Enemy Church

Ok, I have yet to see the title on the Christian bookshelves or the best seller lists yet, but the whole idea of Enemy Church is still making royalties from many a book that has a different title, but the same spirit.  In fact I reckon if you hold a lot of those book up to the light at a certain angle, the words “enemy” and “church” might just appear in subtle embossment.

Do you know what I mean by “Enemy Church?”  No? Well let me offer the astonishing insight of Eugene Peterson to explain. His five wonderful books on pastoral theology are superb, the last and latest a stunning 2010 read of Ephesians called “Practice Resurrection” says this:

“Romantic, crusader and consumer representations of the church get in the way of recognising the church for what it actually is.  If we permit – or worse, promote – dreamy or deceptive distortions of the Holy Spirit creation, we interfere with participation in the real thing.  The church we want becomes the enemy of the church we have.” (pp28-29)

Wow.  That last line. Kicks you right in the guts eh? Oh it doesn’t? Well it should.

 I am coming to the worrying conclusion that so many conferences, so many books and so many online discussions about the church have, wittingly or unwittingly, been designed to create an enemy church: an implacable, zealous, over-bearing, impatient and, above all else, self-righteous enemy of the church that actually is.  They never actually put it like that of course.  That would be too crass.  That would give the game away.  No, it’s always couched in something more accessible, more likely to gain a hearing from romantics, crusaders or consumers shall we say.

And I am not letting myself off the hook with this one.  I have, in my zeal often rallied around the flag of an enemy church, ready to rush the barricades and take things back to what they were like in, in, well, in whatever era I thought the church was best.

I have also been part of an enemy church that did great damage to the actual church. How so?  Well imagine ten values that you come up with that describe church.  Ten values that you think are based on the Bible, missional and cutting edge compared to those other churches.  Now imagine a good deal of your people only make the cut with four of those values.  They’re kinda weak, less zealous Christians than you, and there are six of those values that you don’t think they come close to – or not close enough.

What needs to be done?  Well, they’ve got to go, don’t they?  And go they do.  Shouted, shooshed, shooed, shaken off, berated to go back to lesser churches, dragging their tails behind them.  That mob that does not know the law, they are accursed eh? I wasn’t there when it actually happened (and it did happen), but I often wonder if I would have had the godly temerity to stand up and shout “STOP!”

Here’s what Peterson goes on to say:

“It is significant that there is not a single instance in the biblical revelation of a congregation of God’s people given to us in romantic, crusader or consumer terms.  There are no “successful” congregations in Scripture or in the history of the church.” (p29)

But hey, don’t let that stop us writing, printing, reading and espousing books that make up for such biblical and historical oversights.






  1. Yeah, Israel had the same sort of thing with prophets espousing some dreamy-eyed version of a “faithful” people instead of getting in line with the practical reality of God’s people doing things the way they thought best. .

  2. I’m thinking of quoting some of this article for our weekly newsletter – are you saying this? – “I think your main point, is that it’s possible (perhaps especially for pastors) that in our desire to become an ‘idealized’ Church, we can critique, judge, harm and fail to enjoy the very Church that we are now. Forgetting that it is in the now that our Church exists, and has it’s being, forgetting that it is this present real existing church, and group of people, that I am to love, encourage and spur on to love and good deeds.”

  3. There is always more to the picture than what meets the eye. One of the great things about people and groups and churches is that they rarely are who they once were. For good or for ill . Like Moses, David, Solomon or Peter we say and do things that we look back on with shame. Sometimes there is a reason, a reaction or a passion that is out of balance because of broken relationships or even sin. But thankfully things change and grace causes some people and situations to grow and mature. The story is far from over. And God can even use zealots and mistake makers. He sure has in my life.

  4. On the other hand Peterson is very trenchant in his lecture series with the same name (Practice Resurrection) that is available as mp3 from Regent College online, that the professionalisation of ministry has lead to a terrible passivity (and consumerism) in the church.

    That point is worth raising repeatedly i think. Cueing our bearing from the historical church that has often settled into this pattern, as the ‘church that is’, rather than looking at say scripture for the genius of the church that ‘could be’ (where even apostles were untrained in the religious academy (Act 4:13), and the first evangelist and martyr come from those delegated to do foodbank work (Acts 6-8); who both also move in Spirit and power as well as strong knowledge of the Word (cf 1 Thess 1:5 – where true conversion is accompanied by power and conviction and Holy Spirit and not only the word) — i think we do need to ask if we have settled for something different …

    Love, and spurring on, yes. But looking at the height from which we have fallen too.

    Much wisdom in the historical church. But much to be asked against that backdrop as well.

    copy of the relevant lecture – try the first 10 mins or so:

    or buy (ironically for his ant-consumerist critique) here:

    1. I will definitely check these out Rob. Thanks for that. I do agree with this assessment, but there has been a tremendous push to burn the ground the last 15 years – and the collateral damage of people is almost viewed as worth it. But just saying that from experience. I think the consumerism thing is true too – but I guess if we don’t offer church as a shop then we won’t attract consumers. I would gladly put myself in peterson’s hand on this, but there are few with his deep spirituality and love for the church. That’s the safety valve for me.

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