Every calendar year the church has its activity seasons (A.D. 2020 was the exception for much). In the summer, it has car washes and carnivals. In the autumn it has trunk or treat. At Christmas and Holy Week, the thespians emerge to present a drama. It always brings a query to mind, “What would the Apostle Paul think of all this?”
Skeptics of the Book of Acts tell us that Acts of the Apostles is narrative, not normative. In other words, they argue, the doctrine and practice in Acts should not be adopted as regulative. Acts presents a picture of the early church. It is the first history book of the New Testament church. We see the activities, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and written down by Luke, the physician. There is much preaching, much baptizing, much resistance, much movement, and some conversions. Is this not normative?
The church, patterned after the Acts of the Apostles, is a rare find, today. Entertainment is the favored alternative for the church in America, maybe outpacing the social gospel of good works. Some Christmas productions are very professional productions. Having lived in Los Angeles there was a fair share of actors and others with creative arts talents, in the mix at church. These productions consume people and resources for much of the year in preparation for the big show. Thus, we can categorize churches into either: the “equip“ or the “attract” mode of operation.
Attraction works under the philosophy of, “bring them onto the church grounds and some of them will stick,” resulting in numerical growth. Equip works under the philosophy of, “educate and practice the regulative principles seen on the pages of Scripture,” resulting in spiritual maturity.
Communities are far different, today, than in Paul’s day. We have cyber churches and resources online. People still like to go to Disneyland and rock concerts, so the attraction mode creates an attraction event on its calendar of events. It is a way of gathering a crowd. Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not the high priority of “attraction” churches. If it were, we would recognize the preacher, as a great man of the Word, or a great Gospel preacher. There are a few of these men of God, but not many have attraction prowess.
Equip mode churches rely on prayer, preaching, teaching, worship services, and non-programmed works of service. Community life, in the organism of this church, is a natural environment of service, driven by need and love. Christians in Acts were people who shared what they had with others in need. This meant they were in community, where need was recognized and met.
The objective of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, who are being conformed to His image through the process of sanctification (Rom 8:29–30). This process is a work of the Holy Spirit, in relationship with the Word of God (Jn 17:17). Equip mode churches are Word-centered churches. Everything revolves around knowing and doing the Word.
Attraction mode churches do perform much activity, and they do hope something happens in the realm of discipleship. Whereas a pastor should know his sheep, today’s mega church pastor knows only a handful of names in the flock under his care. Impersonal systems are established to incorporate an army of volunteers to keep everything at mega status.
Who will give an account for the sheep on the Day of Judgment? Under-shepherds who never knew their sheep, personally, may be in for a big surprise. Did Christ simply wish for something big? Is this a debate of quantity vs. quality? Is it possible for a disciple to be born, nurtured, and matured into conformity to Christ, in an attraction mode mega setting? Do pastors stay long enough in one place to see the proper health and growth of individual sheep? Have we created assembly line Christianity?
Someone might argue that we should have both, but is there any proof these are meant to be together? Despite the fact we live in the era of George Barna and Pew Research, etc., we may never fully understand the mystery of God at work. We love words like “healthy” church, but do we really know what that means? Are we “multiplying” and being “missional” with any sense of result? If we did, it is probable that some methods would simply be more prominent idols than they already are in fact.
Christians are called to faith (Acts 16:31). We are also called to good works prepared for us (Eph 2:10). Every Christian will give an account of what they did both good and bad (2 Cor 5:10). Hence, we must redeem the time (Eph 5:16; Col 4:5), and we must examine our works (2 Cor 13:5). There must be an honest evaluation of our objectives and methods. To know Christ and to make Him known may or may not include a bouncy house in the church parking lot.
Examine yourself and examine your local church using the criteria of Scripture. Did the church in Acts do this? The practice of ever-reforming our worship and practice, should be the result of our ever-better understanding of doctrine.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
January 1, 2021