In the last few months I have heard two different stories of folks thinking about moving from a Church Growth parish to a confessional one. What was the reason they could not make the switch? In both cases they could not leave their small group. So I ask, what exactly is the connection to the Church in these situations. It looks to me like there is a small group addiction.
We have asserted on this site that small groups are not good for the church and these stories support that point. In each case the individual sensed that it was right to move from a heterodox church (mixed teaching) to an orthodox church (right teaching) but could not break the tie with their small group. So the small group has inculcated a belief that church is about making connections to other people.
Now church is certainly about making connections to other people but that is secondary to right teaching. Connections to other people combined with mixed teaching puts one’s soul in peril. In addition, most small groups are organized around Bible study. That begs the question, who is the teacher in the small group? Teaching the Scriptures is no easy task just as brain surgery is no easy task. Brain surgeons have temporal life held in balance by the scalpels they wield. The pastor holds something far more important than temporal life in the scalpels of his Words. He holds the eternal souls in balance and so with a surgeons skill he operates on the heart making sure that he does not slip the slightest to the left or the right but always holding the proper balance of law and Gospel. I have sat in many small groups and witnessed botched spiritual surgeries that either scar the soul with the law apart from the Gospel or leave the cancer intact because of a false desire to administer a candy-coated Gospel apart from the law.
So do the right teaching parishes without small groups leave people without connections? Not at all. Walther teaches that churches should have societies so that Christians can socialize. Before the Rogerian psychology of the 60’s and 70’s messed us up, the church was quite happy having Walther league, couples clubs, card clubs, bowling leagues, and the like. Prayer and Bible study was understood to be done at the divine service. These groups were for fun and socialization. Add to the mix of humanistic psychology a little bit of false Reformed and Pentecostal theology of levels of sanctification and you have people thinking that they need small groups to really connect to God through others and have some kind of meaningful spiritual experience. Connecting to God through Christ’s body and blood in the Divine Service is apparently not enough for these emotion starved, humanistic psychology desiring people and so they become addicted to their small groups and cannot leave for a right teaching parish.
Connections to other Christians are important but they are secondary. They are not the Gospel. The Gospel is the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. That happens in the Divine Service through Holy Absolution, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Now that is something to be addicted to!