For a radical gospel (the biblical kind) we need a radical church (the biblical kind).
What would a denomination do that really wanted to become a church with New Testament dynamic? Let us suppose . . .
First, all church buildings are sold. The money is given (literally) to the poor. All congregations of more than two hundred members are divided in two. Store fronts, garages or small halls are rented as needed. Sunday school promotion and most publicity is dropped. Small group Bible studies meeting in homes take the place of midweek prayer services.
Pastors take secular employment and cease to be paid by the church; they become, in effect, trained “laymen” instead of paid professionals. “Laymen” take the lead in all affairs of the church. There is no attempt to attract unbelievers to church services; these are primarily for believers, and perhaps are held at some time other than Sunday morning.
Evangelism takes on new dimension. The church begins to take seriously its charge to preach the gospel to the poor and be an agent of the kingdom of God. It ceases to take economic potential into consideration in planning new churches. It begins to lose its enchantment with suburban materialism.
What would happen to such a church? I suggest it would grow—and might very well re-create the book of Acts.
This is the needed cataclysm, in general outline if not in specific detail. This cataclysm would bring the church close to the New Testament model and spirit. But it is an impossible cataclysm. No denomination in its right institutional mind will ever do such a thing, for perfectly good psychological and sociological (if not biblical) reasons.
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Anyone familiar with my book The Problem of Wineskins: Church Structure in a Technological Age will recognize that the above paragraphs come directly from that book, published in 1975 (pp. 23-24).
From time to time people ask: Do you still believe what you wrote in Wineskins? The answer is yes.
If I were writing this today I would change virtually nothing. These words are as needed today as ever. I see little signs of the church losing its edifice complex or really taking seriously the priesthood of all believers.
Thankfully, there are exceptions. More today than ever before, in fact. This is true especially if you look globally. Where the church is growing most rapidly in the world, it is multiplying small units and putting into practice the biblical principles hinted at above, and elaborated in The Problem of Wineskins. It has ever been thus.
I mean the multiplying of small units, not megachurches. Megachurches come and go, all down through history, and sometimes do more good than harm. But whether one is talking about South Korea, Central Africa, Brazil, or anywhere else in the world, dynamic movements of church planting and social transformation are based in and fed by the multiplication of relatively small groups of believers that maintain some prophetic tension with the surrounding culture, as much research shows.
Much that is written today about “radical faith” and “radical church” is not nearly radical enough. Not if the Bible really is our guide.
And God still today is saying: “I will do a new thing.”