What’s wrong with ‘the’ Church?

messed up churchIf you want to make a lot of money today, write a book about how the Church is messed up. It will sell well outside of the Church but it will sell even better inside of the Church. You could write on how the Church is out of touch culturally, how it is too judgemental, how it is too right wing, or too left wing. You could say how it needs to change it’s theology, or where it meets, or how it needs change it’s worship style. How it is too large, too small, to hyped, too sombre.

 

Everyone has an opinion of how the church should change itself. At some stage into our minds crept the idea that the Church was to be perfect, that those verses in Acts 2:40-42 summarized the norm rather than the ideal.

 

However a careful reading of Matthew 26 shows us that Jesus knew full well that the new people that he was forming, the body that would be known as the Church, would be far from perfect. How it was a reflection of the process of sanctification that individuals were undergoing. That sometimes it would reflect a company of sinners and at other times it would reflect a host of saints.

At the Last Supper, that feast that would be an echo of the Messianic feast that would usher in the Kingdom in its fullness. Jesus let’s us know that the real enemy is not outside of the people of God but that a traitor dwells within. Judas betrayal is proceeded by the Disciples indignation over Jesus seemingly forgetting his social justice responsibilities and instead lauding the woman who worshiped with expensive perfume. Again the seeds of betrayal may have been sown at this point, as human agenda’s even though noble and just begin to compete with Jesus’ own Kingdom viewpoints.

In fact Jesus sobering message to his disciples, the band who will form the apostolic foundation of the Church is that they will all fall. Even Peter the man who more than other in history represents the Church falls and denies who he is meant to be, a follower of Christ. However despite this fall grace abounds, there is a direct link between the fates of Judas and Peter.

Both deny Christ, however Peter, is humbled, he understands that all have fallen short of the Glory of God. This rambunctious, obstinate fisherman, allows himself to be shaped by grace, and out of rock God carves something stunning, a foundation upon which to build his church. In contrast, Judas’ betrayal seems to be founded upon a growing sense of mistrust. Obviously to be chosen as the group’s treasurer he was a man of trust and reliability. How do you go from being a disciple with a privileged position of responsibility to selling Jesus out? Judas’ betrayal appears to be born of a slow growing concern that became indignation that in term became treachery. It seems that Judas measured Jesus’ messianic credentials with his own human measurements rather than with an openness to what God was doing in his midst.

Thus Matthew 26 offers us a theology of the imperfect Church. It prevents us from pointing fingers a ‘the’ church, and instead asks us to prayerfully ask what is wrong with ‘us’ as members of the Church.  Sure we need prophet’s who will call the church to account, but prophet’s messages always first are lived out through their lives. They are born of personal repentance and conviction, the prophets first task is to reform his or herself. (Believe you me I know, and have made this mistake myself countless times.) Matthew 26 reminds us not to make it about ‘them’ but instead to begin with ‘me’.

What the Church can learn from the failed McCain Campaign

ap_john_mccain_070425_msJohn McCain found himself painted into somewhat of a strategic corner during his failed run for the Whitehouse. Due to the record unpopularity of the Bush administration he could not ally himself too closely with his own party. Therefore he portrayed himself as a Maverick who had bucked up against his own party on numerous occasions. However this created a dilemma, that is a line of logic that goes like this,

A) I hear you and understand that you have a negative opinion of the Republican party

B) I am a Maverick not at all like your typical Republican, often I have opposed my own party 

C) Therefore this election make sure you vote Republican

Yes it is overly simplistic and no metaphor bears too close an examination, and this post is not at all a political comment, but I am sure you get my point. By positioning himself against his own party, he was almost convincing people not to vote for himself.

Let’s look at another similar example. In their book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR Al and Laura Ries, point out that a companies need to be extremely careful in trying to communicate to the public that they are rectifying past wrong doings. For example would you book a flight on with an airline who’s slogan was,

“Sayers’ Airlines: We no longer crash!”

Even though Sayers Airlines may now have a perfect flying record, just their admission that they once crashed places a seed of doubt in your minds. Even this slogan would probably put you off.

“Sayers’ Airlines: Unlike the others we don’t crash!”

Why? Because when you are advertising air travel, even if you have a perfect record of never crashing, you should never utter the ‘c’ word.

The church finds itself in a very similar position to John McCain, we know that the wider culture does not view the church in a favourable light. Therefore all kinds of churches from new pentecostal, to emerging, to missional, to mega all position themselves as ‘maverick’ compared to what has gone before, we say to unchurched people “come to our church because we are not like typical church”. But when we adopt this point, we find ourselves in a tricky place, we position ourselves against other forms of church, and promote an alternative form of church. This position is tricky because it assumes that the unchurched person will have enough of a sophisticated understanding as to be able to differentiate between differing church styles. We are faced with a dilemma of understanding that we need renewal but also of encouraging others who look on what we are doing with skepticism to join us.

