Monday, September 17, 2007

Now's Your Chance; Take a Swing

It is almost trendy these days to take a jab at the church. Floods of books have come out from gentle restoratives to outright polemics. Some regularly take her to task on public blogs while others just give her a good pop when no one is looking. Regardless, it is undeniable that there is a generation of disgruntled, dissilusioned followers who feel like the church could be doing a lot better job fulfilling its divine roles. If you are dissatisfied with the church in any way, I want to give you a voice.

I am working on an article for RELEVANT called "The Battered Bride." It is going to address all the charges that our generation is bringing against the church. For those of you who think the church has broken down, this is your chance to play the mechanic and diagnose the problem (minus all the fabricated stuff you'd trick old people into thinking is wrong if you really were a mechanic). If you feel like the church has let you down or somehow hasn't met your expectations, now is your chance to vent. Leave me a detailed explanation of your feelings, longings, opinions.

Do you feel like the church is Christlike?

Is the church greedy?

Is the church too political?

Does the church really care about the needy and the helpless?

Do you ever feel like other people of other faiths unknowingly and more accurately display a Christlike lifestyle?

Can the church be redeemed? What must be done?

5 comments:

Tyler said...

You bring up some good points Jonathan. I would first like to say that if it seems like a bunch of people are taking ‘swings’ at the church this isn’t a new phenomena. Ever since the inception of the church people have been trying to undermine its position, authority, and place in this world. However, I would say that there is definitely a generation of disgruntled ‘church-goers.’ I think the last time that the church as a whole has come under so much scrutiny was during the time of the Protestant reformation.

We live in a time of greedy and fake television evangelists, perverted and promiscuous priests, and a divided church. There is no such thing as “one bride of Christ.” Christ seems to be married to many brides. Just inside of the United States there are more than 1500 different faith groups professing many diverse and conflicting beliefs. It would be an understatement to say that Christianity is a severely divided faith.

With that said, there is no one ‘true’ church telling us what is right or wrong. If we don't like what one church says, we can just move on to the next one until we find one that ‘works’ for us. How is this what Christ charged the disciples with? Furthermore, if you take a look at Acts (the book that outlines for us how the church is supposed to look like) we see that today’s modern mega-churches fail to even come close to what it was supposed to be. The first church was actually more of a socialist entity – with everyone giving everything they had to the church and the church redistributing the wealth as needed. Ananias and Sapphira were actually killed for lying about how much they gave to the church. Where is the personal touch? Churches are too big today. They entertain us with electric guitars and a ‘rock’ band reminiscent of a 70’s concert. Big screen displays tell us what words to sing and what to think. This is not like the little home churches that only sought to proclaim the word of Christ to a dying world and use their resources to help the poor, the sick, and the widowed.

The church isn’t what Christ intended, it is a big business. Just a few weeks ago I went into one of these mega churches. They were selling coffee, What Would Jesus Do bracelets, books, tapes, CDs, and an assortment of magnets, pens, and other little Christian knick knacks. How is this any different than when Jesus destroyed the merchants tables outside of the synagogue (His Father’s House)? Then we give our 10% tithe to the church, who instead of helping the poor, the sick, and the widowed, pays off the light bill, the water bill, the stereo equipment, the mortgage on the huge sanctuary, the property taxes, and the pastoral staff. Maybe a portion of money goes to those who need money, but not enough. There are people who literally do not have food on their tables or houses in which to live, yet the church doesn't have enough money to help them – we are too busy on our own capital campaigns and buying expensive displays in order to attract a more affluent crowd in order to raise the bottom line.

