffee house. Second, why should we juxtapose warm community and formal membership? I have a quite formal relationship with my wife and children. We are bound together by a formal, legal covenant into which we entered before God and man such that it takes actual, legal, formal action to dissolve it. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have, within that structure, a really genuine, intimate warmth. We certainly do, but we weren’t able to enter into that relationship without the formal structure. Again, let’s the the metaphor right. Church is not “dating,” it’s getting married.

I’m glad they don’t have “worship music.” Great. Now just kill the band, and, while they’re at it, the organ, guitar, and piano and we’re “cooking with gas” as Grandpa used to say. The Emergents/emergings sense that something’s wrong with worship but lacking the Regulative Principle of Worship (we do only that in worship which God explicitly or implicitly requires) they are left to their own devices so they substitute a band for creepy P&W music. The Reformed Reformation has a solution for this problem: It’s call the Psalter. It’s got 150 songs, inspired by God the Spirit, perfect for any occasion, full of references to the objective history of redemption, full of the revelation of God the Son, his suffering and his glory, of his kingdom, of his promises, of his moral requirements, and of honest reflection on the realities of life in a fallen world. What else could a Christian congregation want?

Frankly, what caught my eye is the line about the offering. I sympathize here. I’ve raised questions about the offering. This is a sacred cow that needs to be subjected to radical criticism. This isn’t a question of the financial support of the congregation. That’s a moral duty revealed in God’s Word. It is a question of means.

Finally, I agree that a worship service is not an either/or proposition regarding visitors. I think this line is aimed a the blissed-out boomers for whom worship has become therapeutic moralistic Deism. If one asked the Church Growth Gurus, I’m sure they would agree that the worship service is for outsiders, in fact, for them it’s all about visitors and front doors, and back doors and side doors etc. The NT church worshiped or was meant to worship with a consciousness first of all of God, second of the brothers and sisters in the Lord, but also of the outsider who came into service. The prayer was that the outsider would be so impressed by the evident presence of God that he or she would fall down in worship. We’re to speak so that others can understand. We’re to preach the law and the gospel. At least some of the old Reformed liturgies were conscious that not every person in attendance was necessarily a believer.

We ought to be warm, inviting, thoughtful, considerate, but we begin our consideration with God, before whom we stand and who has called us to worship, and then only may we think about our neighbor (about whom we are duty bound to think) whether a Christian or a non-Christian. We welcome everyone to our services. We pray for and long for and heartily desire that folks will come, that friends will come, that neighbors and co-workers will come to hear the law and the gospel, and that, in this way, that the Spirit might convict any and all who do not yet believe that they might recognize their sin, turn from it and put their trust in the only Savior Jesus.

Zerochurch is radical and stimulating, but the problem may be that it’s not radical enough. It’s a stimulus to Reformed folk to remember that we confess and theology, piety, and practice. To those in the Emergent Village or to those tempted to move there, please visit Heidelberg or Geneva before you go.

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  1. Their statement about offering concerns me. Offering is neither to the church nor to the poor. All offering is to God, and God then gives it to the church to use it for His ministry and to help the poor. Offering is not charitable giving.

  2. ” Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.”
    -1 Cor. 16 NKJV

    That and the widow’s mite text.

    I can’t think of any other texts at the moment pertaining to the issue other than the 1/10th of all one owns. I see your point about it being in the worship service, my understanding of what the Jews did was pitching money outside of where worship was done. I can’t see this as being an insurmountable problem, put a box outside the stated place of corporate worship. And put a thick felt liner inside of it so people won’t be listening to the tinkling…

  3. I’m glad for this post. Just yesterday the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review offered a story on a similar church here (Pittsburgh, PA): Iron City Church (named after a local beer!). The “pastor” and his followers had the same pretentiousness regarding the way “church” used to be done before “they” came along, figured out what church was supposed to be, and correctly enacted it without problem. The accompanying picture showed a man casually dressed giving a talk. While I mainly agree, Dr. Clark, with your analysis above, I was just disturbed by these people’s condescending and pretentious attitude toward every single other church in the area. I’d like to think people are friendly at the church where I am a pastor as well as at other reformed/presbyterian congregations as well.

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