Gallop just published it most recent poll of religion and American life. They discovered that almost 40% of Americans go to church. WHAT? Where?
What do you make of this pool?
Gallop just published it most recent poll of religion and American life. They discovered that almost 40% of Americans go to church. WHAT? Where?
What do you make of this pool?
I am reading the book, The Household of God by Lessile Newbigin. The below is a seminal thought about the church and its role in the world.
“It is surely a fact of inexhaustible significance that what our Lord left behind Him was not a book, nor a creed, nor a system of thought, nor a rule of life, but a visible community. He committed the entire work of salvation to that community. It was not that a community gathered round an idea, so that the idea was primary and the community secondary. It was that a community called together by the deliberate choice of the Lord Himself, and re-created in Him, gradually sought – and is seeking – to make explicit who He is and what He has done. The actual community is primary; the understanding of what it is comes second.” The Household of God (p.20)
Relationship. This is the word I keep coming back to the more I learn about the true calling of the Church and the people of God. Everything centers on the idea that to be a “city on a hill” we have to have relationships with the people around us that will allow them to see what the family of God looks like and what being a dedicated disciple of Christ really means. And, yes, I love the idea of “doing life” with fellow Christians and living in a way that shows what the gospel is about.
BUT, I am terrified at the idea of relational. I’m not kidding; I am not good at first impressions, holding coherent conversations, making small talk, meeting new people, etc. Don’t get me wrong, God has given me a heart for people and I love being around those whom I already know, but for some reason God also made me a person that would rather stay in a corner than engage others. So when I think about starting conversations with strangers and putting myself out there with other Christians, it scares me.
At times it is easy for me to tell myself that God must have a more “behind-the-scenes” plan for my place in the Church, since He made me an introvert. However, I have realized that in some way or another Jesus calls everyone to radically change who they are and how they act when they join the family of God. He asks us to lay down idols and sins and our old selves in order to abide in Him and rescript our stories to include the fullness of life that He wants to give us. Jesus says to us in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” What if, for me, denying myself means denying the part of me that would rather not talk to anyone? It might be that being missional will kill that part of me, but I am called to die to myself anyway; “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Reaching out to strangers and engaging the world might scare me, but if stepping outside of my shell and into Christ’s power allows me to be a part of the work of the Kingdom of God, then it will be entirely worth the pain of death.Kate
“The coffee was bad, the chairs uncomfortable, and the music wasn’t really my taste. Plus it didn’t really have a cool vibe. I don’t think I’ll go back.” Initially, one would have thought that my friend was talking about the new coffee shop that had just opened down the street. Unfortunately she wasn’t though, this was her response to me when I asked if she liked the new church she had attended the previous Sunday. “I mean the message was good, it just wasn’t my thing.”
I think few of us would like to actually admit it, but it often feels that looking for a church frighteningly correlates with the way we would look for a new favorite coffee shop. I think this is especially true for the arising younger generation of today. The marks of a “true church” seem to resemble a coffee bar, worship pastor in skinny jeans and toms shoes, abstract art on the wall, cool typography in the bulletin, and a well-dressed congregation. Where is the power of the gospel in that? The importance of doctrine, community, ministries, and service can come second to that of the “vibe” of the church. This focus on being relevant, cool, and hip is not inherently bad or evil, I think, but unfortunately it can dangerously skew the priorities of a church, it’s members, and those seeking to find a place in it. It can turn the church into a chill environment where Christians go to hang out, meet cool people, and sit for a few hours. This selfish, consumerist institution has little resemblance to the Church Christ spoke of. The church he recounted was one of hope, kingdom priorities, selfless love, power, and incarnational living. “Church is God’s people intentionally committing to die together so that other’s can find the kingdom” (Halter, Smay). The church is not a Coffee Shop.
I venture to say, based on observations as far as I am able to see, more people are calling themselves Christians while more Christians are denying the title for all its negative connotations. Have you heard anyone claim their faith as “believer” or “follower of Christ” or “Jesus lover”? That’s dandy, and true. But the term “Christian” has been taken away from us, much as the symbol of the rainbow has. As a young person learning that I am in the midst of much needed revelation and change for “the church,” I fear the negativity toward the church. I fear for non-believers because it will keep them away, and for believers because of unforgiveness and bitterness toward those who have been getting it wrong. I fear the anger I’ve seen. I fear more splitting, more division dangerously close at hand within the whole Christian body. I pray it doesn’t happen that leaders who are making right changes due to convictions about how the church has been failing begin to find new titles. I don’t want to see a new movement rise up again only to lose itself in its mission once more. I want to see the church be taken back; for the term Christian to be taken back. To bring them back to mean the body of Christ and Christ-like. The only way to know those meanings is through Christ himself and we find him in the Word, our Bibles, and in prayer. I think this means we must look at the broken church with a heart of forgiveness. Jesus saw the broken and flawed and he forgave them, then said, “now sin no more.” Forgiveness and correction. Jesus was, is, for the church, his bride, so I want to be, too. Jesus’ heart probably breaks for her, I want mine to, too. Let us lift the church back up to what it should be, not break it down.
