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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

David Wells

Blog posts by David Wells:

Are We Fiddling While Rome Burns?

A recent
Barna report offers an interesting snapshot of the current mood.

Surveying those who are “Christian” by self-designation—which, we know, is not
of much use as a category—Barna found that a majority of adults believe that there
are six alternative ways to attend a
conventional church service that are biblically
acceptable:

  • worship at home (89%),
  • active in house church (75%),
  • watching religious TV (69%),
  • radio broadcast (68%),
  • special ministry event (68%),
  • and participating in a marketplace ministry (54%).

Keep in mind, these are not both/ands, but alternatives! Each of the six was deemed by most adults to be “a complete and
biblically valid way for someone who does NOT participate in the services or
activities of a conventional church to experience and express their faith in
God.” Barna also found two more alternatives regarded as legitimate by a
significant minority of adults, including

  • interacting
    with a religious website (45%)
  • and engaging in spiritual activity on the internet (42%). 

Appended to this report are the conclusions from Barna's latest book (Pagan
Christianity,
co-authored with Frank Viola) which argues that much of
what conventional churches do are rooted in pagan origins: church buildings,
formal sermons, official pastors, the truncated form of the Lord Supper, as
well as later accretions like stained glass, pews, altar calls, pulpits, pastoral
prayers, church bulletins, clergy attire, choirs, tithing, seminaries, infant
baptism, and funeral processions.

Assume for the moment that Barna’s numbers are correct and that they really do
identify a prevailing mood. This mood will be in our churches. How are we
going to respond to it? It seems to me that this has become a central
question and we need to be careful that we are not caught fiddling while Rome—the reality of the
Church—gets burned down. The problem, though, is that the consequences in our
churches of increasingly vapid biblical teaching, personality-centered
pastoring, invasive individualism, contempt for the past, and an egregiously
non-theological kind of evangelicalism have now been accumulating for years. And
this makes for easy-pluckings by anyone who seems to have a better idea or who
offers more for less.