One of the most famous quotes in American history is the comical retort by Mark Twain (circa 1897) sent from London after he heard that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Let’s hope the obituary of the local church, written by some, is just as exaggerated.
In 2006, Christian pollster George Barna shocked the evangelical community with his book “Revolution.” In it he wrote the obituary of the church as we know it. In less than 200 pages he wrote of the many Christian movements that operate apart from local congregations while declaring the local church to be on its death bed with a fatal disease. In its place, Barna argued, would arise thousands of house churches with sincere people who have no loyalty to any church—only to Jesus.
Recently Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the successor of his famous father at the Crystal Cathedral, joined the growing list of those who believe the local church is doomed to die a slow, agonizing death. In an interview with the Christian Post, Rev. Schuller was asked: “So what do you think the future of the churches will look like?” In response Schuller said: “I think we’re in a new era in the church. And that era is ‘denominationaless.’ I think the Church is actually going to reflect what Jesus Christ has envisioned the Church being since day one. I think it’s going to be a body of believers, not necessarily congregated in a specific location, but those who have a sincere faith and a heart and love for Jesus Christ...” (emphasis added). He went on to state that this new Church will worship God in “unique ways that [are] yet to be determined and at different times.” Sadly, his comments echo the feelings of many people in America today.
For Rev. Schuller I suppose this would be a welcome trend. After all, far more people are in the Crystal Cathedral’s television audience than in the glass church itself. A body of believers with no set time or place to meet would fit nicely into a new paradigm of worship that favors an impersonal television congregation.
Here is my honest question: Is the local church a biblical concept or just a worn out tradition of Christianity that needs to be “thrown into a closet” somewhere with tie die shirts and button up shoes?
Obviously, there is not enough space in this column to present a complete and comprehensive argument for the biblical foundation of the local church, but allow me to simply suggest the study of two clearly biblical pictures of the church given to us in the New Testament.