You don’t seriously think…”man’s rules” matter, do you?

“You don’t seriously think…” is a format for responding to reader’s questions in more depth.

All traditions are not created equal.

All traditions are not created equal.

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002Greg, responded to this week’s “Why I dropped church” post on his blog thependulumeffect. He writes:

I AM a traditionalist…I traditionally believe that we should love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength…we give Him our lives in faith. THAT is tradition. The rest is just man’s rules…Jesus…teachings are devoid of anything dictating whether or not we have stained glass windows, acolytes, liturgies, music, organs, guitars, pews, coffee, candles, multimedia and light shows, or even church buildings…Christians should test everything we believe and practice against Christ’s teachings. If anything doesn’t pass the test, do we have the courage to abandon such beliefs?

Hello Greg,

Thank you for responding to my post in your blog. It is a great complement when others write to you, even more when they blog in response to your ideas. The simple answer is: “No and Yes.”

I  am right there with you, Greg, when you say that the main thing is to “love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.” However, faith as the main thing was not in question in my post. It was assumed. My purpose was the search for a deeper discipleship.

All Traditions are NOT created equal

Your argument, in essence, is: Since faith is what matters, traditions do not. From your list of “traditions,” you appear to mean “practices in historic worship.” I am curious as to why you view those as categorically opposed to faith? Traditions might be irrelevant. However, “traditions” that teach faith, shape faith, and form faith matter specifically because of what they accomplish: the building of faith. To say anything else is to say that the actions of a Christian DON’T matter, something I am pretty sure you would not say.

Any faith practice can be perverted, subverted and elevated beyond recognition. They can distract or bury the Gospel…this is true of modern “traditions” as well as ancient ones. “Traditions” can also be used as they were intended – to cause a greater surrender to Jesus, a growth in grace and mercy and as deep discipleship to send Christians into a lost world to bring the Good News of Jesus.

The “Rules of Men”?

There is a big difference between “the rules of men” (rabbinical teachings added to the Law), and “the practices of Christians in worship.” Let me use one of your examples: acolytes. I have never met anyone who would say that an acolyte is a worship necessity. However, many would say that the procession in which acolytes march is edifying: The Cross of Jesus is brought into the place of worship, reenacting the consecration of pagan Roman sites for the worship of the Lord, Jesus Christ. It is the reclamation of Roman processions in which Christians, forced to bow before the emperor when he came through town, were now able to bow before the emblem of the real King who had come to establish God’s new Kingdom. That is a “tradition” about a new citizenship in a new Kingdom-one for the benefit of “men” but most definitely not about “men.”

In thegospelside I try to get people to question uncritically held assumptions about the way we do things and where they lead…the backsides of every coin. Everyone can see the downsides of dead tradition. Although we are beginning to see a change, people are still embracing unquestioned mega-multisite-evangelical virtual-popery.

Preferences. Schmeferences.

I do not write about preferring one style over another. I point out two essentially different visions for Sunday worship: One is worship as “an experience for the unchurched.” In this model, the Sunday worship “environment,” is “church for people who don’t like church,” as Andy Stanley and North Point Church articulate quite compellingly. In the relevant model the Christian exists as an “inviter” for the high-horsepower preacher and the sanctuary exists to evangelize the lost. In the ancient model, church was to “equip the saints for the work of service,” to quote Paul in Ephesians 4, in order that individuals would each go to the world to evangelize it. The relevant model utilizes the gifts of the gifted to accomplish what the gifts can accomplish. My assertion is that use of gifts in the sanctuary to do the ministry rather than to equip others to do it is a new “tradition,” one divorced from 2000 years of Christian tradition…and one that will not help us in the long run.

Historic Christian worship was to accomplish the purposes of building faith and equipping the believer through things such as having us kneel before our Savior in the public confession of our sins…come to the Lord’s table with outstretched hands to receive rather than “take communion.” Humans take nothing in grace. It is all receiving. In The Church of the Great Tradition one bows before the cross and at Jesus’ name, not out of legalism or tradition, but out of a reminder that there is a Lord, and he is not me.

