This is the 4th in a series of posts discussing my worldview theology approach to Christianity. This post addresses one of the primary tools of Christian worldview construction, the consensus model of the church.
The first, on general definitions, is here
The second, on faith as worldview, is here
The third, on the kingdom of God, is here
In previous posts, I have written about the importance of the Christian worldview in faith and Christian life, and that one of the primary jobs of a Christian is to strengthen faith though completing the work of building a coherent Christian worldview. I have given a couple of examples of how failure to build an appropriate worldview can lead to problems such as burnout in a new Christian and apostasy in an older one.
Now I’m going to talk about one of the primary tools that Jesus left us to help us construct a robust worldview — the church and its pastor and elders.
1) There are many challenges to building and maintaining the Christian worldview, and we need tools for it.
Building a viable Christian worldview is a difficult task, particularly in a society that is becoming increasingly antagonistic to it. There are challenges from every side. Some of the challenges are serious – social derogation, loss of jobs, friends, and family, and persecution including fines, lawsuits, imprisonment, and even death. Those of us in America have largely been spared much of this in recent times, but it is becoming increasingly politically acceptable to engage in outright persecution and attack on Christians in the public sphere. Politicians state that religious belief is a reasonable criterion for denying someone a government position, activists burn churches and attack churchgoers, activist groups sue Christians who own businesses for living their faith, governments fine them for doing so, states preferentially use emergency powers to close churches and make worship illegal, politicians praise the governments of places like China, who imprison and torture Christians and bulldoze churches.
Worse, even in times that were more Christian-friendly in America, the “cultural” Christian tradition has been generally unfriendly to “fundamentalist” Christianity and to Christians who are more structured and demanding with respect to their view of the kingdom of God. The cultural “mainline” Christianity of the 1950s was tolerant of more rigorous faith, but nonetheless sniffed at it and looked down on it. Mainline Christianity today embraces secular culture and is overtly antagonistic to “real” Christianity (again in the Wilberforce definition of “real”).
Because of these challenges, the “easy” road is to engage in accommodation of the rigorous Christian worldview by incorporating increasingly secular ideas — leading to the cultural Christian worldview in the best case, and apostasy in the worst (discussed in the second part of this series). But these wordviews are fundamentally unstable, and are successful only when challenges are weak. Worse, having a weak worldview results in dissatisfaction with life in general.
2) We are given a number of tools, of which one is the church.
Nobody’s individual worldview is perfect. That won’t come until its instantiation by Jesus. Every worldview incorporates at least some accommodation to secular ideas, to propaganda from the media, to cultural norms, to individual failings, prejudices, desires, limitations in our intellect and knowledge, our personal experience, the influence of our parents and others, and many other things. Because of these many forces pulling and pushing on our worldview, it is a wonder that a fully Christian worldview is approachable at all.
So, then, how can we build a robust Christian worldview? How can we instantiate the kingdom of God in our lives and communities as much as is feasible given the limitations of the real world? We have to build it so that it is internally consistent, robust to attack, personally satisfying, and demonstrably profitable in some real terms. God has given us a number of tools. These include the scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and the church and community of believers. This post discusses the last of these — the church.
3. The church provides sanctuary from antichristian culture.
The church is a community that has its own culture that can oppose the secular culture. It provides a “safe space” where Christians can be Christians without fear, challenge, or ridicule. It is a place where art, music, and literature that values Christian traditions can survive. It is the place where being a believer and open about your beliefs is accepted. In modern terms, there has become a recognition that people sometimes need a “safe space” where they can be who they are without constant challenge and attack. The church is the ultimate “safe space” for Christians. Sometimes you need a place where you don’t have to constantly fight attacks on your worldview.
As Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians,
“Brothers and sisters, what should we say then? When you come together, each of you brings something. You bring a hymn or a teaching or a message from God. You bring a message in another language or explain what was said in that language. Everything must be done to build up the church. 27 No more than two or three people should speak in another language. And they should speak one at a time. Then someone must explain what was said. 28 If there is no one to explain, the person speaking should keep quiet in the church. They can speak to themselves and to God.