There is a Hindu temple being constructed down the road from my house, in fact, it is the second biggest Hindu temple in the world. While it is extremely extravagant, the members of its church are some of the kindest and most giving people I know. Their steadfast devotion to their gods is impressive. Due to parking issues, many of its members walk 4 or 5 miles on non-sidewalked paths in the oppressive Georgia heat. They take care of their community – if one of them is sick or injured, people from their congregation will go and take care of that member until they are better again. They look out for one another and seem to know everyone, even though they have a very large congregation. I would be hard pressed to know of anyone’s issues in my church – let alone where people live or work. The bottom line is that the church exists to give us a social outlet where we can meet ‘like minded’ people, make us feel better about ourselves, give some money (make us feel like we have completed our Christian duties), and walk away feeling warm and fuzzy. It does not solely exist to glorify Jesus Christ or to help those in need and proclaim his name to all of the world. There may be a few exceptions to this, but in my opinion, this is the norm in American society.

I think there might be a solution to this crisis in the American church, but it will not be easy to complete. In fact, I believe that it will continue to worsen until the return of Christ.

Anonymous said...

email me John. matt@fellowshipraleigh.org... check your comment from "The Well Seminoles Post"...I tried to post on there- hope it worked.

holla back, like to meet ya if you split time in raleigh.

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

As Stephen Colbert says, "OK, I'll bite."

To start, I have some disagreement with the angle from which you're approaching this issue. People have and always will be let down by churches that don't meet their expectations, because everyone is looking for the perfect church, and it has never existed. Even the New Testament churches, whose congregants sat for hours in the Mediterranean heat to worship had to be consistently admonished by the apostle Paul in his letters. Every member of every church knows how to run it better than the pastor and his (or her) staff.

One thing fueling the fire is a common misconception. "The church" isn't a church at all, in the modern sense of the word. The church is God's people. It is not confined to a building, a political ideology or a denominational label.

The church isn't just Christlike, it is the body and the bride of Christ. There will always be hypocrisy and antipathy in the church, but hypocrites are not a microcosm of the Church. Christians who are constantly trying to draw near to God will almost always be Christlike. The Bible even tells us that we can know them by their fruit. But just because you go to a certain building for the first time and no one talks to you, or you see a guy at the football game holding a "God hates Fags" sign, or an abortion clinic is blown up, don't blame that on the church itself.

Is the church too political? Maybe some churches are. But many people don't realize that it's OK for the church to be political--just not partisan. Sometimes, churches need to be a catalyst to change the world around them. The church has played an important and appropriate role in politics throughout the last century, including advocating civil rights in the 1960's.

People are always blaming the church for being hypocritical and unwelcoming, but many times this is just out of the convenience of being able to justify sleeping in every Sunday so you can cut the grass and watch the NFL, and never bother to find a place of ministry, give a tithe, or grow in your relationship to God, if there even is one.

That's the problem with this post. You will find everyone all too willing to blame the church for everything when in reality, it's often the "Christians" who are complaining that are part of the problem. It's like the signs that you see on the backs of commercial trucks that say "How's My Driving?" No one ever calls with a good compliment--only when there's a complaint.

I could go on forever, but I'll stop now because I have studying to do and I'm sure no one is still reading this...

Jonathan Merritt said...

Tyler-

These are some very good comments, but there is almost too much to respond to. I find some serious problems with much of what you say, but I appreciate your candor on a serious issue.

James-

Some great thoughts. I do disagree with you on at least two points. First, you said "The church isn't a church at all, at least not in the modern sense of the word." What I think you are saying is that the church is primarily the universal, invisible church. This is actually a common misconception. The word for church in the NT, ekklesia, is found 114 times. At least 90 of those times it refers to an actual "local assembly of believers." The church, though not a building with a steeple, is a local assembly. The church is both a visible, particular body and an invisible, universal body.

Also, you say "people have and always been let down by churches." While this is true, we must understand that the church is failing in many ways (See Breaking the Missional code by Stetzer) and the radical reaction to it by its own members is quite an anomaly. Book publishers are releasing handfuls of books airing indictments against the church at large. In fact, Barna Research recently reported that barely more than 15% of young adults have a positive view of evangelical Christianity. That is shocking!

This is a serious movement that we must address.

Regarding the rest of your comments: spot on!

Blessings,

Jm