A friend of mine, Wayne Jacobsen, wrote a book he titled, The Naked Church. He took the name from the Children’s fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes in which a king is swindled by a couple of hucksters who convince him that the clothes they could tailor for him would be so fine and special that only the most worthy could even see them. Of course that meant that for anyone to admit that they could not see these kingly garments was to admit being unfit and unworthy. Predictably, nobody said anything, not even he king. Then one day the fine new “clothes” were finished. The phony tailors pretended to place them on the king who marched out of his palace to display what no one dared to admit was his royal birthday suit! Finally, a child, who has nothing to lose by speaking the truth, cries out, “Hey, the emperor hasn’t got anything on!” Suddenly, each person in the crowd realizes they aren’t the only one who can’t see those fine new clothes.
This is what appears to be happening in the church. Not a few of the dones are crying out from their place in the grandstand that something is missing in American evangelicalism. As Jacobsen put it,
The church is naked. Who hasn’t seen its deficiencies and wondered why we keep going on with it? But this is difficult to admit. If it is true, what do we do with our multimillion-dollar mortgages and operating expenses, our singing celebrities and their adoring fans, our committees and their policy statements?
These are faithful Christians who are admitting to themselves, and increasingly to others, that they wish there was more to being a disciple than participating in church programs. Moreover, they have spent years coming to church on Sunday mornings to get taught; Sunday school to get taught; Sunday evenings to get taught; mid-week service to get taught and mid-week Bible studies to get taught. They have concluded teaching and being taught can’t be all there is.
Consequently, the Dones are making what some would call a risky decision. They are setting out to be the church without a “covering.”
In an earlier post I mentioned Hebrews 10:23-25 being used to discourage the dones from leaving their church. The term, “covering,” is another means by which people are counseled to remain in a church organization.
My first recollection of the idea of a spiritual covering was toward the end of the Jesus People Renewal of the 70s. The term was part of what was called the “shepherding movement.” The idea was that God had placed levels of authority in the church as protection against error, pride and arrogant individualism. At least that was the idea. As people attempted to apply the principles of that movement, it became a tool for manipulation and control.
With the passage of time, the shepherding movement was discredited and faded. Still, vestiges of it remain, including the concept of covering. I hear it mostly when I talk to the dones who are curious about doing church simply. They want to know how about heresy and false doctrine springing up in groups without a covering. I point out we have been going for 25 years and that hasn’t been an issue. People with hair-brained ideas may show up, but it isn’t long before they realize that the group isn’t much interested so they promptly move on.
The fact is, we should be gathering together as matter of sonship, and we don’t need to trust an organization with policy statements and paid professionals, to keep us tracking—to be our covering. We need Jesus, the scriptures, the Holy Spirit and one another to live as disciples.
The question is, though, how do “the Dones” fit in to that?