“And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had… they worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity- all while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” Acts 2.44, 46-47
“We need to kill the Church.” As a lingering skeleton of good intentions, the Church has become ineffective at relaying the only knowledge that truly matters in this world—telling all who Jesus truly is. When I say, “We need to kill the church,” I am speaking about the institutionalized Church of our current day which caters to societal trends, fashions, and the myriad of other “things” that draw people in to church each week. However, something is lost when we glitz and glam up our churches to fit the marketplace. That same “something” is also lost when we stand, stiffly and uncomfortably, waiting for praise and worship to end, so we can finally sit down and mindlessly listen (or daydream) while the pastor, priest, or whoever stands on stage for forty minutes talking about how Jesus died for our sins. The same “something” is even lost in services where enthusiastic worshippers get that “tingly feeling” during a “really good song” or those chills when the pastor brings a sermon home. These “somethings” are self-edifying, but sadly, they stay within the walls of the church building never to see the light of day. What is lost? Jesus. This man who was born as the lowest of low, who knew ultimate joy, and suffered an unimaginably brutal death is lost. There is no raw, real Jesus in our institutionalized church today; we have fashioned Him to be either a condoning sweetheart (so we can feel good about ourselves and our actions) or a hardnosed, fire and brimstone bringer of wrath and judgment (so we can look down our noses at homosexuals, druggies, and all the “true” sinners of the world). So, let us, as the Body and Bride of Christ, choose to shut this “Church” down. This “Church” that is more a business seeking consumers than a delightful extension of our missional God.
This is not to say there are no churches doing it right; that would be absurd! Of course there are churches, many, who seek after Jesus with everything in their being. Unfortunately, our society (even Christians) send these churches into exile and deem them crazy radicals. Salvation and eternal life are radical concepts; shouldn’t we believe so passionately to the point of fearlessly seeking God’s holistic view, and not just pieces of it? We understand the world does not know us because our identity is in Heaven, so let’s not become offended when people disagree with us for making waves. As long as our actions are biblical and in accordance with God’s character and will, we are surely a force to be reckoned with! Through community, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and the ability to imagine in radical ways, we can collectively step into our role as the true Body of Christ, how the Church was intended to be. Arise, Church, as the hands and the feet and the ears and the eyes of Christ to kill this institutional “Church” and bring Jesus to the center where He belongs. In this way, we, as the body of Christ, and the whole world will be forever changed.Jamie
The Western church is no longer center stage in modern culture, and as we are shunted aside it seems reasonable to think that becoming more like the world will entice more people into our buildings. Then I come upon Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Hold up, what?! Blessed are who? It might be a small stretch to equate marginalization and persecution, but I am beginning to think that being pushed out of mainstream culture could be the best thing that has happened to the body of Christ today.
In his book The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch points to the church in two different times and geographic areas, the early Christian body and the underground church in China. Both of these groups of believers became vibrant and large communities during harsh and unrelenting periods of persecution. Hirsch sees that “Persecution drove both the early Christian movement and the Chinese church to discover their truest nature as an apostolic people” and it “acted as a means to keep these movements true to their faith and reliant on God.”
But how did these communities turn persecution to power to promote the Kingdom of God? James calls out from the Word, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Think about that for a minute. This isn’t telling us to tolerate trouble or to “grin and bear it”, but instead be joyful in it—have a deep, indescribable emotion welling up in us whenever we face trials because of faith in the Lord Jesus. What if, instead of pushing back as we are pushed aside or fearing persecution for our faith, the Western church opened ourselves to the possibility of being collectively JOYFUL? How much more would we be able to point the way to the Kingdom of God if our joy in all situations shone through? Something attracted millions of converts in the early and Chinese churches. Maybe this joy in persecution promised to us by our living Savior can be the way we truly live into our calling as a missional and sent church. Maybe this strange joy from hardship can revitalize us and help us be the instrument and foretaste of the Kingdom we were meant to be for the world.Kate
One of the most befuddling (when I say befuddling, I mean I just can’t figure it out) things about Christianity for me is the juxtaposition between Jesus’ holy and our holy. When Jesus, the most holy and pure person ever, rubbed shoulders with the non-religious (“sinners”) they were amazingly attracted to him, but when most Christians come in contact with the non-religious (“sinners”) there are adverse reactions. You’ve seen the reactions toward Christians – they are haters, homophobes, judgmental, bound up – all reactions to Christians trying their level best to be…you got it, holy.
There is consistent and strong evidence that suggests that most people still find Jesus incredible attractive, at least intriguing. The evidence is even stronger that people don’t find Christians that way. Christ followers are to be holy yes, but there must be something different in the balance here.
In 1953, C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter:
“How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.”
Irresistible? That might be worth rediscovering.
I believe that there must be a reorientation of our understanding of holiness. Instead of an externalized “we have to look or act a certain way” type (usually a form created by some ecclesial authority), I really believe that we must look carefully at what our model, Jesus portrayed for us.
