The Community Church Movement – Steve Miller

Today we are hearing more and more about the growth of community churches. What is the appeal to attend and join a community church? It’s really not complicated. When you consider that many people are only concerned with satisfying what pleases themselves and are not concerned with what their Creator desires. Community churches are man-founded groups within the denominational configuration that is contrary to the New Testament order.

The system and ideology founded on the division of the religious population into numerous ecclesiastical bodies, each stressing particular values or traditions and each competing with the other in the same community under substantial conditions of freedom (Jerald C. Brauer, Ed., The Westminster Dictionary of Church History, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971, pp. 262‐263).

J. Ruskin Howe gave a brief history of the emergence of community churches.

A growing phenomenon in American religious life since 1900 has been the rise of Protestant churches without denominational affiliation. Such churches were originally called union or federated churches. They came into existence most frequently through the merger of small, competing congregations in communities inadequate for the proper maintenance of several separate church plants, staffs, and programs. The mingling of men of all faiths in the armed services during World War I, and the rapid emergence of new communities where families of many religious backgrounds were thrown together, accentuated the demand for a type of church fellowship where inherited denominational differences could be transcended in a religious fellowship centered about the great central Christian convictions and expressed in terms of the nature and needs of the individual community. The name community church became a name to conjure with, and such non-sectarian congregations sprang up spontaneously throughout the land (“Community Churches,” Twentieth Century Encyclopedia Of Religious Knowledge Volume I, p. 278-279).

Community churches have been established to serve man, not God! Terms like smorgasbord, hodgepodge and potpourri describe the conglomeration of religious beliefs and practices. One writer cited a reason for the quick growth of community churches: “How do you sell a very old story to a crowd of bored baby boomers weaned on TV, wined and dined by advertisers and struggling to keep up with the 90’s pace of life?” (USA Weekend. April 13-15, 1990. p. 4) Bored baby boomers? Keeping up with the times? It sounds as if the people decide what pleases God in their lives. Can a community church fit the Bible’s qualifications for the church of Christ?

One community church that has served as a pattern for others is the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Bill Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church in 1975.

He began renting the Willow Creek movie theater in Palatine every Sunday morning. He would conduct services aimed at ‘Unchurched Harry’ – that spiritual seeker full of questions about the meaning of life, but uninvolved with any organized religion. Instead of merely preaching from the Bible, Hybels would compose sermons that linked Bible passages to everyday life – dealing with anger, for example, or the difficulty of being fully honest with people (Daily Herald, Suburban Living Showcase. May 18, 1988. p. 1).

A very revealing statement enlightens us as to the foundation of their purpose for existing:

After conducting a neighborhood survey to determine why people didn’t attend church, the church created an innovative weekend ‘seeker service’ with drama, contemporary music, and relevant messages targeted to 25-45 year-old ‘Unchurched Harry,’ a friend of a Willow Creek member (Willow Creek Association. 1993 Conferences And Seminars. p.3).

The idea of “giving people what they want” seems to be a common denominator among many of these community churches.  Saddleback Community Church founded by Rick and Kay Warren has been influential in the movement to practice religion according to the desires of the people. In Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church, he writes:

Targeting for evangelism begins with finding out all you can about your community. Your church needs to define its target in four specific ways: geographically, demographically, culturally, and spiritually … I use the word culture to refer to the lifestyle and mindset of those who live around your church. The business world uses the term psychographies, which is just a fancy way of referring to people’s values, interest, hurts, and fears … Within your community there are most likely many subcultures, or subgroups. To reach each of these groups you need to discover how they think. What are their interests? What do they value? Where do they hurt? What are they afraid of? What are the most prominent features of the way they live? (pp. 160, 165).

Dan Winkler comments on this quote by stating:

This entails what Warren later describes as learning to “Think Like a Fish” when you go fishing.’ His church, the Saddleback Valley Community Church of Orange County, California, has even personified their community’s composite profile into what they call, “Mr. Saddleback.:” Their ministry, in turn, is governed by the “priorities,” the “skepticism,” the personal “preferences” as well as the economic status, the academic prowess and the varied struggles that “Mr. Saddleback” represents (The Spiritual Sword, Vol. 32, No. 1, p. 31).

The terms of entrance into Warren’s Saddleback community are something other than what God has commanded. Notice their position on baptism:

Baptism by immersion symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and is your public declaration that you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. Baptism does not save you, but shows the world that you have already been saved. And while baptism is not required for salvation, it is a biblical command and demonstrates your love and obedience to Christ.

How could baptism “not save you” but is a “command” and also “demonstrates your love and obedience to Christ?” Contradictory statement? Certainly (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21)!

The conclusion rests in our purpose for assembling: it is not for ourselves, it is to honor God our Creator. Owen Olbricht produced the following excellent observations:

Anyone or anything that takes center stage where God belongs and becomes the object of worship is robbing God of His rightful place of worship…Too often assemblies gather to observe what the created can do instead of assembling to express praise for what the Creator has done…Man is not to be the center of worship. Worship is not to be a performance for the benefit of other human beings. God is the audience instead of man (God Is The Audience, p. 117).

God is the object of our worship (Revelation 4:8, 11; 5:12-13; Romans 1:25; Acts 12:22-23), and He is the audience (Psalm 139:7-12; Genesis 28:16; Hebrews 4:13).

The church of Christ revealed in the New Testament is right in its origin, foundation, head, guide, designation, worship, and organization (Daniel 2; Isaiah 2; Matthew 16:16, 18; Colossians 1:18; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 16:16; Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Ephesians 5:19; Titus 1:5).

For a church to be “of Christ” it must have Divine identifying marks! The community church movement fails to satisfy God’s prescription for the New Testament Church!

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