There is a fascinating book out by Washington Times religion reporter Julia Duin called Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do About It. In the last five years or so, I have heard from countless Christians who are fed up with their choices when it comes to attending “church.” The choices a friend of mine faces in her area are these: an apostate mainline church with a lesbian pastor, a go-go evangelical circus church featuring everything but a trapeze apparatus in the ceiling, (the pastor has a ring in his nose), a stone dead Reformed church comprised of the 24 original founders in various stages of spiritual dessication, a German Lutheran ethnic club along the lines of the Reformed church, a oneness Pentecostal church that gets so wild the police are occasionally called for noise ordinance violations, an IFB (independent, fundamental baptist) church where the women are required to have their hair below their shoulders and where they market their own church-sewn culottes, and a Roman Catholic outpost named after someone called St. Veronica.
My friend’s dilemma is not unique. Even in major metropolitan areas, I have heard the same complaint again and again. “We don’t know what to do. We haven’t changed—the churches have changed. We don’t want our kids growing up thinking these churches are biblically on track, but our other option is to stay home and worship as a family. That gets lonely after a while.”
Quitting Church is interesting in that many of the complaints I have heard and have actually voiced myself are cited in the book. The author even cites the evangelical crossover to Orthodoxy and Catholicism that has occurred in some who are simply fed up with make-it-up-as-you-go, carnival evangelicalism. The lack of substance, the flippancy about holy things, the moronic pastoral behavior (think motorcycle stunts on the platform) have all contributed to a deep dissatisfaction among serious, thinking Christians who want to worship the Lord and hear what His Word says. Some are quitting church altogether. As one sister put it, “The local churches in our area have nothing remotely to do with biblical Christianity any longer. Why would I be a part of that?”
The breakdown of the local church is not just the result of prostitutional, seeker pastors who will do anything to draw a crowd, and it’s not just the result of denominational compromise and the resultant legalism of independent churches out of reaction. The plethora of solid Bible teaching available on the Internet, radio and TV also serves a role in feeding people outside of the context of the local body of believers. Many who are in areas where there is no solid biblical church are able to get taught the Word from pastors who live 2,000 miles away, or on the other side of the world. Fellowship often takes place with other, like-minded believers online who also see the breakdown in evangelicalism and who see the false spirituality that is being created.
None of this is, of course, ideal. It’s tough to take a meal to someone in Akron, Ohio when you live in Detroit. The leadership of a shepherd who knows your family and its needs can’t be replaced by a media figure on an mp3. Communing with those of like faith and love for Christ is tough to do when you communicate through email. But for many, there aren’t any other choices available.
The book also addresses the growth of the home church movement that has sprung up. Of course, marketers and organizations are trying to exploit this and turn home churches into an OFFICIAL movement, with conventions marketing “home church materials”, etc, which completely defeats the purpose. But even home churches need good leadership if they are to complete their function as a church. Home churches don’t last long where there is no clear order established for the teaching of the Word, for worship, for baptisms and the Lord’s Supper.
The problem with the book Quitting Church, is that it covers way too broad of a slice of “Christianity.” The author does not define what “Christianity” really is and therefore lumps in issues in Catholicism with those of Protestant evangelicals, seeker churches with emerging churches and a whole lot in between. She quotes some credible sources, but then quotes heretics like Brian McLaren to make her points. These issues are often as different as apples and oranges. The reason someone might leave a true Bible-preaching church to join McLaren’s emerging bandwagon are very different from why Bible-believing Christians would leave McLaren’s heretical, apostate congregation for a church that preaches truth. Duin makes no doctrinal distinctions whatsoever in her attempts to prove that people are “quitting church.” They certainly are, but for very different reasons sometimes.
I would like to see a book written that addresses the problem of Bible-believing Christians specifically and their difficulty in finding like-minded congregations that are holding fast to the Word of God. There has been a huge sea change that I myself have witnessed in the last 20 years. Churches that two decades ago were preaching the Word, evangelizing and making an impact for Christ in the community are now featuring Elvis impersonators, car shows and the like. These are the churches that bought into the Purpose-Driven mentality that the church must change to be like the culture. This thinking has wrought unbelievable carnage that leaves many Bible-believing Christians standing on the outside with few options for a church left.
What is really needed is another Reformation. Nearly 500 years after Luther pounded in his 95 Theses at Wittenberg, things are grim. The doctrinal chaos and confusion, the inroads of eastern pagan spirituality, the grossly compromised circus churches, the shortage of biblical churches, the apostasizing of once solid seminaries—all of it points to carnal and wayward Christianity. Only a sovereign move of God can change the way things are. In the meantime, believers are findings spiritual food where they can in the middle of the local church famine, and are finding fellowship with other believers who are also well aware of the spiritual state of things. That is all that can be done. We need to watch and pray, because the times are truly dark.