Bad reasons to plant
Let’s eliminate some bad reasons to plant a church:
* I need to move to a new town for personal reasons. [Could there be a more self-centered motivation?]
* There’s a culture within the city that existing churches aren’t reaching. [Now, we’re getting closer, but the idea of having separate congregations for separate cultures is anti-gospel. That being the case, surely it would make better sense to work with an existing congregation to reach across cultural lines rather than yielding to the worldly temptation to subdivide the church, implicitly subdividing the gospel and the body of Christ.]
* There’s no congregation of our denomination in that town. [But do you believe that your denomination is the only denomination going to heaven? If not, why does this matter other than as a question of vainglory? Is the desire to convenience members of your denomination a good enough justification for the commitment of talent, time, and dollars that a new plant entails? Will the Kingdom, as a whole, profit from one more congregation competing with the existing churches for the same talent pool?]
* The churches of my denomination in that town aren’t evangelistic enough. [And the churches in other denominations that are going to heaven, too — how well are they doing evangelistically? And maybe the solution is to work with existing churches to help them reignite their love for Jesus and his mission? Is it always impossible? Is the Spirit that impotent?]
Objections further considered
The last two objections might not make much sense at first glance. Let’s reflect a bit more on these, because, in my view, our customary way of thinking about church is contrary to both Christianity and Restoration Movement principles.
Why isn’t it a good idea to plant the first congregation of a particular denomination in town? Most of us would approve such a decision without batting an eye. But we are very clannish in our thinking, imaging that we are competing with those other denominations, as though they’re all going straight to hell, even when we know better. You see, old patterns of thought die hard. It’s just hard to shake old ways of thinking.
If they’re really just as saved as we are — by grace — why do we perceive them as competitors and not part of “us”? How do we justify treating brothers and sisters in Christ as our enemies?
Obviously, I’m only speaking of those denominations that are just as saved as we are in the Churches of Christ (a question we’ve considered here many times). Here’s what I think is the foundational analysis.
Toward the ideal
First, decide on the ideal. Of course, we don’t expect to really reach the ideal in this lifetime, but at least we should have some notion of where we want to head. If you don’t know your destination, you won’t ever get there. You won’t even get close, and you won’t ever know it. You won’t even know if you’re going in the right direction.
As shown earlier in this series, the New Testament pattern is a single congregation per city, overseen by a single eldership, although meeting in many locations to the extent geography and persecution require.
And this only makes sense. If there is but one King, one Kingdom, and one church, why would we organize otherwise?
Thus, this is the ideal. It is, in fact, an attainable ideal. I know, because it was attained by the early church. What changed is the Protestant Reformation, which allowed people to believe different (and truer) doctrines but concluded that, if we disagree about doctrine, the one in error is damned, and so we must be part of different “churches” or denominations. And this error has largely been accepted unexamined by the 20th Century Churches of Christ.
It’s increasingly being rejected by contemporary believers, not because they don’t care about the Bible and sound doctrine, but because they care very much about the Bible and sound doctrine. You see, the Bible and sound doctrine condemn dividing over most doctrinal issues. There are, of course, very real and important boundaries, but most doctrines are not boundaries.
As a result, more and more people choose a congregation based on the biblical content of the sermons, the friendliness of the members, and the quality of their programs — long before they worry about denominational stripes. And, indeed, many evangelical churches of differing denominational heritages preach very similar sermons because they’re all gospel centered and not focused on their denominational distinctives.
[We’ll delve into what the Restoration Movement founders taught on this subject in the next post.]