The problem with America is not America; it’s the Church. We have become very shallow as Christians. We have become masters of engineering feelings without much thought. There’s very little thinking that goes on in Church. We repeat things, parrot things. We have not thought our faith through. We have not listened to others and what our questions are. Our answers are very shallow.
In order to become seeker friendly, we have become message unfriendly. we have no real depth in what we are trying to teach and speak. Life has got its jagged edges against us and we’re giving simplistic answers. Somewhere we fell into the trap of believing that music is everything, forgetting that there is only one thing, and that teaching and ideas are important. And an expenditure of words without an income of ideas will lead to conceptual bankruptcy. And until the church wakes up to what our message is, and thinks deeply about these things, we will slip deeper and deeper into parroting phrases that have very little difference in our lifestyles.
I was recently listening to a lecture by Ravi Zacharias on YouTube and a young man asked him to describe the major obstacles facing the Church in the United States today. He impressed me enough that I typed out the entire ninety seconds of this speech for you to read here. It touches on a number of points I’ve raised in my blog over the last few months.
I know some of my readers would say “The problem with the Church today is the fact Christian church even exists in this 21st century age of postmodernism.” I’d like for a moment to ask you to bear with me: the argument is specious and I don’t see the Church going away without a violent pogrom of a vast scale. I’m all too aware of the problems the Church has inflicted on people in the name of God, or Christ, and even though we’re not exempt from that sort of violent critique, it’s not what I want to focus on. Let’s face it: in my lifetime, and presumably in yours as well, the Church is here, like it or not. If we allow for its very existence, let’s move forward and point out its problems.
Anyhow: back to Zacharias’ answer: where does the Church fit, within a 21st century rubric? Where do I fit? and my children? We don’t talk much about religion in our home. I’d hate to say it but I agree with the atheists on this one folks: people can lead a moral life without pointing to God as their life’s moral center. I know that will raise hackles, but I’ve seen it over and over again: the things we are taught in Sunday school–Don’t steal. Be nice to your folks. Don’t covet his covet your neighbor’s wife. Or his house. Or his field. Or his servants. or his livestock. Don’t have sex with anything on that list either. This is normal stuff. They are the means by which we live in normal society. Christianity likes to talk of a “deeper” morality because of the God commandments: “Love your Lord your God. Don’t make idols. Don’t use God’s name in vain.” and so on.
Just an aside, about the ten commandments: the thing I find fascinating is the Sabbath commandment: We all know, living in Christian culture the way we do, there are 10 commandments, right? They are expounded in the Book of Exodus, and again in the Book of Deuteronomy. Right in the middle of the list sits the transcendence between the God rules and the People rules. The author of the Commandments spends FOUR verses (almost 1/4 of the entire text) telling us to, for Christ’s sake, take a day off once a week.
Back to my point though. We know these intuitively: this is how we live inside a culture. You know: the ones where we don’t steal, and be nice to people, and don’t go all horny after your neighbor’s ass. This isn’t a Christian monopoly by any means. So, if this is what we are teaching our kids in Sunday school, until they are eighteen years old, what is left? We hand them a Bible and say “This book here? This is God’s word. It’s Inerrant [externally coherent, i.e., all the science, all the dates, all the archaeology, etc., stands up to scrutiny]. It’s Infallible [the message is *internally* coherent, making every word is God-inspired]. Now–your mission, should you choose to accept it (and if you don’t accept, you’re going to Hell): don’t have sex until you’re married, and go out into the world and tell everyone else this message!” Think about it. I’m being a bit sarcastic, but it’s what the Church is telling our kids. We are saying that, on precious little instruction, we should give our kids this 2,000 year old book and make the most important decisions of your life.
When I was thirteen I met Kenneth Copeland at a Youth Convention. He was your standard Lubbock, Texas preacher-evangelist with a nice suit, and hair that doesn’t move, and who, if you sat in the first three pews, would baptize you with his preachin’ spittle. [A brief aside: Kenneth Copeland and Buddy Holly were both born in Lubbock in 1936. Copeland had a top-40 hit before he got saved. Wouldn’t be surprised if they were friends, or at least, knew one another]. I was a tall, skinny young man, desperately trying to make sense of this Bible of ours. The convention was a three-day affair up in Salem or Albany, Oregon and each evening, hundreds of kids would rush to the altars, crying after Rev. Copeland’s services. My struggles weren’t the altar-type ones though. I read this Bible, this supposed “guidebook”, and saw contradictions, and people in my church just told me, essentially, to ignore the problems and maybe they’d go away.
So one night, I hitched up my big boy underwear, and asked Brother Copeland: “In the book of Proverbs, it says:
There are three things that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing: a lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing; a strutting rooster, a he-goat, and a king secure against revolt.
How can the Bible say there are THREE things, then, only one comma later, say there are FOUR things? Is the writer making a mistake?” The correct answer, I learned years later in Bible College, is that it’s a poetic device: just like we would say “The fisherman was a rock.” He wasn’t literally a statue sitting in his rowboat. Nobody’s trying to fool anyone, or to lie; nobody’s made a mistake. It’s just a way we westerners speak metaphorically. Same with the ancient semitic cultures: they liked parallelism (They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.) and they liked the fancier “X, X+1” formula. But Brother Copeland glared at me, and sent me, tail between my legs, to pray about it some more. He was selling records. I was obviously a skinny teen atheistic nuisance.
This is becoming a long post. What I want to say, though, is that if I couldn’t get an answer like this about the Bible, from a person who’s been in the ministry for dozens of years, and was a personal assistant to Oral Roberts, how could I possibly expect anyone else to glean higher truth, or any at all, when faced with the dozens, if not hundreds, of internal inconsistencies, textual errors, challenges to science and archaeology? I shouldn’t have to go to a Bible college to learn even the most basic facts about the Bible.
I agree with Zacharias. We are shallow: maybe necessarily so, sometimes. We don’t like to answer the questions dealing with pain because pain bothers us. It isn’t comfortable. It’s easier to sit and worship than it is to really struggle with questions. Why did the 2011 earthquakes and tsunami happen in Japan if God is truly good? How could the Holocaust happen if there is a just God? Why do we Christians fight wars? Our Church has become so ineffective at answering these questions, so caught up in our feelgood worship sessions, where “God really moved us in worship today”, that we’ve forgotten the real point of our Christianity. Where are we relevant?
I have little hope that my alma mater will be teaching a new class of young ministers next Fall. Financial instability, I think, finally did them in. But maybe it’s a symptom, rather than the disease itself. If you’re a Christian, I hope this long post has challenged you to think about the place of the Church in a modern world. If you’re not, I hope it’s momentarily restrained you from tossing out the whole religion based on our stupid ego-filling worship, and incessant struggles over orthodoxy. Maybe we still have relevance today. Just maybe.