Only two or three prophets are supposed to speak. Others should decide if what is being said is true. What if a message from God comes to someone else who is sitting there? Then the one who is speaking should stop. Those who prophesy can all take turns. In that way, everyone can be taught and be given hope. Those who prophesy should control their speaking. God is not a God of disorder. He is a God of peace, just as in all the churches of the Lord’s people.”
It should be remembered that in most interpretations, “prophecy” as used here means “teaching,” not predictions of the future. Thus, Paul is speaking about support and instruction in Christian world building.
This safety means, however, that the church really does need to be a place of safety. A church that is divided and is full of ill-feeling is just another place where your existence is being attacked. Churches like that do more damage than good — because they attack the worldview of fellow Christians just as vehemently as do militant atheists.
4. The church provides a consensus model for the Christian worldview.
More important, it is a community where people can meet the challenges to the Christian worldview together. As I mentioned in a previous post, people who are new to their Christian journey are particularly vulnerable to worldview attacks. First, the change from a secular or pagan worldview to a totally Christian worldview does not happen overnight. Conversion can be a radical and immediate change, but the strong underlying structure isn’t there. People need help and they need help soon to deal with challenges that Satan will put in the way, particularly of the new convert.
But it’s not just the new convert who faces challenges. Many Christians do not deeply examine their Christian worldviews until later in life when some event happens that represents a serious attack. It may be some life tragedy — the loss of a loved one, for example. It may be some great disappointment. It may be the accretion of many small assaults that one does not deal with until the weight of all of them together becomes a problem.
Two things are important here. The first is that for the new convert and for the Christian who has not focused on building a worldview, there needs to be a fairly robust model of the world available to accept that will automatically deal with most everyday issues. The church (whichever church one belongs to) does exactly that — it provides a pre-built construction that is ready to move into.
Like moving into a new house, the basic structure may be OK, but it needs to be individualized. It may be that the kitchen needs some new counter tops. It may be that there needs to be a new room. It may be that the house needs to be redone more completely. But until that is done, at least you have a roof over your head, heat in the winter, and running water.
That is what the consensus worldview of the church provides right away. And it is absolutely necessary to have it. A new Christian who is on his or her own simply will not have the skills to do the basic maintenance and construction to face even the most basic winds and rains of life. And, worse, because that Christian will not have those skills, whatever he or she *does* build will likely be flawed — and will cause many problems later on unless it’s fixed ahead of time. Christians young in their faith, and Christians who have never done their basic homework simply don’t have the tools to build it on their own.
It may be that, after awhile, one finds that the building simply doesn’t fit your needs, so you move to another one. But the one thing that any major Christian denomination does is provide a reasonable (though definitionally flawed in some way) basic design. It’s pre-built, and it’s free. Different denominations have differences in the consensus worldview that they support. The Catholic consensus is not the Protestant consensus, The Charismatic consensus is not the mainline consensus. But they are all relatively coherent. And they are all flawed. I am not an ecumenicist — I believe that some of these worldviews are much more flawed than others — but they are all places to start as long as one recognizes them as starting places and not the end of the Christian journey.
4.1 This is one reason why division in the church must be minimized
If every Christian worldview is different, and every worldview is somewhat flawed, then it is also necessarily true that there will be disagreements about those worldviews. How, then, can the church provide a consensus worldview if there is, in fact, no complete consensus? The answer is of course that in any congregation some things will be at the core, and some things will not. The basic structure of the worldview is what the consensus establishes, not the details. If there are divisions in the church about these basic things, then that consensus will collapse, and the church cannot provide this basic consensus template.