Greg you asked: “Christians should test everything we believe and practice against Christ’s teachings. If anything doesn’t pass the test, do we have the courage to abandon such beliefs?” I ask you the question back. How much of what your church does on Sunday is in Scripture? The worship pattern of popular evangelical Christianity is bound by song and sermon. The pattern of the early church was Scripture and Supper-based on synagogue and Temple. Those elements were narrative based, and symbol rich. They had a purpose, purposes we lose if we subtract the symbols and narratives.

So, Greg, I thank you for reading and also for keeping the main thing the main thing. That does not mean, however, that all roads to the main thing are equally biblical or equally formative in their effect. And that was my point.

*Greg has an interesting and well-written blog: thependulumeffect

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Why I dropped church and joined The Church

A German Mass during WWII

A German Mass during WWII

Snark MeterrealMID.003I came of age outside of the faith. At eighteen God found me. From that day forward, and with a love that was not my own, I have not been able to help but love Jesus back and work for the welfare of others with the overflow of that love. Yet, even with all that love, I am sorry to say, I did not love church. Oh, I liked the idea of church. I liked lots of people at church. I just didn’t like church.

At least not until I discovered the Church: The Church historic. In the Church historic; orthodox, catholic and reformed, I found something larger than I.

I came to value Christ’s bride when I wandered into an expression of it that immersed me in a different and embodied narrative: the grand story of God’s creation, fall, redemption, and working toward final justice. The Church, described by the Creeds, nourished by the Sacraments, defined by the Scriptures and led by the Holy Spirit through the 3-fold ministry, is something one can stand lashed to when the storms of life come.

Don’t get me wrong, I am indebted to the church of my conversion. The godly men and women of that movement introduced me to faith, fed me on the Scriptures, and challenged me to serve. Now, however, in the Church I am no longer adrift in a world that is a Jesus add-on to a life of my American culture’s creation. In the Church, I am connected to the original eleven “sent-out ones” by touch and by teaching. In the church of my conversion, “The gates of hell,” did, in effect, “prevail against it” from the close of the canon until the Reformation, or maybe the Second Great Awakening, or, for some, the coming of the evangelical explosion of the 1980s.

The Church is rooted in history, unchanging, with worship patterned after that of the earliest Christians. Lancelot Andrewes described the Church of the Great Tradition as bound by “One canon, two testaments, three creeds, four ecumenical councils, over five centuries.” She clarified those creeds in the Reformation. Her lay and clergy were missionaries of the Awakenings. In this Bride, the Holy Spirit is gloriously alive and balance is maintained in public worship by praying the safe, vetted words of the Church. In the Church, the old battles are not forgotten. So they do not need to be refought.

What put me off about church was that it was so like me – feeding me a steady diet of myself: my wants, my preferences, my music. It was quite “relevant.” I came to realize that I actually needed church to be UN-like me: to be transcendent. The Church is unconcerned with “relevance.” It cares not for my preferences. When I ask it to change it grins gently and asks me to change instead. In the Church, when one panics about something and accosts the clergy at the door, the chances are good the priest will say, “We have been in God’s presence in the liturgy. How about we enjoy that for a bit? Call me on Tuesday.”

The Church is maddeningly un-fearful. It is not subject to politics or fads. It does not do focus groups and market research. It is not trying to impress me, win me, or woo me. Instead of bending to my whims, it seeks to conform me to the image of Christ through immersion in patterns: daily in the Scriptures, weekly in Sacramental feeding of the Thanksgiving meal of the family of God, and living out God-time in the Christian Year. As a man of flesh, these patterns marinate me in the Gospel, bringing forth flavors in my life I never imagined.

In church I could write my own wedding vows. In the Church, self-made wedding vows, narcissistic holdovers of the 70’s, are not on the table for discussion. The Church calmly says, “Our job is to be conformed to God’s will and God’s words, not our own, so we will use the vows that have withstood the test of time, thank you.”

Many genuinely love the relevant church, I am sincerely glad for them. But for the growing group for whom church-lite is wearing thin, for whom the four songs and a sermon liturgy delivered by latte-toting pastors in skinny jeans is holding up as well as a Walmart shirt, there is an alternative. That alternative is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. It follows a pattern that was old when Justin Martyr described it in 150 CE. It is both sacred mystery and deep discipleship. A faith in which the words and movements all tell a story. And ultimately, shape lives into the image of Jesus.

