About This Blog

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"Unchurching" (Richard Jacobson)

TITLE: Unchurching, Christianity without Churchianity
AUTHOR: Richard Jacobson
PUBLISHER: Independent, 2016.

What is the Church? How is the Church of today different from the Church in the book of Acts? Has Christianity been replaced by Churchianity? These are questions which author and ex-pastor Richard Jacobson attempts to answer. Creator of the original "Church Anarchist," the website of "Christianity without Churchianity" is now called "Unchurching." Beginning with his experience of a "crisis of faith," he gives several reasons for his disillusionment with the modern Church. He quits his position as a pastor in 2003 due to such a "crisis" and especially because of the way Church is done. Like worship taking place mainly in buildings rather than other gathering places; or activities that seem to be disconnected from biblical imperatives; and authoritarian structures that seem most human centered rather than God-centered. So he sets out to "deconstruct" the existing institutional church in the hope that he can arrive closer to the original church. At the root of it all is his assertion that the Church of today has totally lost its resemblance to the Early Church.

He begins with a "Spiritual community" as the Church of God. He tries to divorce the human traditions from the intent of God. He goes back to the New Testament to re-construct what a true community of God looks like; being a peculiar people, a community of God, and our being made in the image of God. He explains the fall of man and the redemption we have in Christ. He believes that at the end of it all, the Church is a community of believers who share their faith, gifts, and possessions for the kingdom of God.

In "Spiritual Parents," he compares and contrasts God the Father with the institutional use of authority. He asserts that the present organizational heirarchy is not biblical. Through his study of the Greek words poimen (shepherd) and episkopos (overseer) by saying that they are not to be interpreted as "positions" in the church but as spiritual roles. All spiritual leaders are essentially facilitators. All of them are to be in spiritual unity, serving God.

On and on, he pounds on the institutional Church, and deconstructs them based on his crisis experience. The last part of the book is his attempt to put back together his interpretation of what a spiritual community looks like; what spiritual authority ought to be; and what a true Church of God should be like. His vision of success is not megachurch numbers but names of people we can reach. The Church of God is one without titles, without hierarchy or positions. This video is a concise summary of what the book is about. If you find it appealing, you would probably want to go ahead and buy this book. If not, you can at least try to understand where the author is coming from and to suggest changes in your community of worship appropriately.

So What?

From the video and the initial arguments, the book appears promising as it is based on addressing the flaws of the existing church. Jacobson makes many good observations and interpretations of the Bible verses about Church and the people of God. Though he is no longer associated with any institutional church, it is clear that he still has a heart for the Church, albeit not the structures and the hierarchies. He loves people, and that in itself is a good thing. The very fact that he took the trouble to write this book and to create the "Unchurching" ministry is testament to that passion to help bring back the Church of the first century.

Despite all the good intent, I am not convinced that the way forward is the way backward (to the 1st Century church). In fact, I would offer three counter-arguments for Jacobson's proposal. First, being human, there is no running away from institutionalization or hierarchies. Even the most flattened organizations have their fair share of hierarchies. Without hierarchies, it is impossible to manage the community of people. Every Church, every denomination, every community of people will need some form of structure for functional purposes. In an ideal world, we would like to think of a place where everybody is equal and everybody can decide for the benefit of society. Unfortunately, the Church is not to elevate democracy as a god in itself. Everyone is equal in nature but different in terms of purpose. Second, we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because there are imperfections in church governance does not mean we abandon the whole structure altogether. Whether we blame it on sin or the imperfect human nature, the way to manage the flaws of institutionalization or human hierarchies is redemption, not rejection. In some churches, maybe the way forward is to leave that church so as to start afresh. However, we cannot accuse all churches that they are no longer the Church that God has intended them to be. I make a distinction between good and bad tradition. The moment we throw away tradition, we are left with the task of re-inventing the wheel that we throw away, albeit a different kind of wheel. When that happens, what is going to stop future generations from throwing away our "unchurched" wheel? If everything is deconstructed and reconstructed according to the era's interpretation, then it can become a confusing mass of multiple renditions of reconstructed church. Third, we need to learn to adapt (not compromise) to prevailing culture. Can the 21st Century Church able to realistically replicate the 1st Century Church? Yes, if we can replicate the 1st Century culture too. This is impossible, which is why I think the premise of this book is flawed. We can use the Early Church as a model for emulation, not replication. Every generation will have to deal with their challenges in their own unique ways. We can learn from history but we cannot turn back history. We can recognize the flaws in the modern Church but that does not mean we throw away all the hard work and learning of the Church through history. Granted, there have been mistakes along the way, but there is also a whole lot of good that have taken place. This amount of good is sadly diminished in this book, which is why I feel that I cannot endorse the proposal of the author. Most disconcerting is toward the end, the author encourages people to leave their churches.

If we want a way to emulate the Early Church, and to learn principles from them, there is another book that I would highly recommend. It is Eddie Gibbs's "The Rebirth of the Church." As far as this book is concerned,  Jacobson does a pretty good job in deconstructing the present institutional church. I cannot say the same for his efforts in reconstructing.

Rating: 3 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of the publisher and SpeakEasy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

1 comment:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with and make similar points in my own Speakeasy review. :) I borrowed your picture of the book which is how I ended up here...LOL!