As Paul wrote to the church at Rome:
I am warning you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who try to keep you from staying together. They want to trip you up. They teach you things opposite to what you have learned. Stay away from them. People like that are not serving Christ our Lord. They are serving only themselves. With smooth talk and with words they don’t mean they fool people who don’t know any better.
and to the church at Corinth:
Brothers and sisters, I make my appeal to you. I do this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I ask that all of you agree with one another in what you say. I ask that you don’t take sides. I ask that you are in complete agreement in all that you think.
and to the church at Ephesus:
“So Christ himself gave the gift of the apostles to the church. He gave the prophets and those who preach the good news. And he also gave the pastors and teachers as a gift to the church. He gave all these people so that they might prepare God’s people to serve. Then the body of Christ will be built up. That will continue until we all become one in the faith. We will also become one in the knowledge of God’s Son. Then we will be grown up in the faith. We will receive everything that Christ has for us.”
We are building this consensus worldview, and part and parcel of it is unity. If we don’t have that, then we cannot achieve a basic function of the church.
But what, then, when that consensus *is* wrong? After all we all know congregations who believe things that we think are just wacky, if not outright evil. The answer is that we find a congregation that we are compatible with, and help that congregation as it builds its consensus worldview. And we test it as our individual worldviews mature.
This leads to two important corollaries. First, since the consensus worldview is both imperfect and represents a consensus, it will not be ‘right’ with respect to any individual worldview in all aspects. But no consensus worldview will be. When working within a church, we have to recognize the value of the consensus worldview — and support it — even if we don’t agree in all particulars. This is because the need for some consensus structure is more important than trying to impose one’s idiosyncratic view on everyone else (and you won’t be able to do that, anyway). The second is that while no consensus worldview will be 100% compatible, it will be necessary to test it and make sure the consensus of a given congregation is not wrong. That’s why we have the other tools — the Holy Spirit and scripture. If the consensus worldview of the congregation ignores or contradicts scripture, then it may not be providing a healthy consensus worldview, and it may be necessary to find a congregation with a more correct one.
5. It provides individual instruction and correction on building the Christian worldview.
But there’s more. Your individual Christian worldview is not exactly that of the consensus of the congregation, but neither is anybody else’s. What you have in a congregation is a large number of people who have dealt with both challenges to their Christian worldviews from the secular world, and with the (minor) disagreements their individual worldview has with the consensus worldview promoted by their congregation. Thus, when challenges come to your worldview, they are resources. Sometimes you need a repairman.
The church provides exactly that. As the author of Hebrews instructs us: Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. (Hebrews 10)
And in the early church shortly after the visitation of the Holy Spirit at the Pentecost, many people joined the faith:
They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers. (Acts 2)
We need that encouragement. In almost every congregation, there will be a group of people, often Deacons or Elders or equivalent, who are known for having successfully dealt with many of the issues that most Christians face. These elders and these more seasoned Christians, whether they are ordained or not, are almost universally happy to provide support and teaching to congregants who need it. That means that the church is place where members can teach each other how they strengthen and modify their worldview. They can discuss things that work and don’t work in creating the connections and structure that underlies it. They can discuss strategies they have used to overcome challenges to the kingdom of God.
More important, it provides *multiple* strategies on how to do this. Because every model is individual and idiosyncratic at the edges, no solution will work for everybody. For some people, changing one particular thing is no big deal. For others, it may cause a collapse or significant weakening of the worldview — in that case, either the person must find a different change to make, or engage in a more complete restructuring (which can be very threatening).
Consider my example of evolution. For my Christian worldview, evolution is irrelevant — I simply do not care how close or how far evolutionary theory happens to be from physical truth in its ideas about the origin of man. Since, to me, faith is simply a choice, then it doesn’t matter whether or not any particular theory plays out. It is irrelevant to the fundamental building blocks of my faith (which are essentially untestable and unfalsifiable), and the pertinent connections that dictate my spiritual life do not depend on any scientific or physical conclusions. Thus, if evolution turns out to be a ground truth, I will figure out a way to work it in my Christian worldview. If it turns out not to be a ground truth, then I won’t bother. I don’t care. For me the claim that “evolution is correct” has the same impact as “the Oxford comma is correct.” Yeah, whatever.
