Monday, June 13, 2005

At the altar of the Culture Current church

Acts 16:1 He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 2 The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Baby Boomers won the Church culture war years ago. Denying it is to blind one self to what our churches have become today.

There was a time in church history not long ago, children, when men wore three-piece suits, hair cuts were fresh, short, and clean-cut, the congregation only sang songs twice as old as your grandparents, and nothing on stage was electric (not even the organ, in many cases). Women wore long, not-so-form-fitting dresses, had long hair respectfully managed, and kept their make-up to a bare minimum. A dress above the knees or a face with too much make-up would've been met with scorn. Woman (or even a teenage girl) wearing pants would've been scandalous. Sermons were delivered with gravity, not with a series of witty anecdotes. The whole service was as sober as a funeral.

Then the hippies came along, with their long hair and bare feet, and "ruined it all." The Church, they said, had become exclusive to bankers and lawyers, but Jesus was for everybody. The Church looked nothing like the communal, come-as-you-are organizations the first Church built, they said. Jesus had long hair and wore sandals -- He looked more like those dirty kids on the street, not the uptight joy-kills inside the church building, they said.

And they were right.

Today, churches from the most reserved evangelical mainline to the most independent charismatic are looking a lot like each other. The sights and sounds of up-to-date culture have been sucked into our methodology. Some pastors go out of their way to look casual, to avoid the perception of self-importance or religiosity. Their sermons are topical and often emphasize the easy things of the Spirit, in contrast to past emphasis to the burdens of the Spirit.

If you come out of one of those old-time churches and are currently a t-shirts-and-shorts wearing church member like me, the notion that church is about God and not about us is a welcome one. Deemphasizing the glorification of appearance, the nature of religious practice, is right down my ally. It's not about us. It's always -- always -- about God. I go to worship to share with others my explicit need to give to God. Most of the time I come away feeling as if I have received something -- such is the loving nature of God to those who choose to worship Him-- but it's always about my giving to God. I don't want anything to take our focus off that.

However, recently I've run into young people who are having a hard time with the heavy emphasis on the casual nature of Church today. They didn't grow up in the stodgy church. Some of them have never entered the door of a church. To them, these non-Christians with a misplaced sense of spirituality, the casual nature of the modern Church is an affront to the seriousness of a faith. Some even question the existence of God, but if there is a God, surely we would take Him with more sobriety than we do.

Now you might be thinking this might be an open door to discuss the loving and good nature of God, that God wants thankful hearts of praises, not the flesh mustered into a fake solemnity. You would be right, too. Those were the pitfalls of the early 20th Century church. On the other hand, I wonder how many of these that are new to the Church might not ever come around because they crave the very serious life-changing aspects of God. Not being sealed with the Spirit, they are looking with their flesh, and we can’t fault a non-Christian for that.

I say all this to more or less repent of my own worship of a false idol called the culture-current Church. There is nothing wrong with being casual. I still strongly advocate deemphasizing things of the flesh. However, when we become proud about casual nature and it becomes an important part of our identity, then we have become just as hypocritical as those we accused of making the Church into something else. We can inadvertently make the Gospel exclusive to those who are only comfortable in the things in which we are comfortable.

Paul was adamantly opposed to the emphasis of circumcision for the new believers, but he was prepared to sacrifice that to advance the Gospel. To Paul, whether you were circumcized or uncircumsized, in which ever condition you came to know Jesus was just fine. Just as Paul circumsized Timothy so the Gospel would be elevated above his own creed, I believe we must be prepared to sacrifice the pride we have in our anti-religiosity so the Gospel rises above the ways in which we prefer to present it. I'm not saying we should all return to the old ways. However, we should not turn into dogma, rather we should better focus on the work we've been called to do.

No comments: