Discourse 42 – The quiet withdrawal of Christians from churches and congregations.

The quiet withdrawal, or tea nd cookies to the glory of God. / Article – Rudolf Möckel / KAE RM 00 2001-05-01

The domestic Christian community.

The larger parish.

The false doctrine.

The information society.

The consequences.

(Texts in a black frame are quotations from visitors to this site or from other authors.)

(The quiet withdrawal, or tea and cookies to the glory of God. / Rudolf Möckel, KAE Information Letter no. 204/01 2001-05-01*))

To a large extent unnoticed by the evangelical and church-going public, a movement has been taking shape in the last few years which provides abundant food for thought, as it casts a definitive light on the overall situation of the church in our country. I mean the movement of "quiet withdrawal" from congregations and communities. It is a movement that goes inward, retreating back into the individual home.

For a long time wrongly thought of as a mere peripheral phenomenon, this movement has by this time attained such dimensions that it can no longer be ignored with a good conscience. More and more Christians are withdrawing from the churches, congregations, communities and associations of which they have long been loyal members, but to which they no longer want, or no longer are able, to belong. Apart from Christianity as seen in a church or free church perspective, they practice their religion in domestic Christian groups, domestic circles or domestic communities.

What are the reasons for this? And what is the background to this development?

It is an objective fact that an increasing number of Christians suffer from an ever more prevalent sense of spiritual homelessness. They cannot any longer find any local congregation or community at accessible distance of which, in good conscience, they can count themselves members. In their Established Church congregation they find themselves not infrequently confronted with sermons that are both critical of the Bible and politically or psychologically tendentious, and which fail to satisfy their hunger for an unambiguous proclamation of the biblical message, for spiritual community and a care of souls based on the Bible.

In their local free church congregations they often meet with a charismatic mode of worship in which, for good (and biblical) reasons, they find themselves unable to participate. In Christian communities they repeatedly come up against rather short-lived new trends of evangelization and congregation-building which dominate the life of its members in a way that cannot be overlooked, sometimes also with polarizing effect.

The result is spiritual homelessness. In spite of their best intentions, an increasing number of Christians simply cannot any longer bring themselves to set foot in their local congregations and communities.

*) This extract is taken from the Information Letter no. Nr. 204/01 of the religious movement "Kein anderes Evangelium" ["No other gospel"].

The domestic Christian community.

In principle, there is certainly nothing to be said against Christian domestic groups. The author we have quoted indeed confirms this in his subsequent remarks. On the contrary, as we can see from the letters of Paul in particular, domestic groups constituted the basis of the early Christian congregation. Here are some examples that illustrate this:

Greet Prisca and Aquila; also greet the church that is in their house.

Rom 16,3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 16,4 who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; 16,5 also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Rom 16, 3- 5;

Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas;

1Cor 1,14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 1,15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. 1,16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 1Cor 1,14-16;

Greet Nympha and the church that is in her house.

Col 4,14 Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas. 4,15 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. Col 4,14-15;

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.

2Tim 4,18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 4,19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 2Tim 4,18-19;

The passage above, Rom 16,3-5, "Greet Prisca and Aquila... and the church that is in their house", shows us clearly that the congregation at that time was localized in private families and private houses, and that – by contrast with today’s form of worship, where the faithful come to the congregational meeting place to hear the preacher – the preachers, like Paul, came into private houses in order to preach the gospel.

The larger parish.

But already about forty years after this, when the Revelation of John was written, we can see from the recipients of the seven epistles to the churches that we here have to do with Christian congregations specific to the individual cities.

The church in Ephesus.

Rev 2,1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: Rev 2, 1;

The church in Smyrna.

Rev 2,8 And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: Rev 2, 8;

The church in Pergamum.

Rev 2,12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: Rev 2,12;

The church in Thyatira.

Rev 2,18 And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: Rev 2,18;

The church in Sardis.

Rev 3,1 To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Rev 3,1;

The church in Philadelphia.