However, for others, it is profoundly important. It is necessary for them to either firm up criticism of evolution (and deal with the associated intellectual and cultural attacks) or find a different accommodation or worldview defense, else their Christian worldview will be very threatened. Because my worldview is evolution-neutral, my solution would be to instruct the young person to restructure his or her worldview so that it does not require that evolution be dealt with at all. However, there are some Christian worldviews that would not survive this, since their view is very different than mine. It is a little like the difference between the “natural theology” of the 18th century Scots and their rejection of miracles compared to the Catholic theology of the time, which embraced miracles. “God as clock maker” doesn’t do the miracle thing, and if He does, then the entire “God as clock maker” theology falls apart.
So, imagine a young Christian in high school or college getting his or her first introduction to evolutionary theory in a rigorous sense. Suddenly it seems that the comfortable Christian worldview he or she grew up with is under attack, and it seems almost defenseless. It is not certain that this young person will come up with a reasonable response on his or her own. But, if there is a robust community of believers around, then he or she can see multiple ways that people have dealt with the issue. He or she can see how those defenses worked with variations of the Christian worldview, different degrees of success, and how it has affected the faith of those who used those defenses.
The key here is that churches have people with large variations of experience, knowledge, and depth and strength of faith — all working within a consensus framework. That is an important resource, though many churches do not mobilize it as well as they should. In a previous post I discussed a young Christian musician who left the faith because some basic questions went unanswered and could not be addressed by people he talked to. It seemed from his discussion that he mostly talked to other young Christians who had the same questions. A well-organized congregation should have been able to encourage this young man to seek answers from the congregation. They would have had congregants who have dealt with these basic questions who could have taught the young man how to deal with them.
This teaching is a fundamental responsibility of the church. As Paul wrote to the Colossian church:
Let the message about Christ live among you like a rich treasure. Teach and correct one another wisely. Teach one another by singing psalms and hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing to God with thanks in your hearts. (Col 3)
And it won’t necessarily be easy, because the message of the church may not be what some people want to hear. Incorrect worldviews are resistant to change. As Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy:
Preach the word. Be ready to serve God in good times and bad. Correct people’s mistakes. Warn them. Encourage them with words of hope. Be very patient as you do these things. Teach them carefully. The time will come when people won’t put up with true teaching. Instead, they will try to satisfy their own desires. They will gather a large number of teachers around them. The teachers will say what the people want to hear. The people will turn their ears away from the truth. They will turn to stories that aren’t true. But I want you to keep your head no matter what happens. Don’t give up when times are hard. Work to spread the good news. Do everything God has given you to do.
Or in his first letter:
Correct an older man in a way that shows respect. Make an appeal to him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as if they were your brothers. Treat older women as if they were your mothers. Treat younger women as if they were your sisters. Be completely pure in the way you treat them. (1 Tim 5)
Even older Christians need correction, and the church provides it.
Note here that I did not say that it was the *pastors’* responsibility to do this. It is the *congregations’* responsibility. I will discuss this more below.
6. It provides physical support from a Christian viewpoint.
One of the jobs of the church talked about explicitly in the scriptures is the physical support of its congregants. We call it “charity” but unfortunately that word has taken on too many implications, some of which are not useful. But it’s profoundly important for the Christian worldview. Again, as Paul writes:
But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
And to the church at Corinth:
Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given to the churches in Macedonia. They have suffered a great deal. But in their suffering, their joy was more than full. Even though they were very poor, they gave very freely. I tell you that they gave as much as they could. In fact, they gave even more than they could. Completely on their own, 4 they begged us for the chance to share in serving the Lord’s people in that way. They did more than we expected. First they gave themselves to the Lord. Then they gave themselves to us because that was what God wanted. Titus had already started collecting money from you. So we asked him to help you finish making your kind gift. You do well in everything else. You do well in faith and in speaking. You do well in knowledge and in complete commitment. And you do well in the love we have helped to start in you. So make sure that you also do well in the grace of giving to others. (2 Cor 8)