A few questions for discussion:

If you are a “relevant church” person, do you love church? Or are you giving up on it? If so, why?

Are you one of the people that goes to an expression of the Church that has a plethora of service options. (One of the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches that offer services along a continuum from chanted 1700 year old liturgies to modern “relevant” models.)  If so, do people move between the offerings?

Are you in one of growing numbers of modern churches experimenting with ancient liturgies? If so, how is that going?

When did evangelicals get popes?

Snark MeterHIGH.001

The big trend in American evangelicalism: the multi-site video-venue church. It promises to leverage the teaching acumen (not to mention star power) of big name preachers to extend the Kingdom of God.

Has anyone stopped and asked, “What in God’s name are we doing?”

Think about it – we started the Reformation over one man having too much authority in the Church, yet today hundreds of thousands meet in “multi-site” video venues watching preachers like Mark Driscoll or Craig Groeschel or Perry Noble in a box. The new gold standard of this movement is 3D holographic Andy Stanley, complete with security to keep people from going up on stage to play with it…or him.

screen-shot-2012-07-28-at-2-48-47-pm

Think about it while detaching yourself from your favorite multi-site, mega big-box preacher: Isn’t hitching ourselves so fully to one man’s teaching just a little odd? Doesn’t it smack, just a tad, of man-following? Even idolatry?

And, if “it isn’t about me,” as one multi-site preacher is fond of saying, then why not take your nine sites and train up eight new young preachers? Wouldn’t that be a healthier model? What happens to the church if the guy it “isn’t about” gets hit by a bus?

I am not saying that these preachers are not really, really great communicators. I am not saying that they wouldn’t be great guys to get a beer with and talk football or soteriology. But what does it say about us that we spend a million dollars to make Andy Stanley into the Sunday morning version of Tupac at Coachella?

How is this not worse than what we condemn our Roman Catholic brothers for? I don’t know a single Catholic that would be ok with the Pope being piped in for the sermon every Sunday. They laugh at the idea. I know. I asked.

How is the evangelical world embracing 7-10 brand-name preachers across the country not the ecclesiological version of GMO crops? Let’s just call it like it is: these men are de facto evangelical popes.

Some will say, “Yeah but Mark Driscoll and Perry Noble don’t speak ex cathedra.” Really? Their devotees quote them as if they do. In a nod to mega-pastor Steve Furtick’s statement, that they are “making Jesus famous,” doesn’t it seem as if Jesus isn’t the only one they are “making famous”? Not to mention rich.

To be clear, I am not attacking large churches, or video screens. I am not even attacking the bloated clergy salaries paid by churches whose boards are made up of other mega-church pastors – although someone should. I AM attacking a model of leadership: The multi-site, big personality church that trades the Ephesians 4 model of equipping others and giving leadership away for a model that makes “the man” a black hole of money and Kingdom energy.

Evangelicalism’s strength has always been its willingness to engage the culture to make an impact on lives. The backside of that coin can be an amazing short-sightedness. Does no one wonder what the unintended consequences of our new evangelical popes might be?

So before we cast stones at our Catholic friends for man-following, perhaps we should remove the video screen from our own eye.

You Don’t Seriously Think… What we do in church matters?

This is the first in a series I am calling “You Don’t Seriously Think…” about ecclesiology – how we should do church. Feel free to join the conversation. You can agree, disagree or file ideas away for future cud-chewing, which is actually a great thing to do. You do not need to agree with me, indeed, that is how “iron sharpens iron.”


Larry-Sanders-The-Medium-Is-The-Message

Snark MeterrealMID.003

Someone wrote today with a comment expressing an idea that at least a hundred people have made on thegospelside blog. Here it is…

“It doesn’t matter how the message of Christ is brought, as long as it is being spread, all glory goes to Him. God works in more ways the one, think about it, each person is different and responds differently to situations. Therefore if church is done in just one way, not everyone will respond the same way. I say do church the way God wants you to, weather (sic) that means with hymns or what looks similar to a night club. That’s the beauty of church, finding what moves on your heart and where God wants you to be.”

