See: I spend a lot of time here at the blog giving the local church a hard time -- mostly for surrendering its obligations to religious circuses and media sideshows. I think it's not just a shame but shameful when the local church is doing the sociologically-Christian version of watching MTV and eating chips on the couch.
So far, so good, right? Everyone in the blogosphere is prolly saying "amen" to that.
Here's where I get under people's skins: I think that's no excuse for leaving the local church for nothing at all. You can't find a proof-text for becoming a spiritual lone ranger in the Bible, kids. It doesn't exist.
Before we go any farther here, I want us to think about the book of 1 Corinthians for a minute, because it's relevant to this issue. Paul writes to this church which he established because they wrote to him, and they have apparently sent him a laundry list of "stuff" that they can't figure out. For example, they can't figure out who they should follow -- they have factions, and some are Paul disciples, some are Appollos disciples, and some (I am sure these were the protobaptists in the crowd) make the clear claim that they are followers of Jesus and not men -- very pious types, I am sure.
But these people, who apparently have many teachers all of whom has a claim to fame, can't seem to stop bickering. They have disputes which roll over into (what we would call) the secular courts; they don't have the will or the guts to discipline sin for the sake of turning a brother away from destruction; they use daGifts as if they were for entertainment or self-sulfillment; they abuse the Lord's table -- and worth of all, they just don't understand the Gospel.
Your church may be this bad. I am sure many churches today are this bad. Some -- a handful, lead by actual heretics who deny the Trinity or gloss over sin with either self-help psychology or legalism -- may be worse. The problem of having broken or sloppy churches is not a new problem: it is literally as old as the faith. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in c. 55 AD, so in the last 1952 years it's not like this is a new problem.
But let's listen to 1 Cor for a second. Of all the things Paul says to our brothers in Christ there -- the ones Paul says are "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ", the ones "enriched in [Christ] in all speech and all knowledge ... so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift" -- he does not say, "and if you can't fix these things, people need to leave the church because it is broken beyond repair."
Paul says to fix what is broken -- which is only possible (he demonstrates) by understanding the Gospel and the consequences of the Gospel. And one of the consequences of the Gospel is the local church. But the other consequences of the Gospel -- for example, in 1 Cor 3, "let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" -- are to be carried out inside the local church.
So let's imagine that you belong to a Purpose-Driven, First [non-denominational denomination] Community Fellowship Tabernacle of Praise and Holy Spirit theme park church, and you've been dutifully reading the blogs and the various Confessions, and your Bible, and listening to John Piper and John MacArthur and (because you're above average, but under 40) Mark Driscoll and Darren Patrick (or if you're over 40 but still above average) and the White Horse Inn and Mark Dever, and suddenly, your church looks a little small and mundane -- or worse, it looks like it worships its programs more than it worships Jesus.
That is: you have deep pangs of conscience -- and rightly so -- that your church is a disciple of Rick Warren, while it ought to be a disciple of Mark Dever, and a person who used to work for the church (and still attends the church) is suing the church for this or that, and the way your church treats baptism is a joke, and the Lord's table is barely practiced at all, let alone practiced as a solemn remembrance of the New Covenant, and last Sunday your pastor warmly received the text of Your Best Life Now as edifying reading.
Is it your duty to split from that church because it is a disgrace? Paul doesn't even consider that an option. He doesn't put it on the table for the Corinthians. So why is it an option for you?
This is going to come at at DebateBlog pretty soon, so I want you to think about something: how necessary is the local church? That is, do you have an obligation to belong to it, or not? And if you do, how far does that obligation reach?
And no, I have not forgotten the Zens paper. It's right here next to me on the desk. I'll get to it this wek.