NTBoy has finally been persuaded to post an article! Actually, this may contain more questions than answers. The only way we'll find out is for me to continue typing.
This article may not even fit on pseudotheos (besides the whole name thing); it does not deal with the usual issues underlying Christianity (the existence of God, the problem of evil, etc.). It does not deal with philosophy as many articles on pseudotheos have (not that I've read all or even most of them). My woefully inadequate lack of training in logic and philosophy would prohibit that. I will assume orthodox Christianity for this article. This includes the existence of God, the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the two natures of Christ, among other things. Feel free to attack the assumptions if you like.
Being a Protestant who is trying to take seriously what I believe, one foundational issue for me is that of authority. In fact, this may be the issue, so I'll stick to that in this article.
Most churches today seem to have made a grievous error. This error is not blatant heresy, although it may lead to that. Neither is it a moral transgression, although further down the road that may be a result as well. We (the church) have, very subtly, replaced our authority. We should be a theocracy, and since I don't know the Greek word for "what everybody else is doing" I will just coin a term; we are a "trendocracy". Allow me to cite a couple of examples.
Example #1: Market-driven Ecclesiology
My local church is very interested in numbers. Money, of course, is a concern, as it is for any organization. However, people seem to be what we are counting most often. "The more people we have, the more successful we are" is how the reasoning goes. This comes from seemingly pure motivations; we are commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28:19 to "[g]o ... and make disciples of all nations...". Certainly it stands to reason, then, that the more people we have in church, the closer we are getting to fulfilling this commandment. Right?
This attitude has been influenced by two giants in the evangelical Christian subculture: Rick Warren and George Barna. Rick Warren's best-selling book The Purpose-Driven™ Life has been sweeping across the nation's churches ever since it was published. This is not the time to review it, but to ask, "Why are churches teaching this book?" Is it because of its solid theology? Is it because of its deep content? Or maybe its outstanding Scriptural foundation? At least for my church, I think it had nothing to do with any of these (mostly because they're not true!). We followed this 40-day spiritual journey because everyone other church in America was doing it. Our elders, I sincerely doubt, had read this book or sought God's leadership in choosing this program for our church. We simply needed to be doing something.
George Barna is a statistician whose work is well-respected among Christian leaders in this country. He has determined that most "Christians" in the United States don't have what he defines to be a Biblical worldview (a worldview which I think is necessary to be called a Christian). Barna has done much other work which I have appreciated greatly.
The problem with Barna's views is not his study of the church, but with what he proposes to do about it; he believes the church simply needs to be marketed more aggressively. He defines marketing as "a broad term that encompasses all of the activities that lead to an exchange of equally valued goods between consenting parties." Sure, we can market the church (at what cost?), but can we market the gospel? It is not an equal exchange; the whole basis of Protestant theology is that we can give God nothing in exchange for our salvation (no "works", anyway) -- it is an act of faith. We are getting the better end of the deal by far.
Example #2: Business-like Structure
One of the most important events in Church history occurred in AD 312. Constantine, during a battle for the emperorship of the Rome, prayed to God for victory. He won and proceeded to declare Christianity legal (the most violent of the persecutions of the early church had occurred not long before). He exempted Christian ministers from taxes just like their pagan counterparts. There were many other changes that took place, but by 380 these rewards became punishments for those who refused to believe in Jesus. Emperor Theodosius decreed, "It is Our Will that all the peoples we rule shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle Transmitted to the Romans." Christianity became mandatory. This led to a fusion of Church and state which would repulse most of us today. We generally think it would be the state that loses in this case, but the transformation cost the Church dearly. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Church tended to emulate the dominant institutional structure of the culture. They followed the hierarchical structure of the Empire, then the nobility structure of feudalism (the Church owned much of the land). The Reformation only partially completed its work -- doctrine was reformed, but Luther and Calvin still set up state churches and executed heretics. The structure remained.
While we are no longer required to be Christians by our government, we still live in the shadow of the mistakes of medieval Catholic Christianity. We still follow a hierarchical structure, except in this case it is one conformed to the dominant structure of our time. Our current model follows the business world which, although beneficial in some ways, fundamentally is contrary to the gospel. Disciple-making is not meant to be financially profitable.
The early church knew nothing of committees, trustees, full-time staff members, constitutions, and the like. The church was certainly not perfect at that time (e.g., Corinth), but they were open and flexible to the moving of the Spirit. Teaching and music are our emphases, which seem to necessitate that we be far too structured. Teaching and music are certainly extremely important, but we have severely misbalanced these at the cost of other qualities. Part of the early church's openness to the Spirit was its participatory fellowship (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:26) and its familial nature (Acts 2:44, Gal. 6:10). We have sacrificed these positive qualities to be efficient which, in today's world, means working like a business.
I currently have no solutions for the problem of authority in the church. Education may help. Prayer will most certainly be beneficial. But I suppose before we can rebuild our churches on the rock of Christ, we must first tear down the massive structures we have erected on the sand or our culture. We may need to remove any assumptions which are contrary to the Bible that we claim to base our faith on.
I'm really not making up the quotes. I hope to get around to adding references shortly.