Here are a few ideas that might help:
1) Never react
You have heard the saying, “Never let them see you sweat.” Well, I don’t want to be disingenuous, but it would serve us well to move away from our own reactive posture. One reaction generates another. I have made an internal vow that I will never react to someone else’s behavior, regardless if I am in agreement with it or not. I could be just freaking out inside, but on the outside, I want to behave and act with love and honor toward whomever I run across. Why? See #2.
2) Recognize the Imago Dei
Ever person you see, every man or woman you lock eyes with was created uniquely in God’s image. Sin has certainly injured that, but there is still a deeply embedded dignity, ontology worth…even in the worst of the worst (although how does a scale on this stuff really work when each of us have sinned enough to draw the holy Jesus to a cross?). The Imago Dei actually has profound implications if we can live into its truth. We can treat people different, with honor beyond what their behavior might warrant, because of who they are, not what they’ve done or are doing.
3) Learn about humility
Part of the reaction Christianity gets is because of its desire for control and power. I know, you may not see it this way, but think about this. Why do people get mad or reactive? Answer: Because something is being taken from them. For many, I might say, most Christians, believe that our country was started as a Christian nation (debatable, but not at this time) and feel like it is being hi-jacked by _________________ (you feel in the blank). The upshot of this is a reactive posture toward culture. Need I remind you that our battle isn’t against flesh and blood (Ephes 6)?
4) Spend time pondering the Gospels
This is really the main reason I think there has been a “red letter” (reading Jesus' words, as opposed to Paul, et al) shift in many people view of Scripture. We need to read the Gospels slowly, read them often, and read them believing. I read years ago in a Eugene Peterson book (from Eat This Book) that we are to read Scripture meditatively. He described this notion with an ancient analogy. He said the idea of meditating on Scripture was liken to a dog gnawing in a bone. If you have ever seen that, the visual image lurches out at you. A dog tirelessly grinds on a bone in a hundred different directions, seeking to mine out every possible prospect of meaty goodness (you gotta think like a dog to really get it – ok, just like me eating a T-bone steak). When was the last time you meditated on Jesus’ life found in the Gospels? There is something captivating and reorienting about Jesus…how he lived, what he said, how he responded, how he showed compassion…
and yes, how he was holy.
Question: Have you ever been injured by Christians (or the church) trying to be "holy?"
Nobody really understands the Holy Spirit. We read about the Spirit's role in scripture, we can recognize overtly supernatural interferences in people's lives, and we get an odd feeling every now and again, which we attribute to the Spirit working through us. One of the quotes that I have clung to in class is that "We are not in the world trying to prove Christianity is true, but we are trying to show the world what it would look like if it was true." What makes Christianity what it is? The Holy Spirit. How would people even know that Christianity was true? If they saw right through people to the Spirit that dwells within them.
The Holy Spirit has many names: Spirit of God (Rom. 8:9), Spirit of the Father (Matt. 10:20), The Spirit of Truth (John 14:17), The Spirit of the Lord (Acts 8:39). But, the Spirit is more than just some supernatural force that floats around inside of people; it works very tangibly in the person of Christ and in people all throughout the world. The point I am trying to make is that the Church has been in a state of disarray basically from its beginning. Even the churches that Paul started had a lot of problems. People try to force their ministries, and they die; they try to evangelize, and it gets awkward; they try to live holy and righteous lives, but they fail, etc. They do this all, oftentimes, without asking help from God Himself, the Spirit, the indwelling Helper. If we try to go at ministry alone, especially a radical new way of ministry, coupling the idea of sodalic and modalic ministry models in churches, we are going to need help. In fact, we are going to need such overwhelming power and strength that WHEN we fall, the Church will keep moving forward to the reconciliation at the end of all things.
This Church body thing that people are inevitably a part of as Christians, whether put together or broken, is the art work of the Spirit of God. He is what empowers, heals, teaches, intercedes, fills, leads, and brings new life. If we try to do ministry without asking, we are going to bleed ourselves dry. We can only run so far without being filled again by the Spirit. If left to our own strength, our bodies would wear and die. But, with God living IN US, we can do ALL things. Ask for the Spirit, trust the Spirit, rely on and rest in the Spirit. Dwell with the King of Kings, and live again.
Debra Hirsch: Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality (Forge Partnership Books)
Not quite done yet, but at this point can confidently say that this book is amazing. So needed in the conversation about sexuality. It is highly recommendable. Well done, Deb! (*****)
Bryan Loritts: Right Color, Wrong Culture: The Type of Leader Your Organization Needs to Become Multiethnic (Leadership Fable)
An interesting book, written as fable, describing the nuances of attempting a multi-ethic church. Once again, I am reading it with a group and have found it insightful. (***)
Walter Brueggemann: The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Edition
I love Brueggemann's thoughts and writing. I read this book years ago and just finished reading it again with my Theo-Reading Group. One of the most helpful books on discerning how the prophetic works both biblically and practically. (*****)
Scot McKnight: Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church
An interesting book that works to restore the beautiful and undeniable connection between the Kingdom of God and the Church. (****)
Christian Wiman: My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
Reading with my group. Amazing insights, mesmerizing writing. (*****)