Back to Barna: the marks of that social structure -- the social structure of the church -- is outlined in the NT. For example, people are initiated into it through baptism, it has ruling elders and pastors, it has an obligation to meet frequently and collectively. But Barna doesn't cover any of that -- he simply says, in chapter 13, that there is something new going on that will revolutionize the Church (big "C" noted):
Mainstream leaders seem to be voicing concern abour believers making conscious decisions to separate from the local church. The first is an appeal to their interpretation of Scripture. "to call yourself a believer and to leave the local church is unbiblical," explained one angry pastor. "The Bible clearly teaches that we are not to forsake the assembling of believers to worship God. Scripture also commands us to be accountable to the church ..."Let's not get overly-fixated on the problem that there was no Starbucks when this passage in Hebrews was written -- there is a much deeper problem with Barna's apparent exegesis of this text. While he's very hot to point out the NT use of "ekklesia" for "church", somehow he left his Strong's home for the place in Heb 10:25 where "episunagoge" is used, which means "a gathering together in one place". If his point is that they didn't build a special building like Baptists do, his application of that point is strained at best. What Paul has written to the Hebrews is that they should never stop meeting together as one body for the sake of spiritual encouragement. That point is only amplified by what follows in Heb 11 & 12 when Paul says that we have a great cloud of witnesses in the heroes of the faith past, and now we, too, must be like them: it is the same kind of spiritual encouragement we receive from the past that we can now receive in the present by being gathered together.
That conversation -- and several others like it -- pushed me to return to the Bible ... I discovered some interesting things. For example, when the word "church" appears in the Bible, it refers to people who are "called out" from society ...
In fact, when the Bible admonishes us to gather together, it does not imply that that should be a church service or congregational event. ... (Heb 10:25, NLT) Such interaction could be at a worship service or at a Starbucks; it might be satisfied through a Sunday school class or a dinner in a fellow believer's home.
In that, the rest of Chapter 13 is completely loaded with faulty claims based on an inept ecclesiology. Barna's strongest objection is that because the local church is doing such a poor job of equipping the saint -- and frankly, who at this blog has said otherwise -- we have to tear down the institution and do something else. Well, marriage seems to be failing at a pretty pandemic rate, Mr. Barna: should we tear it down and look for a new institution, or should we be modeling our marriage theology after a complete reading of the Bible rather than on an incomplete reading of the Bible?
You don't really need much more than that on Barna's upcoming book. You should read it for information only -- because this book is going to be paired with Rutz's Mega Church to underscore this new "movement of God" in order to reproach (which is said to avoid saying "attack") the existing church institutions and further wear down the ability of the church to confront things like false prophets and heretical ideas.
God be with you. I have good stuff on the political rhetoric coming out of the Katrina disaster for this week, so stay tuned for that.