Hi Leslie,

Thank you for commenting. You articulated the sincere, well-meaning belief of most of evangelicals I know.  A belief that I once held. It is based in a positive movement toward unity in Christ. So it is sincere, but there is a back side to that coin that makes it one that I don’t think we want to carry. So let me push back a bit…

I am actually saying that how we bring a message does matter. How leaders lead matters. That if this is really about souls, it really matters. This isn’t about style at all, actually. Style is merely what you point to, like symptoms of a disease.

The message matters too.

So a mainline church that has buried the Gospel and preaches pablum matters.

A megachurch that hides the Gospel under moralism matters.

People going home without actually participating in the worship of the living God matters, regardless if that happened in a “relevant” church or an irrelevant one.

Faith as being an hour we attend and a small group rather than a complete conversion of our beings really, really matters.

I don’t just know this from Scripture and the 20 centuries of the faith, I know it from the hundreds of comments on this site about how wounded, abandoned, and left flat people have been from well-meaning Christians and the church. For a year, hundreds of people have gone to a non-media distributed blog someone linked them to on Facebook, logged on and poured out their pain. Gee whiz, it isn’t even what the post was about! These are people who should be surrounded by a community of joy and hope and love in Jesus…umbilically tied to a group that comes together to surrender their lives to the Living God, finding power as they are changed. There are communities that ARE like that, to be sure. But too many of us are buying the book and copying what church X did in Little Rock or LA or wherever instead of loving people and going to them.

The attractional model is about “coming” as a passive response. The missional model is about “going” as an active, Matthew 28 Great Commission response. That is a core difference. One that matters.

So the Church, as the body of Christ matters. And that means how we do it matters too. Because God matters and so do his peeps, both those in and outside of the church.

And, it should be said, this is not about 4 songs and a sermon vs the liturgy. “Come here our organ and choir and see our stained glass” is not any different from “Come hear our cool band and see our cool light show.”

So lets talk about how to love God and be the Church in a way that harms less people. This is not about the “packaging” a message. It could be about repurposing the Sunday gathering in order to honor God, be more biblical, uses the gifts of all Christians and reach a lost and hurting world, many of whom’s pain was caused by us!

“O Yeah!” And other things I wish I would have said on “Cool Church.”

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002Years ago a friend of mine went into a bar. He was a young hotshot stockbroker coming from work in an expensive tie and tailored shirt. He was trying to buy a drink for an attractive young lady when an even more confident guy walked up on the other side of the girl, reached in front of her, grabbed my friend’s tie, looked him in the eye and said, “Buddy, your tie is ugly and I’m going to take your girl.” He asked the girl for her drink order and left with her. All my flummoxed friend could muster was a tepid, “O, yeah…” He told me later, “The next day I had a whole list of things I wished I’d said. This is my “next day” regarding my “Cool Church” post…

the-world_s-top-10-best-ties-for-nerds-101. The post sub-title “killing Christianity.” Obviously I did not mean that literally. Christianity won’t be “killed” by weak ecclesiology, segregating students, reductionist theology, moralistic teaching and the new cultural shifts which are rendering “relevant” irrelevant in many places already. But there will be an enormous demographic hole in the church if young adults continue to fail to connect at the rates that they are.

2. Citing statistics: I didn’t. The “Cool Church” post was a summary of a talk I did for an Urban Youth Worker’s Institute Reload Day in 2010. In that address I cited sources of those and many other statistics. They ended up on the cutting room floor in the blog. (I can provide those to anyone who would like them.) I was a brand new blogger and a friend said, “you get 500 words and they tune out.” I was at 1500. If I would have known the traffic the post would generate, I’d have kept those 100 words. 🙂

3. The original talk: The most interesting thing with the UYWI address was the audience reaction. I was the morning keynote. In 30 years of ministry I have never seen a keynote that high-jacked a day the way that one did. Those who were over 30 were visibly angry-scowling even as I critiqued their sacred cows-things that were instrumental in the development of their faith…but were beginning not to work as well any more. The under 30 were as enthusiastic as the older group were angry. They were shouting “AMEN!” “Preach, bro.” “Tell it like it is.” (It is really much so much fun to speak to an Urban audience!) After the keynote I was mobbed by the young who assembled at the front and said, “Thank you for giving voice to what we feel!” Afterwards, the over 30 (the seminar leaders) used their teaching time the rest of the morning, not to present on their topic but to disagree with my keynote. Why this reaction? I think it has something to do with the noise of our culture and young adults wanting to be part of something larger than themselves…including have the church help provide space for silence in the noise. There is a reason that I suspect may be at work here, at least in part, I blogged about it once :https://thegospelside.com/2012/10/11/why-the-big-box-church-works-for-the-over-35-but-not-the-under-25/