Rev 3,7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: Rev 3, 7;

The church in Laodicea.

Rev 3,14 To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: Rev 3,14;

All seven letters are addressed to Christian "city congregations", and convey both an assessment – in terms of praise or blame – of the behavior and life in faith of the members of the congregation, and also, in some cases, an injunction that they should change their ways.

(See also Excursus 02: "The seven Letters to the churches.")

Although here and there in the Pauline epistles we also find words of blame for some domestic communities and individual believers, the judgment of the Lord given below, on the congregation of Laodicea, is an instance of exceptional severity.

Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

Rev 3,15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.

3,16 ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 3,17 ‘Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 3,18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Rev 3,15-18;

This shows that in these forty years not only had the development from domestic communities to larger urban Christian congregations been accomplished, but also that in consequence the external, unbiblical influences on individual congregations had become stronger, so that the whole congregation suffered spiritual damage.

And this also appears to be one of the major problems of our times. So long as we have to do with domestic communities on a scale of about 10-20 individuals, the situation remains manageable. The individuals are all well known to one another, and have what practically amounts to a family relationship. Although in the course of time one person or another will always be found who has superior capabilities in a particular area of responsibility, such as Bible study, preaching, care of souls etc., and who will therefore come to take a more or less leading role, there is nonetheless, in the majority of cases, no clearly defined leadership function.

It is quite a different matter in larger congregations. These do not function at all without some form of congregational leadership. The tasks to be managed are various, and take up so much time that in most cases, even if there is an attempt at first to allocate responsibility for this function to a member of the congregation who will do the job in his spare time, it soon comes to be recognized that it is a full time occupation, so that a professional congregational leader will then have to be engaged for this purpose.

And here now a phenomenon makes its appearance with which we all are acquainted from the sphere of professional life: especially in the first phase of this development, where brethren exercise the function of leadership in their spare time, critical voices will soon be heard to assert that this matter or the other could be better managed. This often leads to controversies and disputes, which naturally affect the life of the congregation and create a discordant atmosphere. Groupings will then also come into existence, and small power blocs. The members of these may perhaps present a public appearance of relative unity, but in the long run it is rarely possible to keep the resulting power struggles behind the scenes.

After the climate of feeling in the congregation, and among the members of the congregation, has come to suffer more and more from this state of affairs, it will be thought that the problems may be solved by the appointment of a full time leader, which ushers in the second phase of the process.

Depending on his character and attitude, the new man at the top will be either a strong or a weak leader. In either case, however, he will not succeed in solving the actual problem facing this congregation, but only – in a best case scenario – in suppressing it. It will continue to smolder below the surface, waiting only for a suitable moment to break out again. For the problem does not lie with the person who is the leader, but in most cases with some few members of the congregation, who always and in all cases think that they know better. We are all familiar with this situation in the context of professional life: where positions and functions are at issue, generally a few know-alls will soon also be found who judge that everything is too fast or too slow, too vague or too specific or whatever. So it is misdirected aspiration, envy, cocksureness and last but not least the hunger for power that lead to situations of this sort.

In many quarters the attempt is then made – in a third phase of this development – to keep this aggressive cabal in check by appointing a collective leadership committee, a "council of brethren", "leadership group" or however it may be termed, which will operate in tandem with the full time leader. But unfortunately here again precisely those people will be appointed to the committee who were already engaged before in furthering their own ends, and so the whole story repeats itself.

It can easily be seen that here we do not yet have to do with those groups that promulgate false and unbiblical doctrines. Rather, these are congregations of unimpeachable doctrine in which – as a result of the personal characteristics of some of their members and the inability of the other brethren to keep them within bounds – conflicts repeatedly ensue, so that valuable brothers and sisters are forced to leave the congregation.

(See also discourse 60: "When should a Christian leave a Church?")

The false doctrine.