6.1 It is part of the instantiation and is a test of the Christian worldview.
As I’ve mentioned, part of the development of the kingdom of God in our lives is to try to instantiate as much of it as possible in our own lives. While the Christian worldview is a cognitive construct, it works by physical manifestation in our lives — it dictates how we think and act. The worldview is dead without its physical manifestation. Moreover, acting on that worldview serves an important purpose of testing that worldview in “real world” conditions. It’s much better to do that now than to wait until the Judgment of Saints and see whether or not our construction burns away. Thus, just as our worldview reflects our knowledge of the real word, our actions in the real world are a reflection of our worldview. If our actions do not reflect a worldview we like, then we need to see what is wrong with the worldview we have and how it is driving our behavior.
Kindness as a reflection of Christian love (including the not-so-nice kindness of so-called “tough love”) and charity are fundamental products of the Christian worldview — and the resulting Christian life. If you don’t get that part right, then you need to really look at that worldview you have. And none of us get it right completely, particularly introverts like me who mostly don’t want to deal with people at all.
But we have to. Because if we don’t, then our worldviews will not be useful in the real world.
6.2 It is a tool to allow less fortunate Christians to pursue their worldview building.
God has blessed me throughout all my life by meeting all of my physical needs. I have never gone hungry in the poverty sense, I have never lacked for a roof over my head. There have been times when I was fairly poor, particularly in graduate school, but never destitute. One of the things about building the Christian worldview in an intentional sense is that you have to have the time and liberty to do it. If you are too busy trying to find a scrap of food or are freezing in the winter, you will focus on meeting those basic needs first. If one of the jobs of the Church is to help immature Christians mature, it would be nonsensical for it to stand by while congregants are so in need that they must focus more on mere survival than maturing as Christians. The congregation is a way for those of us with physical resources to help those without them — to give them the breathing space to mature as Christians.
6.3 It allows organized and pooled support
Most Christians cannot afford to fund large efforts, but we can pool our resources to do so. The Church was the first “GoFundMe” effort, and like those efforts can accomplish things that we cannot do as individuals. In the letter to the Corinthians noted above, Paul indicates that churches collected money to support other churches. It is through this that we can all survive.
7. The church a voice for affecting the societal consensus worldview.
Part of our Great Commission is to spread our view of the Christ. As He ordered: And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. (Mark 16),
and, of course, John 3:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
The saving of the world is done one soul at a time, but it is our duty to try to change the entire world. We can only do that by working together, and the church is the mechanism God gave us for this. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:
“You are the salt of the earth. But suppose the salt loses its saltiness. How can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything. It will be thrown out. People will walk all over it.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill can’t be hidden. Also, people do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand. Then it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine so others can see it. Then they will see the good things you do. And they will bring glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
One of the great mistakes of so-called “liberation theology” and similar theologies that focus on social activism is that they mistake the byproduct for the core of faith. Christianity is a profoundly individual-based discipline — to the point of extremes. One of the hallmarks of Jesus and the Apostles is that they specifically did *not* try to change society. They believed that the Christian world and the secular world were distinct. Thus, when the Pharisees challenged Jesus about taxes, He famously said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.”
Paul made this even more explicit in his letter to Philemon. In that letter, he is returning a slave (Onesimus) to his master a Christian named Philemon. If you read that letter, note that Paul does not say that slavery is a social evil. He does not say that Philemon should not own slaves. He does not say that Christians should rise up against slavery. He does not encourage organized social action. What Paul states is that the fact that both Onesimus and Philemon are Christians makes social convention irrelevant. Paul points out to Philemon that Onesimus is no longer really a slave to Philemon, but a brother in Christ, and that it is Philemon’s personal responsibility to treat Onesimus as a brother first and anything else a distant second.