So the pushback of the elders, some of whom were literally the architects of “relevant,” was profound. But not nearly so much as the thanks from the young people. Point: Since the culture is ever changing, today’s relevant is tomorrow’s irrelevant. The old ways (of the last 20 years) will simply not work as well in this new cultural context of discontinuous change that we are experiencing. This generation literally has the information of an entire planet at the tips of their fingers.

4. Hater: I should say that I am not against churches being big and I want churches to grow. Not every large church segregates and panders to fill seats. But a lot do. The operative principle of relevance as a model is attraction. This is a matter of movement: Is the direction of engagement “come” or “lets us go”? At its core, “attractional” is the idea that the sanctuary is the locus of evangelism. “Missional” is the idea that the locus for evangelism is the world. Leading from that, in a missional church, the individual believer is the instrument of evangelism in the world vs primarily functioning as an inviter for the real evangelist-the senior pastor. If the time and energy are focused around the facility and the personality of the pastor, then it is attractional and must play the game of being “relevant.” Attendance numbers do not determine the ministry model being embraced. In our context there are a number of really great churches that are large (over 5000 in Sunday Attendance) and NOT relevant by model. Three because they teach the Bible strenuously, the fourth because they serve others. Both of those are good things.

5. We become what we count: What I am opposed to is relevant as a model of church and the idea that big equals effective. That is certainly an assumption in many big-box churches. I am not saying big equals ineffective. Just that it doesn’t necessarily mean effective…unless our definition of “effective” is “big.” The question is “what will you count?” If our metric is bottoms in pews then we will do anything to be full. The church might want to consider metrics that help us measure “disciple-making disciples” for instance. It would be a slower metric, but with a great long-range payout for the church. And it is a biblical metric.

6.  A word for those of us who are older: I would also like to offer an idea for those of us over 30 to look for as we read what millennials are saying (and what is implied) in the plethora of articles out there right now: The opposite of relevant as a movement isn’t “irrelevant.” It is “transcendent.” Relevant means to “be like something else.” Rather than “be like something else,” what I hear millennials asking the church for something is wholly unlike them. Something that has reverence and awe and a sense of the holy. Cultural contextualization isn’t the problem. It might have LeCrae perform at it, but it must be something that also has room for silence and ancient words and actions. Not worship done rote and without excellence, but something that is done artfully with acknowledgement that we are called into something more ancient and rooted than we are in this rootless place of our culture at this time.

7. Not really. I don’t believe that most millennials actually want the church to contort its beliefs and practices to suit their whims. Some will say they do. My children also say they want us to break the rules for them. But they feel more secure when we don’t. We are all like that. It is human nature. The church should be like marriage vows: A marriage that is based on vows we make up is a bit weak. We take the vows that have worked for 2000 years and conform our relationship to something greater than ourselves, that has withstood the test of time. Several recent posts by millennials has said exactly that: First Andrea Dilley, in Change wisely, dude. She posited that young adults are looking for liturgy. Then Rachel Held Evans posted “Why millennials are leaving the church.” She pegged the issue as young adults outgrowing simplistic answers and desiring greater social engagement. Then Brett McCracken wrote http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/07/31/how-to-keep-millennials-in-the-church-lets-keep-church-un-cool/ saying, in effect, conforming ourselves to some focus group opinion of what people want is as desperate as it looks.

My friend was left standing at the bar, trying to formulate a response as the girl walked away. He so wanted to be “the guy.” He wasn’t. He stood there insecurely wondering if he should ditch the tie and thinking about what he could have said to keep her. The church will never be “the guy” with whom the millennials go home until we get over with our consuming need to be “relevant.” We don’t need to ditch the tie!

In “Cool Church” I said, “What if instead of giving them what they want, we give them what they need.” The irony is that “relevant” isn’t actually what millennials are saying they want. It is the cool thing we think they think is cool. And that is so very uncool.