Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Dr. VanDrunen identifies a couple of popular analogies used to convey the importance of the church. One analogy is that going to church is like stopping at the gas station. Church is a place to fill up our tanks after a stressful week. Another analogy compares the church to a huddle in football. It’s a time to get all the players together for encouragement, regrouping, and preparing to go out the next week to face the opponent. VanDrunen’s problem with these analogies is not that they convey no truth, but rather that they are radically insufficient and misleading. He levels two criticisms at them. First, they portray church as human-centered.
The worship that is the focus of the weekly gathering of God’s people is first of all about God; priority is not upon me. But second of all, both analogies portray the real action of the Christian life as being somewhere other than the gathering of God’s people for worship.
Whether or not you have come across those particular analogies, I am thoroughly convinced they accurately reflect a common (the most common) conception of the church among professing believers in the United States. VanDrunen, rightly I believe, calls us to a higher conception of the church. He writes:
The life and ministry of the church are not means to an end. They do not exist to recharge our batteries or to give us a strategy for facing the week ahead. The church’s worship and fellowship are ends in themselves. Nothing that we do in this world is more important than participating in these activities. Participation in the life of the church, not participation in the cultural activities of the broader world, is central for the Christian life.”
Someone may object that VanDrunen would limit the work of the church to a holy huddle that gathers once a week and does nothing else. In my opinion, he does not fall into that trap. Indeed, he believes (with the Westminster Confession of Faith) the church is the only institution on earth that can rightly be identified with the redemptive kingdom. The gospel rings out from churches.
To be sure, he is arguing that not everything a Christian may do is kingdom work. Making movies is a worthy cultural endeavor for Christians to undertake; but it is not work that in and of itself advances the redemptive kingdom. If I understand VanDrunen correctly, he is also saying that God calls the church to recognize and embrace its distinctive identity so that the redemptive kingdom will advance. To put it differently, we will carry out our God-given purpose by maintaining a proper priority upon the church. That includes learning to see weekly worship not merely as a means to an end, but a prioritized end in itself.