So how do we get out of this conundrum? Well I am not going to even begin to pretend that I have all the answers. But I do believe there is a clue in the story of Pentecost. Up till that point in the story, Israel had been called to operate as something of a lighthouse, that their holiness would shine out to the surrounding nations and that people would be drawn in. Often we see the New Testament as a reversal of this trend, that the people of God are called to ‘Go outward” (To be really technical we are talking about Centrifugal and Centripetal forces).

However the force that is created by Pentecost is more akin to an explosion that goes indiscriminately in every direction. Not only does the Holy Spirit push the church outward, it also renewed and refreshed a depleted band of believers. The Church is moved from being a small collection of followers to a vital and global movement. Thus it is not a new management theory, a new theology, or a new communication tool that manages to both renew and ‘send out’ the people of God, but rather it is a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The missional context we find ourselves in

We find ourselves as the church in the developed world in a strange position. I have heard others say and have said myself often that the church has returned to the place that it found itself in the book of Acts. We are in a missional situation. With the influence of Christendom fading, we find ourselves confronted with a pluralistic missionfield. We are forced to reconfigure ourselves to reach this new reality.

However there are many ways in which our situation is different to the book of Acts. The church in Acts was energised. It was filled with Jewish beleivers, who were motivated and excited by their discovery of the Messiah. Gentile believers were turning to faith as the Roman world began to collapse. Thus the gospel was moved forward on a fresh wave of excitement. We face a different situation, whilst our missional situation is something akin to the book of Acts. When it comes to the reality within the church we find our situation something more like the book of Hosea. In the time of Hosea, the people of God found themselves compromised by their worship of both God and the gods and Idols of the surrounding nations. So it is the same with us today. When we look inside the church we find the people of God struggling to live holy lives as they encounter a whole gamut of new idols, that is new gods who go by modern names, materialism, consumerism, technology, image and security. Although these gods seem new, the corrosive effect that they have on faith is the same as the ancient idols of Baal and Moloch.

So to position ourselves as the church, we must confront both realities, if we are to be missionaly effective we must also take note of our cultural captivity.

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The Church and Postmodernism? What about the Church and Modernism?

Like 200,000 other Melbournians I visited the art Deco exhibition at the NGV. Art Deco was an early 20th century movement which influenced art, industrial and interior design, architecture, film and fashion. In many ways Deco was a decorative reaction to the pure functionalism of modernism. 

The exhibition at the NGV was not so much an exploration of Art Deco in of itself but also of the macro themes of progressive culture in the 20′ & 30’s namely,

  • The Emergence of Urban Culture
  • A growing interest in non-European culture and art
  • The cultural fusion brought about by increased international migration and travel
  • The growth of consumer and commerciall culture
  • A fascination and optimism in the potential of technology
  • An increased emphasis on surface and style
  • The growing influence of mass media on public opinion
  • The influence of non-traditional and thus controversial music styles such as Jazz
  • The almost semi-religious devotion to the celebrity and glamour culture of Hollywood
  • A changing view of sexuality and gender eg flapper culture

mmmm sound familiar? It is interesting to note that many of the issues that we ascribe to our epoch in history have a much longer history than we think. Often in church circles there is a belief that society was chugging along quite nicely until sometime in the 60’s to 80’s then culture changed and postmodernity turned up and now we have to evolve in order to to respond to a changed cultural landscape. That we are in the midst of a hyper paced cultural change, this is true to an extent; however the more I read history the more I believe that we have been in a slow change that has been evolving over several centuries and the church has been struggling to deal and respond to this change for just as long. There has been much written about how the church can respond to postmodernism, but as we study history we realize that the church is still reeling and struggling to respond to modernism.

Church and High Oil Prices

How we worship has always been shaped by the way we live and the way we travel. The agricultural economies of the middle ages created the parish church, in which most people travelled to worship on foot.

The industrial revolution moved people to the city and saw the rise of public transport this created urban churches, in which large congregations grew in high density cities where people could either walk or catch public transport to church. Many of these churches began to suffer as the age of cheap oil and the rise of the motor car saw people leave cities for the suburbs. These factors created larger suburban churches and also influenced the church growth movement. Read More

Where are all the men?

As I travel around speaking about faith and popular culture. I often find myself cornered after my sessions by small groups of frustrated young women in their twenties. The women want me to explain to them why young men seem to be dropping off the church radar. They are very often quite passionate in their belief that there are no ‘eligible’ men around. The women who have managed to snare a partner often struggle to understand or communicate with their male companions.

