Church, and church, and church again


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.

–Ravi Zacharias

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.

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5 thoughts on “Church, and church, and church again”

  1. Christianity is not a relationship. It’s a life style: being Christ like. That is what the word means. I think because people feel it’s a relationship, it has caused all this unthinking, touchy, feelly, fluff teaching which has lead to the state of where we are now and how outsiders see us. The people of the Church need to take a closer look at the Bible and study it. Then things will change and the others will probably respect us more.

    God and the Bible are completely logical. It makes me wonder when somebody who calls themselves a Christian can’t agree with that.

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  2. Some really good thoughts. There is definitely a need to grow and think through our faith. I think that is part of the meaning of “working out your salvation with fear and trembling.” I think what you are hitting on is the shallowness of modern evangelical American christianity. If something, some idea, some person does not fit in the narrative of MEAC, then there must be something wrong with that thing, idea, or person. When I look back at my own church youth group and conference experiences I can recognize the immaturity and even manipulation of those events. Those events promote shallowness and things that fit nicely into the MEAC. Then life happens and of course most things of life don’t fit into that narrative. That just pushes us more into really understanding who Christ is, what He came to do, and what his grace really means. And as we grow, we really understand what worship is, and how it is lived out. Worship is not about music and music style, although I love all that and is something I do appreciate about my youth group experiences, but we see how worshipping God is really a vital part of our sustaining relationship with Christ. Good thoughts and may we all grow deeper and encourage others to grow deeper in their faith and maturity in Christ, and gratitude for the Cross. No matter where you are or what age you live in, love and grace are always relevant.

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  3. Well thought out post, but I would disagree with you in a number of ways. You assume Christianity is about intelligence, knowledge or relevance. Although these are part of the Christian experience, this is not what Christianity is about. Jesus said that he came to have relationship, not intelligent discourse.

    As humans, we have a natural tendency to become dogmatic. This is the way Christianity must be interpreted. After a while, those interpretations become the defining factor in our religion (or at least the denomination). So much of what I learned about Christianity in my early years (don’t covet, don’t have sex outside of marriage, etc) were laws; a way of acting. I was even told to ‘guard my thoughts’ because if I sin in my heart it’s like doing it in real life. I was never really told WHY I shouldn’t

    So, I spent many years trying to understand the WHY. WHY am I not able to have sex with anything I want? Who does it harm? Me? Them? The neighbors ass? Am I risking contracting a disease so God doesn’t want me having sex so that I can stay safe? Is AIDS a judgment from God? (if you believe that God wants us to stay true to our spouses as a way to avoid STDs, then having AIDS be a judgment from God really isn’t that big of a stretch, is it?)

    What I didn’t understand until recently is that all of this questioning was that I was trying to understand the logic behind the rules. This may not be bad, but it misses the point. Christianity is not a bunch of rules, but a relationship. I realize that this mantra has become an empty platitude, but it is true. I also realized that Christianity is not logical. Can you tell me that your relationship with your wife is logical all the time? Is a relationship with ANY person logical all he time? I think not.

    Yes, God is not a person, but God also did not develop the rules of logic. Man did. God is notorious for not bending to ANY system set up by men…that includes logic. We can use logic to try to make sense of Him for parts, but I tire of people telling me that God is completely logical. He is only logical if you base the system of logic on the Bible (which I do NOT propose doing). There are inconsistencies in the Bible. I get that. Those that try to explain them away using logic are fools. We don’t understand it. We are humans. We can guess at it, but that’s it. I liken the people that try to explain away every inconsistency with the group that tries to give dates for Christ’s return. Fools. We know He’s coming back, we know God does not have inconsistencies, we just don’t understand how those statements are true. I’ll ask Him when I get upstairs…

    And that is the crux of my argument. Christ himself said that to ‘get upstairs’ you must have a relationship with him. Not a logical framework of rules or behaviors. To facilitate that in the 21st century postmodern world, the church must become what is necessary to facilitate relationships with Christ. Fortunately, that means less teaching about rules and behavior and more focus on the emotional portions of the relationship, which would include worship. We are also supposed to be the arms and feet of Jesus, serving this planet with love and charity, but that would be another response…

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  4. I have only recently come to some of these same conclusions. Why is the church do hell-bent on making everyone the same? Why so unable to truly love people where they are? Why are real, clarifying questions about the Bible not encouraged? I want a genuine faith.

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