Church Is Life Together or Not at All

It’s time for evangelicals to rediscover Bonhoeffer’s best-known work on the nature of Christian community.

Dechurching is upon America, and everything from religious abuse to apathy to digital media have been named as culprits. This conversation has created many hypotheses, and as many implausible solutions. But most of the analyses of evangelical dechurching miss the deeper problem: an anemic church theology taught and modeled to churchgoers. The call to dechurching may, in fact, be coming from inside the building.

Daniel Williams wrote recently for CT that many evangelical luminaries were rarely consistent churchgoers themselves, and this was accompanied by a weak ecclesiology. Williams says the problem of dechurching today is not due simply to the poor precedent set by evangelical leaders. The problem is also the bedrock evangelical assumption that the Christian life is ultimately an individual adventure, fundamentally between God and the soul.

Within evangelical circles, whether intentionally or not, church has frequently been treated as an optional facet of the Christian life, primarily as a means to helping each of us live out a personal faith. Church is something that exists to assist one’s individual growth or spiritual experience. But this understanding misses the point, which is that church, as the body of Christ, is intrinsic to the life of faith.

Trying to address the crisis of dechurching by appealing to the practical benefits of the church to the individual is thus to try to revive the very problems which led us here to begin with. Appealing to individual experience is not the way forward. Sin is, from the beginning, a work of division and separation, a turning of a people into scattered individuals, and God’s cure cannot take the form of the disease.

As Gerhard Lohfink has put it, God will have a people, …

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