Firstly a couple of things need to be noted. Male participation in the church in the West is on a massive decline. The second thing to remember is that this opinion from women that men are ‘dropping of the radar’ is not just held by women inside the church. I recently watched an interview with a demographics expert who discovered that this is one of the main questions that women are asking about our culture. It seems that we are in a crisis of masculinity.

For me this is a huge issue to which little time and effort has been given. However some clues can be found in the various models of masculinity that are communicated to young men through the new media environment. Here some of the main models that I have observed of heterosexual masculinity that young men are being exposed to and imitating at the moment. You have heard of metrosexuals; now meet some of the other models of masculinity that young men are being exposed to.

RAGEASEXUALS
Rageasexuals are a group of young males who can be defined by a sense of disconnection and rage that they feel about their place in society. The feel powerless as males and thus find it necessary to participate in activities and interests which communicate a raw sense of rage and discontent. Often these young men can be found in economically marginalized areas. The music industry has recognized the massive audience of retrosexuals and heavily market metal and hardcore rap to this market. Social status and meaning for the Rageasexuals comes from their ability to emphasize to others through their clothes, consumer choices and behavior their role as outsiders.

HYPERSEXUALS
This group has come of age during a hyper proliferation of pornography in our society. From the non stop rotation of ‘booty’ music videos on MTV, to the rise of post-feminist backlash mags like FHM, to the domination of graphic sexual imagery on the internet. For this group life is a sexual supermarket, women are products who offer the consumer hedonistic experiences. The Hypersexual’s hero’s are Hugh Hefner founder of playboy magazine and musicians such as snoop doggy dog, who’s videos are filled with semi-naked girls dancing and drug consumption, despite the fact that in real life Snoop is a tee-totaling little league football coach, happily married with children. For the Hypersexual the hyperreal sex of porn videos is normal, girls who don’t act like pornstars are strange and your social standing is based on your level of sexual conquest. For the Hypersexual, commitment to a partner is no longer a necessary part of human life when sex is available free of responsibility.

RISKASEXUALS
The Riskasexual has abandoned any sense of common sense and maturity to pursue a life of reckless abandon and risky, dangerous behavior. The MTV series Jackass portrays the Riskasexual subculture par excellence. In a youth culture which places huge importance on experience and shock, the Riskasexual seeks activities which combine both, giving the participant an adrenaline rush. Injuries become proud battle scars, and the video camera becomes the method of recording for posterity dangerous stunts. It is interesting that in the MTV promotional advertisement for Jackass that MTV picked the Trent Reznor penned tune ‘Hurt’ performed by Johnny Cash which says ‘I hurt myself today to see if I still feel, I focus on the pain the only thing that’s real’ . In the subjective world of postmodernity where truth is relative, the Riskasexual finds meaning in the primacy of sensation and experience. The dark side of the Riskasexual phenomenon that Jackass and the world of extreme sports does not show is the sheer volume of young men killed by risky behaviors such as driving at high speeds, drug use and suicide.

EMOSEXUALS

The Emosexual is a young man who has come of age in a post-Spice Girl’s age of ‘girl power’ where many girls have learnt to use their sexuality as a form of sexual power and quite often take the role of sexual aggressor. This trend can be observed by Gen Y films ‘Garden State’ and ‘Elizabethtown’ where the plot centers around a depressed, emotionally disconnected male lead character who’s life is transformed by a emotionally strong, spontaneous and life embracing female. Thus the female for the Emosexual is not an object of sexual desire but rather represents a way of recovering from depression and becoming emotionally whole. In contrast to the voracious sexual desire of the Hypersexual the Emosexual is almost asexual. The spiritual grandfather of the Emosexuals is former Smiths lead singer and celibate Morrissey who’s melancholic songs of male shyness and emotional brokenness paved the way for the posturing of many of today’s Indie and Emo frontmen.

TECHNOSEXUALS
The Technosexual is a young man who has a passion for technology (particularly computers) and devotion for various fantasy and sci-fi subcultures. For many young men who find themselves powerless in a changing sexual and social landscape, computers and fantasy worlds become something that is controllable and a form of escapism. It is natural that the Technosexual has arisen as technology has become an all pervasive medium in human sexuality as text message flirting, DVD and internet porn, chat lines and internet dating are become the medium in which many people live out their sexuality.
Sadly many resources for Christians around the issue of masculinity represent a past model of masculinity that has passed. The stereotype of the strong, impassable John Wayne male that many Christian books deal with is a rarity amongst Young men. We need desperately young male leaders to explore what a balanced, redeemed model of masculinity looks like.
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