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Thinking Naughty Thoughts (Book Review)

The “institutional church” has always had its critics.  That’s not surprising.  Only the most stubborn among our number could imagine that there are not  numerous problems that are holding it back from being a commanding force in society.

What seems surprising, to me anyways, is that the most vocal critics are from within the Christian community.  That’s what attracted me to “Thinking Naughty Thoughts,” by South African author Johan van der Merwe, a professed Christian and outspoken critic of the institutional church.

The topics(naughty thoughts) that van der Merwe prompts us to think about are worthy of consideration. He invites us to explore things like:

Do I really have to belong to a local church?

Are you choking on the cracker and the grape-juice?

Why all the fuss about leadership when Jesus hardly ever spoke about it?

Why does the pastor insist on 10% of my income when he drives a luxury car and I can hardly make it through each month?

Is delivering a sermon really the best way to communicate God’s word and will in a community of faith?

Are we worshipping God or the things that draw us to worship Him?

Do you really expect me to believe that God lives in a building?

As a pastor, a supposed “leader” in the intuitional church, I have often been challenged to think about these types of questions  (by church members, people who have left the church, and in my own private moments of reflections).   The questions do not scare me.  They should not scare any pastor or denominational leader who is genuinely serious about properly defining the church and its mission in the world.

I say that the questions do not scare me…but one of those does frustrate and anger me a fair amount.

Van der Merwe asks:  “Why does the pastor insist on 10% of my income when he drives a luxury car and I can hardly make it through each month?”

Now, I do not know how many pastors the author knows, but I imagine I know a few more.  Very few of us drive a “luxury” car.  Many of us drive clunkers.  Some of drive cars that are reliable, since part of our ministry keep us on the road more than most.  But the only “clergy” I know driving what might be define as “luxury” cars are the television evangelists.  Now if he wanted to discuss whether such folks ought to be considered “clergy” in any sense of the word, we might have found common ground.

Beyond that, several in my own congregation have been critical that I do not preach “tithing.”  Like many of my fellow pastors, I believe that the “tithe” was something Jesus paid.  He fulfilled the law and offer us grace and the impetus for giving is not some rule, regulation, ritual, or requirement, but love and grace.

Okay, enough of my “personal” problem with that point by the author.

Van der Merwe basic premise is that Jesus did not come to establish a religion, but a community or family of equals.  Supporting his case, the scriptures make clear that Jesus certainly did turn over the Jewish religious applecart.  Challenging his assumption is the fact that Jesus did not give a great deal of direction as to how this new family should look.  So, in my opinion, it should not surprise anyone that something of an institution would develop.

There lies the rub for me.  Throughout the history of the church, there have been movements of believers who have rejected the “institution” and advanced the notion that the “true New Testament church” needs to be recovered.  Those who advance such a notion invariably reject something of “the institution” only to replace what has been rejected with their own brand of institutional legalism.  What comes to mind most readily is the Anabaptist movement which rejected not only the Roman/Latin expression of church, but also much of the Protestant Reformation, yet is hardly can be described as non-institutional.  Might it be that Jesus taught certainly values that each generation of Christianity must grapple with in order to be faithful in its time (since Jesus own teachings and those of other New Testament writers is devoid of instructions as to how the “church family” is to look?

If my question is fair, than books like this have some value.  If the notion is that we need to jettison the entire institution…well, good luck with that.  It ain’t gonna happen!

Disclaimer: This book review was written after receiving a complimentary copy of the book from the “Speakeasy” blogging network. I was not required to write a positive review, but only to express my own honest opinions. This information is being disclosed in accordance with regulations from the Federal Trade Commission.

 

 

Thinking Naughty Thoughts: On church, and why I think we need to change
by: Mr Johan F. van der Merwe
publisher: Johan F. van der Merwe, published: 2013-06-26
ASIN: 0620568089
EAN: 9780620568081
sales rank: 4948678
price: $5.54 (new)

In Thinking Naughty Thoughts, I critically examine certain church practices and traditions. I ask and explore questions such as: Do I really have to belong to a local church? Are you choking on the cracker and the grape-juice? Why all the fuss about leadership when Jesus hardly ever spoke about it? Why does the pastor insist on 10% of my income when he drives a luxury car and I can hardly make it through each month? Is delivering a sermon really the best way to communicate God’s word and will in a community of faith? Are we worshipping God, or are we worshipping the things that draw us to worship Him? Do you really expect me to believe that God lives in a building? In doing so, I am not critical of the church per se, but about our understanding and practice regarding church. If you have ever found yourself asking these and similar questions, whether secretly or in the open, this book may help you give words and direction to your thoughts.

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