*I think, per request of Kyle, I may signify my blog posts by adding my name to the title as I have done above. Rob and Eric, I’m not pressuring you guys to do this but I will probably do this in the future just to make it easier for the readers, however few they may be!
With that out of the way, let me get on with my summary and response to David Fitch’s first chapter in The Great Giveaway. First off, Fitch begins with a set of questions: What does a “successful” church look like? How can we tell one that is sick versus one that is emotionally healthy and pressing towards its true goal? Fitch believes that the essential roots of the church have been compromised due to its capitulation to modernity, in other words the goals that we are attaining to are not the goals set forth by Jesus Christ nor to what Paul or other New Testament writers are getting at when they talk about the “body of Christ”. In modernity, the focus is on “effectiveness and effeciency” (pg. 28) and producing valuable goods for outsiders. Ultimately, these ideas form the agendas of numbers, size, and capital that drives American culture. In the American evangelical church, the focus over the past few decades has turned to the number of individual decisions for Christ and the attendance levels in these churches. The church has modeled itself after the culture and its focus on two things: individualism and business-oriented forms of organization (pg. 32).
In regards to the first issue, individualism, the church has sought to court “decisions” and has focused less on that person becoming baptized or immersed into the Christian community and the new way of life that forms that said community. The emphasis is on the private experience and being “fed” personally, and this progressively leads to “economies of sale” in which churches seeks to build bigger facilities, have better productions, and strive for greater excellence in services all in the name of producing decisions.
What this leads to is the competition of churches to increase their marketability and create church growth models and strategies to keep creating a high quality product. And this in turn leads pastors away from their roles as ministers to people, instead turning them into CEO-like leaders who must keep encouraging their staff to “do church” better and larger. The belief is that the larger an organization is, the more effecient it will be at getting to it’s desired goal. But the question remains, is this form of church growth and focus alien to what the body of Christ really is?
Fitch believes so and states that one of the biggest problems is a theological one. According to Fitch, the evangelical church has separated justification and sanctification, and has emphasized the former at expense of the latter (pg. 35). What he is calling for is a renewal of linking these ideas together: “We must take the focus off decisions and onto deeper ways of initiation that take that first decision from its immature beginnings into its full fruition into baptism (confirmation) and a life of service to Christ and his kingdom (pg. 37). We must place meaning back into that first decision, because for many it is either a “good choice” one makes at a point in time or it could be a get out of hell free card. We must preach that one’s decision to follow means a change in putting off the old life for the new. We must also reclaim the call to conversion from its consumeristic trappings, and proclaim that salvation itself can be costly and creates a new order of values in the life of the follower.
In regards to big churches, Fitch contests that though megachurches and larger congregations as a whole can still be the body of Christ, they will undoubtedly face much difficulty in establishing and adhering to the “inner workings of a local body of Christ” that matures believers into followers. The issue is quality not quantity, and the goal of the church is not to build a huge organization but to be faithful to the call of God: “The church is much more than the machinery that produces decisions for Christ. It is the social space, under his (Christ’s) lordship where the Holy Spirit works to build up believers and equip the saints” (pg. 41). In a very real sense, the local body is to become a whole new culture, and it works to describe and live under a new way of life and a totally different narrative than the lived-in society, it is not to become another company that is competing in the marketplace of goods and resources.
Whew! That was much more than I think I wanted to put down before, but there is a lot of content in this first chapter. Well, Fitch does a decent job of describing the problem, however, what I really enjoy about this book is his ability to focus on the positive ways in which the church can get back to a faithful model of what it means to be under the headship of Christ. Quite practically, Fitch calls for churches to count baptisms, confirmations, and reconsecrations in place of decisions for Christ. Hopefully what will happen is that more of a bridge will be built for people to understand that their decision to follow Christ will ultimately lead them to the church and to participating in the missio dei. Also, the church must continue to keep asking itself if people are speaking truth into other’s lives, if confession is happening, if people are praying for one another, and if the church is visiting those who are sick, helping and restoring the poor, and making room for strangers of the gospel. What he calls for is a focus on the “inner workings”, to see if we are building each other up and proclaiming the message of Christ in word and deed. In short, the church often creates a whole new moral character in opposition to the culture. Fitch admits to using a lot of Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder in this chapter, but I don’t think that is a bad thing.
Here is my question: What does the role of language have to play in this shift from business model effeciency to being the true body of Christ? How does the way we talk change how we start living? I think for me this is pivotal when we start talking about a return to what it means to be the local body? Anyone else have any thoughts?