There is not much more to be said about Don Miller-gate, but some deep reflection is certainly due. While I am saddened by the depth of their roots into the Church, I am thankful for Miller’s words so they may be engaged and corrected with the truth of Scripture. If even one sheep is called back into the flock of the faith, it will be worth it for the heavenly celebration alone.
On his blog, Mike Cosper offers great analysis and suggests the solution is not a new way to do church, but the old.
Rather than a robust engagement with God’s people, God’s word, and God’s Spirit through interactions with one another, songs, prayers, scripture readings, and the Lord’s Supper, we think of Sundays as merely preaching and music. Rather than an immersive, formational environment shaped by the physical architecture of space and the spiritual architecture of a Gospel-shaped liturgy, Sunday Morning is a platform driven spectacle, led by mega-celebrities at mega-churches and would-be-celebrities and smaller churches. Rather than a challenging and diverse diet of milk and meat, celebration and lament, confession and assurance, we’re fed a pump-up-the-jams hype fest that culminates in a “You can do it!” sermon and a marketing pitch for membership. It’s an environment that feels hostile to doubt and suffering, unless your goal is to overwhelm them both with enthusiasm.
I realize I’m guilty of caricature here, as there are many, many churches that break this mold. But I think it’s fair to say this much: in the past, corporate worship was seen as an immersive formational experience, wherein the church calendar and liturgy slowly shapes Christians to live Kingdom-oriented lives in a fallen world; today, the gathering (shaped by revivalist sentiments and revolutionized by new technology) is meant to be a catalytic, emotional experience. We aim to be spectacular, rather than regular. We aim for instant gratification rather than slow, steady change.
As James K.A. Smith argues in Desiring the Kingdom, all of our gatherings are formational – even the gatherings that aim at spectacle. Where a more traditional approach aims at an orientation towards hope in the coming kingdom and patience in affliction, the contemporary model often aims our hope in the institutions, leaders, and experiences of Church. Our hope is built on the coming sermon series, or the upcoming evangelistic push, or the ability of the pastor to inspire us, or the ability of the worship leader to “usher in the Spirit of God.” Practiced regularly, week-in and week-out, these efforts shape us to love and hope in a particular way, and like any idol, it will ultimately disappoint us.
To this, Miller, like so many others, has said, “No thanks. Doesn’t work for me.” And in this sense, I don’t blame him. But his solution is no less tragic. His new liturgy will orient his life around himself or around his work, and these masters will be as cruel and disappointing as any mega-church or celebrity pastor has ever been.
So yes, I think Miller needs to be challenged and corrected. But I also think his comments reveal the tragic lack of spiritual formation in many of our churches today. They remind us that many Christians have no meaningful vision for why the church gathers; for why we sing, preach, and pray.
The solution isn’t trying harder to please religious consumers and church shoppers. Instead, we need to look to the old paths, where the good way is, and keep telling the only Story that gives us a sense of ultimate hope in this tragic and broken world.
While this audio from a past White Horse Inn episode centers on other types of false teaching, specifically the prosperity Gospel, the connection to the Miller kerfuffle is not hard to make. Pay specific attention to the 3:30 to the 7:15 mark. It is not the orthodox calling out false teaching who are being divisive, but the false teaching. The entire audio is worth taking the time to listen through. Two lines from Kim Riddlebarger stand out:
“Miller writes some very helpful comments about the goodness of work as a means of enjoying God. Unfortunately he sees this as an alternative to worshiping with the body of Christ on the Lord’s Day. The Reformed faith would be a great benefit for Miller in this for its robust doctrines of creation and vocation. It is the Reformers who reasserted the goodness of work as a means by which we glorify and enjoy God. But this is never to be seen as a replacement to our responsibility to gather with God’s people.”
“You know what I like about Donald Miller? I like his certainty. I like the fact that, in spite of his book after book after book after movie about how much [sic] one can doubt what one is taught, he is certain he’s right.
The reason? At least you can engage someone like that by what he actually believes rather than always swirling down the toilet of PostModernity and their so-called epistemic humility.”
