12/30/16 Steve about 25
In the aisles of a Menards I struck up a gospel conversation with a fellow shopper named Steve, about 25. He had grown up Lutheran but his mother is now a Jehovah’s Witness. Steve has been comparing the two denominations and is becoming convinced that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the true church. His reason? Steve is very impressed with the conformity of their congregations around the world. Not just their teachings but even their worship buildings and their single-minded mission to bear witness to their message. Steve sees this as a sign of unity that he doesn’t see within or between other church denominations. We had a long talk about the errors of JW teachings, but I want to focus here on his assumption that conformity mean unity. Does it mean a God-ordained unity or is it just micro-managing?
When you are looking for a place to get a bite to eat and you see those golden arches, you know exactly what to expect. At McDonalds we know what will be on the menu, how we will be expected to place our order, even how clean the bathroom will be and what kind of furniture we will sit in. This kind of conformity doesn’t come from people who are unified from the grass roots on up, it comes from the top down. I once went to a restaurant in Africa called “McMacs”. It was a poor imitation of McDonalds, and I’m pretty sure they had lost their franchise license because they couldn’t conform to McDonald’s standards.
Franchises aren’t new. The Roman Catholic Church and, I believe, most churches with a set order of service and liturgy are an attempt to impose conformity on the local congregations of worldwide church organizations. While I’m sure there are both good and bad aspects to this practice, I have to ask – is this a sign of God’s unifying work or is it just a manmade business model?
Paul, the great church planter and writer of a majority of the New Testament, spends surprisingly little time discussing what local church congregations should look like. The Bible leaves a lot of room for creative expressions of the local church, and rather than creating cookie-cutter church models, it describes the character traits of church leaders, the basics of Christian doctrine, some basic church practices such as church discipline, and little else. The diversity of churches is not necessarily a sign of weakness or disunity, but rather God’s ordained plan for a universal church “purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Rev. 5:9