Monday, December 12, 2016

The Reformation Project: Analyzing my Visit to The Village Church

I previously reported on my visit to The Village Church in this post. Readers who did not view that post are encouraged to peruse it prior to proceeding through this one, as I am now analyzing the information previously described.

The Village Church, with a reported attendance over 10,000, is the seventh largest church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Prior to the arrival of pastor Matt Chandler, the congregation was known as the Highland Village First Baptist Church. It has since changed its name and moved its primary location to what was once an Albertson's grocery. In addition to promoting growth at its main campus, the church has maintained an aggressive program of working with satellite churches in the DFW metroplex as well as providing resources for church starts elsewhere.

The church remains affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, though more important to understanding its identity is its affiliation with the Acts 29 Network, of which Pastor Chandler became president of its board following the removal of Mark Driscoll. Acts 29 is coalition of generally Calvinistic and often Baptistic churches committed to planting like minded congregations.

Given those connections, I will admit to looking forward to my visit at The Village Church, as this was the congregation in my study with which I would personally have the most in common. That sense of expectation would be both met in some respects and in other ways disappointed by the service I attended.

As I left the worship service along with my wife and son, my wife suddenly asked, "Is this church really Reformed?" It is an interesting question that can only be answered by asking what the meaning of "Reformed" is.

For many, the term "Reformed" simply has to do with whether one accepts the five points of Calvinism. By that definition, the church would be considered Reformed. Others will find that definition to be insufficient from a historical and theological perspective, insisting that the historically Reformed churches held to certain views with regard to the sacraments and church government. By that definition, no Baptist or Baptistic churches could be considered Reformed (in earlier generations, Baptists who took what we now refer to as Calvinistic views referred to themselves as "Particular Baptists, not Reformed). More important to the present discussion is this: historically, the Reformed churches, in addition to having doctrinal confessions, have made use of directories of worship. By that standard, as well as the second one, The Village Church could not be considered "Reformed." The regulative principle of worship adhered to by historically Reformed churches, including Baptist ones, was no where to be found on this Sunday morning.

That is not intended to be overly negative toward the church. Certainly, I found much to agree with in the sermon. The principles outlined for understanding and applying the teaching of the book of Acts were certainly sound and worthy of the attention of any Bible reader. Though I had one minor quibble, I also thought that the teaching surrounding the work of the Spirit in Acts was also very good. Additionally, the pastor mentioned that for those who wanted additional study material that he would be posting more resources on social media. This is an enormously valuable tool available to churches. More should make use of it.

So, unlike some of the other churches I visited, in which I have expressed harsh thoughts regarding the preaching, I thought Chandler's message, which was intended only as an introduction to a series on the rest of the book, was sound. Unfortunately, there was an enormous disconnect between the sermon and the worship.

Over the course of this study, I visited churches with a wide range of free church traditions -- Baptist (both Reformed and Arminian), charismatic, Pentecostal, nondenominational. However, in terms of what happens during worship, for the most part these churches share less in common with their traditions than they do with one another. Thus, a member from the charismatic Gateway Church walking in on the first part of the worship at the Reformed-ish and Baptist The Village Church would feel right at home (though, truthfully, the music at Gateway was better in the services I attended). On the other hand, someone from a historically Reformed church would not be sure of what in the world he had come upon.

It is an open question whether Reformed doctrines divorced from Reformed worship can be sustained across generations. It will remain for future studies of this church and others like it to know.

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