In other words, Paul is changing society one conversion at a time. Jesus’ and Paul’s social theory is that you change society by changing individuals, culture will naturally change as enough individuals change, and that political structures will change as culture changes. This is the exact *opposite* of liberation theology, which posits that we should seek political change first, which will change culture, which (finally) will force individual change. It is why, ultimately, “liberation” theologies ultimately and necessarily reject the Jesus of the Bible.
8. It is a resource for personal relationships
The church is a resource for personal relationships that support a Christian viewpoint, and families that are safe for Christian views. Paul tells us that we should associated primarily with believers in friendship, and that we should seek believing spouses. He writes to the Corinthians:
Do not be joined to unbelievers. What do right and wrong have in common? Can light and darkness be friends? How can Christ and Satan agree? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? How can the temple of the true God and the statues of other gods agree? We are the temple of the living God.
He points out elsewhere that we must honor commitments already made, even if it is to an unbeliever, if nothing else than for the sake of the children, but it is clearly better to marry within the church.
And the same relates for friendship:
Don’t let anyone fool you. “Bad companions make a good person bad.” You should come back to your senses and stop sinning. Some of you don’t know anything about God. I say this to make you ashamed.
Or, as the author of James says:
…Don’t you know that to be a friend of the world is to hate God? So anyone who chooses to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.
We need friends, we need love, we need companionship. It is achieved best when our friends and loved ones share our worldview. It is almost impossible to share deep friendship or love with someone whose worldview is very different from yours. The church provides a resource for finding these people, and building these communal lives.
9. A note about pastors
One of the things that I found interesting when looking into the subject of churches is that most of the admonitions regarding teaching and leadership were not directed at pastors. They were directed at elders. For instance, it is not the Pastor who sees to the sick, it is the elders. As the book of James notes:
Is anyone among you in trouble? Then that person should pray. Is anyone among you happy? Then that person should sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Then that person should send for the elders of the church to pray over them. They should ask the elders to anoint them with olive oil in the name of the Lord.
Similarly, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy:
The elders who do the church’s work well are worth twice as much honor. That is true in a special way of elders who preach and teach.m (1 Tim 5)
In 1 Peter, young Christians are told to be respectful of the elders:
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Paul land Barnabas left the care of churches in the hands of elders:
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14)
The Pastor, on the other hand was considered the “overseer” who instructed the church as a whole and set direction. Most important, he is the one who designs the consensus worldview of the church. He was not the person who dealt with the day to day needs of each individual member. As Paul notes in his letter to Titus:
Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
This is a very different mandate than that of the elders. The Pastor’s job is to train the church with respect to the worldview. He should be the scholar of scripture and doctrine. He should manage the work of the Elders and Deacons. For a large church, it is simply not reasonable to expect that the pastor deal with each member’s individual issues as part of his daily work.
Certainly some pastors relish this kind of personal ministry, and there is nothing wrong with this. But if the congregation is of any size at all, it will eat him up and spit him out. The Pastor should be the Captain of the ship, pointing out where the ship should go and managing the team that gets it there. He is not simultaneously the purser, the chef, the HR manager, the steward, the mechanic, and the housekeeping service. There is nothing wrong with a member of the congregation talking about problems with the Pastor when there is a major issue, and the Pastor should be open to it. But for the basic stuff, the first stop should be the Deacons and Elders; this not only takes pressure off the Pastor, but it also means that members have access to multiple opinions and solutions. There is a very good article published a couple of years ago in Appalachian magazine ( here’s a related article) that talks about how the 24/7 demands for personal attention are contributing to the increase in suicide rates of full time pastors. Do not expect your Pastor to also do the jobs of the Deacons and Elders.