Tuesday, September 25, 2007
(HT to BHT)
I find it funny (ironic) that it sometimes takes a person outside of the mainstream of Christianity to see what most people within the mainstream are blind too.
There's a lot of talk these days about the Emergent Church (as a denomination) and the emerging church (as a movement). It seems every generation wants to make church palatable to their peers. For me, in the 80's, it was letting guitars and drums in the church. Since that wasn't going to happen at my Baptist church, we snuck off to Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa where Chuck Smith understood that the medium wasn't the message. And Chuck's message was Christ and the scriptures. Or we hit Harvest in Riverside where the worship team included a Brit who could burn the blues along with a sax player that wailed. Again, Greg's message was Christ and the scriptures. (This is not saying other churches were not doing this, I'm using both of those as examples.)
In the late 80's into the early 90's, we were "seeker sensitive". We were mega-churching like there was no tomorrow. We had to have a "purpose driven church" and the Saddleback model was the in thing. The church provided a "christian" place to hang. Coffee shop, workout gym, daycare, Friday night get-togethers, Saturday services, Sunday services, rock concerts, care groups, small groups, you name it, you could find it at your local mega-church. And the message was the medium was the message. The style of church was what was important more than the content of the teaching. And the teaching couldn't be overly disturbing because after-all, I've brought my unsaved friend here so the wonderful and witty Pastor can save his soul.
Now we are emerging. We are having an "experience" with Jesus within our "community". We are in the middle of a "conversation" where we can lecture God, question God, and derive our own comfortable answers because we have "freedom in Christ". Again, it becomes about imagery and content; candles and multi-media, gatherings and contemplation. Again, we bring our unsaved friends to this "cool" church and let the "Creative Visionary" (read Pastor) who won't call himself a Christian because of the baggage that word carries but instead he's a "Follower of Christ". "Cool" says the unsaved friend. "I feel wanted here. Nothing is uncomfortable. I've found a spirituality that, if I didn't know better, was just like what I find at my local Starbucks."
Tom Waits, ironically, satircally, calls it a "candy shop" for people who don't want to go to church on Sunday morning. They find their "chocolate Jesus" and He's just alright for them. Soft, creamy, chewy, mouth-watering, sweet, delicious, non-bitter; the perfect taste for the weary, searching soul.
I'm 42. I grew up in church; specifically a Baptist church. I've watched these new iterations of church come along. I used to laugh at my elders who were skeptical of these new ways of doing church. Now I think they knew something I didn't know in my youth. I think it's something that only comes with age and experience. And I think I have figured something out.
Church isn't necessarily for the unsaved. Church isn't the "saving station". It's not a place for you to bring your unsaved friends for the sole purpose of having the Pastor win their souls for Christ. I think church's primary goal is to provide an temporary place of rest for the saved. It's a place for the saved to learn and grow in the scriptures. A place to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" so that when you leave you are better equipped to be a Christian in the big, bad world around you. What style it takes is secondary. If candles do it for you, great. Light em up. If songs written before 1995 are forbidden, fine. But remember it's not the songs or the candles or the pictures on the walls or the coffee shop or the book store or the multi-media but the content of what's being preached that is important. If all you get is a good-time, rock-and-roll, happy-clappy 2 hour joy ride then you've missed the point. If you're not being fed the Word, good, bad and ugly, then you're wasting your time. Go to a night club. Go to open mic night at the local coffee house.
I see modern, emerging, seeker, purpose-driven churches like this:
You see a door. It opens into a great, big room with lots of cool, flashy stuff. Beyond it is another door and behind that door is another room, not quite as big but it's for those who have progressed to the point where they've decided this is a place I could belong. It is in this room that they find very few threatening things. Nothing ever gets very uncomfortable during the conversation and this is where most people seeking a deeper spiritual side to their lives will reside. But beyond this room is another door. It leads to a smaller room still. It's not as flashy, not as comfortable. As a matter of fact, it's quite gritty. It's real life. Non candy-coated. It's where Jesus resides. Only a few of us go into that room. Some of us bounce back and forth between the 2nd and 3rd rooms. But those who go into that room discover something that those who don't enter miss. A realization that a chocolate Jesus eventually melts when things get hot. The real Jesus doesn't.