“Interestingly, God has determined that all of us share in a particular so-called learning style when it comes to spiritual growth. He has prescribed a means to bless his people in Christ, the preached Word and the sacraments. And so we have Jesus declaring in the Great Commission how he will grow his kingdom:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
And we see this very thing in Acts 2:42:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
You see, learning my own way isn’t good enough. I need to be changed. And it is the power of God’s Word that does that in the means that he has prescribed. To echo Todd again, “What is more, in Christ we do not have to find ways to connect with God. God has connected to us through Christ!” Let us not refuse the Father’s generosity to bless us in the Son, who is much more than a learning style. He is worthy of our corporate worship, which is an eschatological event. It is a privilege to partake in the covenantal renewal ceremony, where we get a taste of the future breaking into the present. Like Miller, we all get caught up in our week of accomplishing and we slip into our default mode of thinking we are the ones who create meaning. But we are summoned to gather on Sunday, to be interrupted by our own thinking, stripped by the law of God, and clothed by his gospel grace. Only after this receiving Christ through his preached Word and the sacraments are we then sent out as salt and light.
Miller reasons that he connects with God elsewhere through his own means. God has condescended to connect with his people. I would say that it is imperative that we connect with God the way he has called us to in Christ”
“…this article breaks my heart, because this is exactly the kind of logic that people latch on to and use as an excuse to separate themselves from the Body to the desolation of their spiritual lives. This is why pastors, preachers, and teachers in the Church can no longer avoid deep, biblical teaching on the Church. If she [the church] is to be healthy and functioning, our people must know what the Church is and why it exists beyond our own need to “connect” once a week.”
Author Donald Miller admits that he doesn’t worship God by singing and that he connects with God elsewhere. At best, this is an uphelpful go-ahead for substance starved millennials to disregard gathered-worship. At worst, it its unbiblical and dangerous. It is my feeling it leans towards the latter.
Denny Burk has written everything I’d hope to say on this, complete with many of the same verses (and many more) than I’d planned to cite. Please take the time to read what he has to say. Denny calls Miller’s method a “recipe for spiritual suicide,” and I agree.
Miller’s words reveal what happens when the subjective experience of the individual is made the climax of Christianity. Paul wrote the epistles in order to rebuke and exhort believers not to forsake the Christian faith and makes it clear that the center of Christian worship is the gathering of believers in a local church, the physical bride of Christ. Where the Gospel is preached, the sacraments tasted and poured, and hymns and Psalms sung — there we find the Christ who follows us into our vocation and lives outside of corporate worship. Christ died for this church, that she would be redeemed and made beautiful.
There is no mention of small group Bible studies or “quasi-intentional spiritual communities” in the New Testament. When a gathering is mentioned, it is the Church.
My good friend Scott put it better than I ever could:
There is no conception of “belong to the Church and not the church” in NT Xianity. If you belong to Christ, you belong to a local assembly.
— Scott Corbin (@scottacorbin) February 3, 2014
I would be remiss if I did not quote Machen in Christianity & Liberalism, whose words could not ring more true:
“Christian experience is rightly used when it helps to convince us that the events narrated in the New Testament actually did occur; but it can never enable us to be Christians whether the events occurred or not. It is a fair flower, and should be prized as a gift of God. But cut it from its root in the blessed Book, and it soon withers away and dies.”
I’m happy to clarify and answer any questions in the comments. I reserve the right to delete and moderate as I see fit.
But if anything is misunderstood here, it’s not hipsters. It’s the Church. The true Church will keep right on doing what she’s been doing for thousands of years–preaching the Gospel, teaching the faith, administering the Sacraments–whether you try to change things or not. She’ll do her forgiveness thing, and she’ll be good at it.
And in the meantime, we’ll just be here . . . being silly. The variable is us. Will we ever stop fretting about change and numbers and youth and AGH! long enough to sit back in the pew, forget about what time brunch at the country club starts, and simply receive what God has to give? We ought to. We better.
The Lord knows what He’s doing. The Church is His. He will safeguard it, guide it, and do with it as He sees fit. So let’s lay off all the unnecessary and silly little fixes, shall we? Instead, let’s go to the spa or Applebee’s, have ourselves a pedicure or a beer, and revel in what our Lord does well . . . because there’s a lot of it.
All of it, really.
A Concerned Millenial
“How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He would give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One
Bring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a cross
My guilt upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no powr’s, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom“
We sang this second to last in church today, and the lines in bold and italics were simply overwhelming. An incredible way to bring an end to church and start the new week.