Josh Claybourn and co. at In the Agora have brought in a new blogger, Seth Zirkle. Along with Jollyblogger, who gets the tip of the hat on this one, I very much appreciate Seth's call to recognize the importance of the local church in a time when there's a serious fad to abandon it on grounds that are downright contradictory, i.e. a pretense that someone can be a Christian without being part of the church, which defies the very definition of the church. The church is manifested locally, and each local body is the church. Thus rejecting what is sometimes called the organized church is rejecting God's people as a whole. [For more on this, including more careful support of the fundamental premise, see my Organized Religion and the Church from two years ago.]
For similar reasons, I have an extremely strong presumption against leaving a local body except for reasons of serious heresy or immorality among the leadership, and even then only when the church as a whole refuses to confront that issue or the relevant people. Of course if you are leaving the area and wouldn't be present to attend your local congregation's meetings, it's a pretty good idea to commit to a different congregation. For reasons other than those sorts of things, leaving a local body is tantamount leaving the church, even if where you end up is also the church. What you left was the church, fully the church, and not just a part of the church. The New Testament knows nothing of local bodies that are just part of the church, and what you do to any local body you therefore do to the church. For these reasons, I greatly appreciated the main point of Seth's post.
Yet there's this one line that sort of spoils it for me. One of his points is that no local congregation is perfect. It's hard to find a local congregation that teaches the Bible rather than just giving topical sermons. In the same breath, Seth also says that it's hard to find a local congregation that avoids "secular instruments, such as pianos, guitars, and drums". If I hadn't been warned by Jollyblogger, I would have been stopped in my tracks.
I can think of a lot of questions that might be important to ask when looking around for a congregation in an area you just moved into. You could ask if this congregation is fulfilling the purpose of the church. You could ask if the word of God is being preached. You could ask if people are worshiping God with daily lives that honor God and then also when they come together in corporate worship. You could ask if it is a praying church. You could ask how carefully they think about important truths and important matters of praxis. You could ask if they are meeting each other's needs and then reaching out to the community. Perhaps more important even than some of these is what sort of giftings you have that you can bring to the congregation that they lack, and it's also a pretty good idea to try to restrict yourself to congregations that are close enough to where you'll be living that you can be part of the community life of the congregation and not just a Sunday commuter. There are all sorts of things you could ask, and I'm not opposed to asking any questions like those if you're newly arrived in an area and looking for a congregation.
But what instruments the congregation uses for its public worship just doesn't seem to me to be even on the list, never mind so high that stands up at the top with whether they preach the gospel. One of my most important criteria is how fully they teach the Bible (meaning how much of the Bible they teach and not just how well and how carefully they teach it). Even that isn't up there with whether they preach the gospel. Yet Seth holds preaching the gospel in parallel with whether secular instruments are used, as if to suggest that one of the biggest failings of the church today, on the level of those that don't preach the gospel, is the proliferation of secular instruments.
Now I can't figure out what the term 'secular instruments' is even supposed to mean in the Christian era. It seems to me to assume that some things in creation are secular and other things sacred. The problem with that is that he sacred is no longer located since Christ. The sacred has expanded to all things and all places, wherever Christ is in his people. There isn't one place or set of implements that could count as holy, as there was with the tabernacle and temple in ancient Israel. [Again, I refer you to another post of mine for the detailed support for this premise, in this case Scripture and Worship from a little over a year and a half ago.] God's people are sacred, and our work for the Lord is sacred, including the tools we use.
But even if the notion made sense, this would not be a reason to consider the issue of secular instruments on par with the issue of preaching the gospel. Seth makes the point that even banal music with secular instruments has the sacred present in it, which I assume is just shorthand for saying that someone can worship God by using boring music and rock instruments. But he's already undermined that point by acting as if this sort of thing is on the level of the gospel and above most of the items on the list I just gave. I'm sure he didn't intend to give that impression, but the way the post says it gives that impression, even if it wasn't intentional, and that detracts from the very point of the post.
I wonder if this kind of incredible pickiness really assumes the same premises of the church hoppers he's complaining about. Seth does resist their conclusion. That's what I really liked about what he was saying. But what about the assumptions that undergird that conclusion? I don't think what makes church hopping is bad is the effect that people hop around. That's not a good effect, but what really seems counterproductive about the church hopping mentality is just the bickering, complaining attitude that fosters it. I really like my current congregation, but I have to keep reminding myself that other congregations that don't do what we do are equally the church and deserve the same respect and love that I would extend to my own congregation. You can refrain from hopping around from church to church and be officially committed to one congregation that you constantly complain about. You can refrain from hopping around from church to church and be committed to one that you love, all the while complaining about the others.
Now I don't know Seth, so I don't know if he does this. It's not easy not to do it, and if he avoids it maybe I need to ask him some advice. It's something I do way too often. I'm not commenting on him but on what the post says. It says something I think is excellent, and it also contains an offhand comment whose motivation structure involves something that undermines the basis of what I like in the post. That gives the post the appearance of inconsistency at the foundations. I think that undermines his main point, and that disappoints me enough to offer this response from someone who really likes what Seth was wanting to say.