Moving Past Movements

I mentioned at the end of the post on the fundamentalist movement (which I don’t think actually exists any more—just the shadow remains), that I don’t think our obsession with movements is good. I’d like opine a little about that in this post. Let me begin the whole discussion by reminding everybody that I am not anti-fundamentalism at all. I believe there is a recognizable belief system that makes one a fundamentalist and I remain very committed to those ideals because I believe they are biblical.

I just don’t think that one can make a solid case that there is any longer a compelling and unique objective that sustains a fundamentalist movement. The fundamentalist movement came together in opposition to modernism and it maintained significant unity for quite a while as an alternative to the ecumenical evangelicalism that emerged mid-20th century. Since the early 1970s, though, the fundamentalist movement has been in a constant state of fragmentation as other causes motivated some subset to pursue its own agenda and objectives. Lest anybody think I am picking on fundamentalism, let me clearly say that the same holds true for evangelicalism. In fact, the evangelical house is in more disarray than fundamentalism. There is no coherent and distinctive evangelical movement.

Personally, I think this may be a very good thing and that’s my main point in this post. To the degree that American Christianity has been obsessed with movements, it has been tempted (and yielded to that temptation often) to neglect the local church and its mission. I will grant that the two, movements and the local church, don’t necessarily have to be opposed to each other. I am convinced, though, that the constant yearning for something big and dynamic that will make a difference in our culture and make a lot of noise so that the world knows we exist does in fact minimize the local church. It despises the day of small things. The really exciting stuff happens at big conferences and offers promises to really “make an impact.”

Just think back over the past whatever amount of years you’ve been watching the ecclesiastical scene and think about how many movements have come along that try to do what the local church is designed by God to do (or to get the local church to do something that it was not designed to do!). The American penchant for the parachurch and its individualistic qualities seem to run hand in hand with our movement-itis. Somebody embraces a cause and successfully promotes that cause until enough people begin to rally around it, and then a support system has to be built to sustain it. Movements launch ministries. Ministries attract the similarly focused and their money. Constant excitement and new opportunities have to be rolled out to keep the machine moving. Meanwhile, the local church and its mission tend to get eclipsed by the glitz. They remain viewed as necessary, but not where the real frontline action is. Movements change the world. Church, well, that’s just what we do on Sunday.

I don’t suppose there is anything wrong with wanting to be part of something big and that is making a difference in this world for Christ. But that’s exactly what the local church is! It is big because it is Christ’s body regardless of numerical size and what is happening in the local church is important enough for angels to check it out, so that seems pretty important. Our cultural obsession with showing strength through numbers has brainwashed the church into thinking we have to have huge numbers to be impressive. And we’ve allowed ourselves to be duped into thinking that the organizational unity of a movement (or conference or crusade) is what Jesus prayed for in John 17. Jesus was not referring to a convention of churches, a meeting like the Gospel Coalition or the FBF, or filling a stadium for something like the old Promise Keepers rallies. All of those make us feel better about ourselves, but they are not where the real action is.

The center of God’s will for this dispensation is in the local church (1 Tim 3:15). That’s where the unity of the Spirit is to be preserved in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3). The local church has been charged with the task of carrying out the Great Commission (since baptizing is an ordinance of the church). The movement that ought to matter most to us is one that aims to plant churches that will reproduce in every place where the name of Christ has not been named, and that movement must spring from local churches in order to be biblical. Sign me up for that movement.

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