But as mentioned by R. Möckel in the extract quoted at the outset, in some congregations it is also the case that the Christian who believes in the Bible increasingly finds himself confronted with unbiblical, perhaps charismatic tendencies, in which he cannot participate with a clear conscience. A visitor to a congregation of this sort who gives expression to his (biblically based) opinions, if these are at variance with the practices of the group – for instance, speaking in tongues in a charismatic congregation – will be anathematized at once, and would be well advised not to show his face there again.

But increasingly the trend towards a unified church is also to be observed in many congregations. This applies not just to the Protestants, who through the complaisance of their church leaders have effectively acknowledged the supreme authority of the Catholic church in questions of Christian belief, but also, and particularly, to our evangelical community.

So Dave Hunt reports in his book "Die okkulte Invasion" ["Occult Invasion"] (CLV Verlag [CLV Publishers], ISBN 3-89397-272-2) [Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR} on the "Promise Keepers" conference in the USA, which 39,000 church representatives attended. The initiator of the conference, Bill McCartney, said in his opening speech: "Here a dream is coming true. (…) It is fascinating to see how barriers between the denominations are being pulled down. Protestants and Catholics [and Mormons] are meeting together on this occasion. The object of the meeting is church unity." This conference brought together the ÖRK [Ökumenischer Rat der Kirchen: Ecumenical Church Council], the NCC [National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA], Pentecostals and Charismatics, Evangelicals, Mormons and Catholics (including 600 Catholic priests).

And Dave Hunt then writes:

"Vice-President Dale Schlafer, who organized the conference, explained that this new unity was not based on doctrine, but rather on relationships. Tom Watson, leader of a Texan congregation, uttered a word of warning:

‘Ought we not to be concerned that this call to unity, at the expense of Christian doctrine, emanates not just from the evangelicals, but also from the apostate ÖRK and from New Agers, who draw their wisdom from spirit beings on the other side? Has Scripture not warned us that this day would come (2Tim 4,3-4)?’

A concern for morality and the environment is being made the excuse for compromises in the area of faith. Kenneth S. Kantzer, former editor of the journal Christianity Today (CT), has written:

‘In view of the corruption of morals that is so widespread, destroying the foundations of a free and just society, we evangelicals have an urgent need to join with our Catholic neighbors. And also with the Mormons, conservative-minded Jews and humanists who share our values (...).’

If Jesus had joined with the rabbis in a similar coalition for moral improvement, he would undoubtedly have become a great ethical reformer, and could have accomplished much good – and without having to be crucified."

The information society.

But what does this now imply for our theme, in concrete terms? Should Christians who believe in the Bible really be urged to retreat into their own domestic circle, in order to avoid all these dangers?

It must be clear to those in positions of authority in the congregations that this trend will probably continue to grow in future. Although the reasons listed above are all both serious and important, they are probably nonetheless not the main reason for the migration of faith into the private sphere. The biggest problem for the congregations in coming years, in connection with their loss of membership, may well be the competition offered by the Internet.

In the past, frustrated members of a congregation had few alternatives. If they changed their congregation, they often came out of the frying pan into the fire. Through the universal availability of the Internet and the increase in religious websites, Internet portals and religious discussion forums, access to all kinds of information (as is now known, for all age groups) has become much quicker and easier. The great advantage of this medium is that a person does not have to leave his house – a fact that admirably answers to the ever increasing "cocooning" tendencies that have been remarked – and that one does not have to take on board the information that is offered, but can actually exit from the virtual world at any point – by contrast with a sermon in church, for example.

In coming years, then, many members of congregations will obtain their information – in parallel to congregational meeting calendar – from the Internet as well. And on the basis of the knowledge thus obtained, people will be a much more critical presence in the congregation than has generally been the case in the past. Consequently there will be a difficult task facing those in positions of responsibility in the congregations. False doctrine will spread over the Internet still more rapidly and effectively than it is at present able to do in some congregations. But sound and biblically grounded information will also be available, and it will be down to the individual believer what he absorbs and what he does not. And if he then enters the congregation with the information he has absorbed and puts it up for discussion, it will be up to those in positions of responsibility to decide how they should react.

