Now, I will continue to assert that Jesus is the center of our faith, and should be the center of our ecclesiology. I hate using a big word, but it is just more simple for me, please forgive me. The word means our understanding of how the church is structured, practices, and purposes.
So if we start with Jesus, and the gospels, we can interpret everything else based on the examples Jesus set and His teachings. Now one of the problems with the modern idea of church is its non conformity to Jesus example in terms of His becoming part of the community of humankind. We have instead created our own community, and call people out of their communities and into a "new" community which is the church.
Now this accomplishes many things, some of them would seem good, others seem unimportant and some I think you will see give critics the right to call the church irrelevent.
In creating our own culture, we create our own language. This language makes it difficult to speak to others on their level. Examples, we use words like, evangelism, repentence, sanctification, holiness, and even ecclesiology (sorry :( ) These words are not part of the vocabulary of most of those we are trying to influence.
We have created our own power structures, the church becomes a political entity. Those that control the most people, have the most power. Those that have the power can use it in ways that may or may not be good for their followers, for spirituality, or for the earth. The creation of power structures also creates a division between the leaders, and the followers. And then these powers if great enough can then begin to enforce their own will upon others outside of their own kingdoms. Notice Jesus, gave away His power, and told the others the way to heavenly power is service.
We have created our own merchandise. Now this goes much deeper than our "Christian" music and t shirt. But we have, rather than live in the world and among the world, we have simply mimiced their consumeristic notions, and duplicated them, even in our church service. We sell knowledge, and entertainment, and to some extent we attempt to sell God experiences. Rather than have a service where the gifts of all are given for the edification of all, we pay professionals to do the work for us. To entertain us, to make us feel close to God, to make us understand the holy scriptures. We pay for a product, and this product is our own spiritual well being. I will talk more about consumerism and its effect on the church later.
So again we have created our own culture, and then all of our efforts are to call people into our sub culture, with the idea being that within our subculture truth will be found.
Now the modern church growth movement had done much to explore what those outside of this culture are looking for in an effort to reach them. Churches like Willow Creek have spent much time and resource to make the services and programs meaningful to those outside of the Christian culture, in the hopes of calling them out of their own culture and into the church culture. But again this is an attractional mode. And it will often fail because, it is set up to compete with the other consumeristic offerings. So rather than a grass roots movement of communities we have experts, that create experiences that will attract new customers.
My contention is that we have taken the "be in the world, but not of the world" scripture and actually completely misapplied it. We have created worlds that are not actually in the world, but then act consistent with the worlds primary religion which is consumerism. The truth of this is easily seen when we see that most devout Christians now have no, real relationships outside of their family, with non Christians. It also sets up a very difficult situation where people that work in the "real" world, and then come home to their Christian subculture, find themselves living dual lives. Sometimes there is no moral distinction, in other words people aren't being hypocrites, but there is a disconnection in their workplace from their normal world.
Discipleship then becomes about training people how to act within our new subcultures. I can often tell which church people attend by the words they use when they pray. Some church members can be spotted by their clothing and so on. Discipleship also is about teaching people the correct answers for difficult questions, the correct way to interpret our holy books, and the correct application of rituals. And holiness is defined by how well one learns this new culture and acts properly within it. It becomes an inculturation process, rather than a relationship that teaches them how to walk with God, in and among their friends, and their culture.
Therefore, for those outside of the church culture, it seems irrelevent. You are not teaching me to walk within my own world, but calling me into a differnt world. For some this "escape" is welcome and they make it out of desperation, or desire, which is fine. But a vast majority now don't want t different world, but the ability to have a transcendant spirituality within their own world. Funny but it seems like that was what Jesus came to offer.