Friday, December 20, 2013

The Scandal of the Passively-Churched

I'm not merely arguing semantics here with my look at Kevin DeYoung's blog post The Scandal of the Semi-Churched at The Gospel Coalition site.  Yes, I do here look at the meanings of words.  But the reason I can say I am not merely arguing semantics is that the meaning of the following words do have actual application in the real world.

Consider the word "churched".  It has become quite the fad in Reformed churches in the last couple of decades to speak of people in terms of the extent they are "churched".  We have the "churched", "unchurched", "de-churched", "under-churched", and now here the "semi-churched".  I first learned this terminology in an Al Martin-style Reformed Baptist clone church in the mid-90's.  The "churched" were those who were full, practicing, formal members of a church.  The "unchurched" were those who attended every Sunday, listened and took notes of every sermon, attended all the church meetings, helped those members in need, brought great food to the pot luck, and outwardly lived and acted like true Christians in every conceivable manner...except that they had not signed the dotted line on the formal church membership papers (the true litmus test for salvation).

One thing to note about the word "churched" as it compares with the word "church", is that "churched" is a verb, while "church" (ekklesia in the NT) is a noun.  This is important.  In addition, the verb "churched" is in the passive tense.  Its meaning would be this: to have church done to you.  This is in stark contrast to the noun "church" that depicts a physical thing, as the actions relating to "church" are found in biblical imperatives and examples of actions in the Christian life.

There is cause for concern about the "semi-churched" because the semi-churched can only have church done to them when they actually show up.  It simply doesn't matter what other grand things for the Kingdom people may be doing, if they aren't in the one position of being churched, the ones doing the churching unto other people are SOL.  They are powerless.

The bible shows us a few metaphors that are handy in making my point here.  The church is linked to the image of being the family of God.  It is also a body which has members, and the members are individual believers.  Now, if somebody in my family didn't show up for dinner (my wife went shopping recently, and in other cases I worked swing shift), or was out of the house (my oldest son recently had a sleep-over at his cousin's house), all the others in my family would realize it.  The rest of us actually miss the one who is absent.  It makes a big difference in the dynamic of the family.  Sometimes, my wife has all the kids talk on speaker phone when I'm at work on swing shift and they say how they miss me.  Similarly, if my body suddenly was missing a body part, it would be known.  Its function would be missed the entire time the body part was missing.  As an example, a family member of mine woke up one morning deaf in one ear.  No cause was ever diagnosed.  Decades later, the effect is still dramatic.  It affects being able to hear clearly, where sound comes from, how to talk on the phone, on and on.

When semi-churched people are absent, does it make a radical difference in the dynamic of the church that day?  No?  In my experience, I've missed Sundays for various reasons (most of them valid, by the way), and nobody has ever said that my absence caused the body to function in a different way.  I've attended a handful of churches regularly in my life.  Each time I've left a church (for whatever reason), I've never received a call from a concerned soul asking why I was gone and how it is affecting the church.  The shepherd has never left the ninety-and-nine to come after the stray, me.

Maybe the semi-churched are realizing, even if they can't put their finger on it, that their church isn't like a family or a body, and that's why they can go missing.  Maybe they can't take consistent churching.  Maybe the lack of input as body members or family members is noticeable.  If your church doesn't treat you like family or like a body member, there's a problem.  Maybe the scandal of the semi-church is really the scandal of the passively-churched.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent. Being a "member" (and of course giver) but otherwise being completely anonymous on Sunday morning is OK, being an active contributor who is not a member marks you as, at best, a second-class Christian. I have been an "churches" before where we weren't members and my wife and I were both prohibited from something as simple as leading a Sunday school discussion. Apparently nothing you do counts for much unless you agree to be united with one religious group to the exclusion of all others. Not quite what Christ had in mind I think.

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    1. Arthur, I like your word, "anonymous." Any of us can walk into any church on any day and it will probably never mean anything.

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