The consequences.

With reference to those Christians who already – in obedience to necessity – have made a "quiet withdrawal" into their own homes, the author cited at the beginning of this Discourse offers the following words of advice:

"The first principle that applies is surely this: it is not a solution to make urgent appeals urging people to attach themselves to one of their local congregations immediately. Just this is what has often been tried, for years at a time, and without any success. Nor does it help to take the moral line, to tell them off, to warn them of the dangers of schism and sectarianism. We are dealing here with Christians, after all, who desire to follow after Christ in a life of obedience, and precisely for that reason see no other option but to make a ’quiet withdrawal’ into a domestic Christian community."

Thus R. Möckel. It might be worth adding to this that, in the rather unusual case where a former member of a congregation, who is in this position, renews contacts with the congregation again and asks for help, it would be as wrong as it possibly could be to turn this brother or sister away. This "Now we’re going to show you" mentality is not just to be avoided as a matter of Christian principle: it has also always proved counterproductive in the regular life of the congregation, seeing that it is just this attitude that embodies the reasons for other problems internal to the congregation.

To domestic groups which are looking for support, the religious movement "Kein anderes Evangelium" ["No other gospel"] offers help in the following ways (within Germany):

1. The religious movement "Kein anderes Evangelium" offers to independent domestic groups and domestic communities, on request, the possibility of getting in touch with competent advisers on matters of biblical doctrine (e.g. for a weekend). The time will be taken up with joint work on the Bible, clarification of urgent issues, and also shared religious devotions in the home. The domestic community can thus obtain answers to burning questions, and strengthening spiritual nourishment. According to its means, it may be expected to cover (traveling) expenses.

2. The religious movement "Kein anderes Evangelium" plans to set up in the near future a "circle of friends" which will hold meetings and conferences on the local level at appropriate intervals. Individual Christians, and also entire domestic groups and domestic communities, may join this circle of friends. In this way they can take measures to avoid being spiritually isolated, and can find spiritual links without having to give up their self-sufficiency and independence. It goes without saying that these two offers of help are not a panacea. However, they are immediate measures that can help to provide rapid and effective help in an overall situation that is very unclear in terms of church politics. In view of the widely visible spiritual erosion in our country, independently run house groups and house communities can be of growing importance, especially in the future. It is worth keeping an eye on them.

Those members of congregations who have not yet taken this step of withdrawal, but are perhaps thinking of doing so, may find the following suggestions helpful.

If it may be assumed that your congregation is in possession of the correct and biblically based doctrine, you should consider, when you pass judgment on organizational and personal problems and problems having to do with leadership issues, that the brethren who hold positions of responsibility are only human. But try to make a point of electing to an office only brethren who are capable and well qualified (from a biblical point of view as well, as Paul gives us below, in Titus 1:5-9.) for their tasks.

For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God

Tit 1,5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint[a] elders in every town, as I directed you.

-  1,6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe[b] and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. .

-  1,7 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. ,

-  1,8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.,

-  1,9 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.

Tit 1,5-9;

If you really want to leave this congregation, first notify the leaders of the congregation of the step you intend to take, and observe their reactions. Are these people open-minded and approachable, and do they show a sympathetic understanding of your arguments, or do they keep you at a distance and give you to understand that it might well be the best thing, after all, if you were to leave?

Let me also point out one last thing. Of course it is the case that in a larger congregation certain problems are more likely to arise than in a domestic Christian community, in view of the quite different structure of the latter. The home church, though, is subject to other problems, which must also first be overcome.

And if you find yourself in a congregation that unambiguously teaches and proclaims doctrine that is grounded in the Bible, with brothers and sisters in Christ who really deserve the name, and with brethren in positions of leadership, who put into practice these words of the Lord –

If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.

Mk 9,35 Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." Mk 9,35;

in its literal sense in their life within the community, then you should give thanks to the Lord. Nor should you forget to point this out, time and again, to the brethren both within the congregation and outside it. The Lord has blessed you and this congregation.