I have recently read a few blogs (http://holysoup.com/2014/11/12/the-rise-of-the-dones, http://dechurchingamerica.wordpress.com/) that point to the breaking down of formal structured church. This has been happening for a long time, but perhaps gathering pace. This is despite the growing numbers of mega churches.
This has led me to ask the question, what was the point of formal church structure? We don’t see it in the gospels. It wasn’t a part of Jesus’ ministry (except perhaps for one reference in Matt 18).
My conclusion is that there were about protecting truth, or right doctrine. (There were also about who could administer sacraments but this was secondary to doctrine) Studying Church history is about studying the development of Christian theology and what was acceptable and what wasn’t, which lead to who was in the church and who was out of the church based on what they believed. In order to be ‘in’ the church people needed to hold to acceptable doctrine.
This started to change with the reformation. Luther held to scripture and conscience. It wasn’t about what the formal structure of church dictated as being truth, it now became personal. He saw the embodiment of the accepted teaching of the apostles being recorded in the gospels and the rest of the NT. The formal church had moved away from this.
Although because of the strength of the concept of formal structure, Luther and other reformers still enforced a type of formal structure – it became a collective conscience, or the conscience of the leader.
Fast forward to now, and there is still a strong emphasis on being ‘in’ or ‘out’ based on acceptance of ‘truth’, but there are literally millions of ‘formal churches’ to which people can belong. This no longer seems to be a valid way to determine who is ‘in’ the ‘universal church’ or who isn’t.
Interestingly for me, one of the major aspects of the Dones is that they are over the sermons. The Dones say the sermons do not really teaching them anything.
This leaves me with two questions that I will explore in the next two blogs. What is truth? And How do we know who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’?