USA Today published an article Thursday about Christians who will celebrate Easter at home, in storefronts, or even in a stable. They aren't just forsaking traditional church buildings, of course. These folks are freeing themselves, as the writer notes, from the "trappings" of the traditional church, a designation that includes not only pews but also preachers.
In one sense, this is a continuation of a tradition (that dreaded word!). After all, we've gotten comfortable dispensing with a liturgy and the Church calendar and substituting repetitive praise choruses for hymns with heft. Why not chuck the pastor while we're at it? The Holy Spirit directs our church, explains one of the people interviewed for the article.
Which is all well and good until two persuasive, non-equal equals in a non-church church disagree about what the Holy Spirit is advising, or what a scrap of Scripture actually means, or how their non-traditional traditions ought to be administered. Then half the group will have to find themselves a new house or storefront or stable, and the whole process will begin anew.
This is how the first Christians did it, they insist. Except that we know the first Christians had deacons and pastors, and they had church order and discipline, and a Eucharist they treated as holy, and a liturgy so deeply rich in teachings passed down from the Apostles that in some cases it was used as the canon by which Scriptures were proofed. We know a great deal about what early Christians did, including the fact that they built churches just as soon as they could stop hiding in caves.
I certainly understand the impulse. Too many preachers are dry as dust, and they hide behind the notion that their pale, intellectual lectures are worship, and therefore immune from criticism. Too many are prone to lord their power over congregants, to abuse their authority, and mislead their flocks in the process. Too many prefer showboating and self-aggrandizement to genuine worship.
But I'm not sure the answer is to invent everything afresh. For all his flaws, a mediocre pastor in a mediocre church is surely no more prone to error than an untrained Bible enthusiast strumming an acoustic guitar in his living room. And if the Holy Spirit can guide a small group of congregants in a horse stable (which He certainly can), surely He can guide us in the process of repairing and reinvigorating our churches, sorting out the chaff that truly is man-made guff, and embracing the traditions that have been passed down from wiser men who worshipped before us.