Thursday, April 10, 2008

View From the Underside

I have been asked what challenges the church faces at the present time. This is a difficult question to answer without passion so I gave this some time before I posted it.

I would say that churches, for the most part, are reflections of a fearful, self righteous and consumerist culture. They are tools for political and social ideologies that are opposed to the Gospel. This has occurred because we have forgotten or ignored the Gospel and have translated its message to suit ourselves rather than allowing it to challenge us.

I would say that churches are business ventures consumed with the bottom line. They view people as means to an end. They are obsessed with survival, money and attendance. Discipleship is not in their vocabulary in any meaningful sense. They give very little real thought to God or the challenge of the Christ. They have lost their souls.

I would say that we a broken nearly beyond repair. I think Jesus is looking for people who are open to him and He will find them whether they are in what we call the church or in the world.

We are wholly owned subsidiaries of a political and religious ideology which is conservative in the worst sense of the word. We are not interested in transformation but in the preservation of the status quo. We have lost our passion of people in our lust for power and prestige.

We have made the Gospel of God a statement about OUR distinctiveness and OUR values and in doing this we have prostituted the Gospel to serve our interests.

What is the way out of the downward spiral? We must again submit ourselves to the discipline of the Word of God. We must approach it with a humility which recognizes our sinfulness and complicity in brokenness of the world and the church. We must repent and recognize that the Gospel is about God; what God has done, what God is doing, what God wants, what God is calling us to become. It is never about us or our survival or glorification. It is about God's glory and His agenda.

Until we reject our mercenary use of God and his Church we will continue to be largely ineffective and irrelevant and we will continue to wander through the wasteland of our culture as a false oasis. We will continue to be ineffective. We will continue to have an identity crisis.

We must become a compassionate society rather than a competitive one. We must become a giving culture rather than a consuming culture. We must be taken out of ourselves so we can see the need of those around us. Only then can we navigate with clear vision.

And we must understand that the Church is not in danger of failing or disappearing. We are in danger of failing and have virtually disappeared. God can and will raise a new Church. He may even be in the process of doing so as we speak. Let's join him. Let's repent. Let's get on our knees.

A. I.

3 comments:

j-double-d said...

Virgil, I think you have correctly diagnosed the problem and given the correct prescription.

Julie said...

Virgil!

Thank you for your candor and honesty in posting your reflections on the Church.

Also, thank you for challenging us to "think," "question" and "re-evaluate"...not only WHAT we do as Christians, but WHY we do what we do. (We would all do well to remember that the motives of our hearts are never hidden from God.)

May we never lose sight of the fact that the Gospel is not about us, or about our beautiful buildings or how our attendance surpasses our neighbors down the street. It is about HIM and how HE changes lives...even our own life...imagine that. (I think sometimes we are afraid of this happening.)

May we learn to let go of the fear that keeps us from being "real." How else will the world see the transforming power of the Gospel in our lives.

The POWER of the Gospel far out weighs the power of those who oppose it and God will preserve His Church.

Keep the blog entries coming... :-)

May God continue to bless you and use you for HIS GLORY!!

Julie

A. I. said...

(I am actually posting this for another person who had difficulty getting in.)

I concur with your description of the church as "fearful, self-righteous, and consumerist". We have almost wholly bought into the "what's in it for me" mindset of the world.

Each member of the Lord's church bears a measure of responsibility for the church's ills. Primarily, the fault is the leadership of the church, but that by implication also indicts the followers in the church.

Leaders misunderstand the meaning of being a mighty man of God. (We should never make such a claim anyway.) The problem is rooted in mens' perceptions of power. Ministering to others in their deepest needs requires indentifying with and having an empathy for their darkness, which implies a weakness of their own. Empathy reveals a contradiction to maintaining an appearance of power, and of being above such darkness. That appearance is believed to compromise the veracity of their faith, and invincibility as leaders, which few are brave enough to risk.

We are consumerist in our measuring of leaders by the worth of their possessions, and shamefully appoint leaders by standards heavily weighted to their financial success. We lose sight of their spiritual worthiness by assessing their financial worth.

How rare it is (I can't think of one) to see an elder who is employed in a basic, hourly-wage job, or whose primary vehicle is ten years old. Such a man is judged as not having managed his affairs well. In reality, he may well be a better manager than most by reason of his modest earnings, and likely not so constrained by manging his riches. He may be a better steward and have a greater ministry to "the least of these".

Yet, not so rare is the elder who has managed a business' bottom line, but outside of his personal family, has never lead a soul to the victory in Jesus. He may have a spiritual gift of administration, but no heart for being "able to teach".

We may have have the plainest meeting place in town, free of gilding, creeds, and icons, but we can be fiercely elitist. In making the Gospel the voice for "OUR dinstinctiveness", we like the Pharisees say, "God, I am thankful that we are not like the Catholics, the Mormons, the Baptist..." We also make the Word's teaching about the autonomy of congregations a show of our distinctiveness. "God, I'm thankful we're more righteous than that other congregation," and judge that righteousness by the number on the membership rolls. Distinctiveness devolves into a marketing ploy. We become elitist the very moment we forget we are all poor, wretched beggars at the gate of His mercy and grace.

Yes, God may already be raising a new Church. Thank Him for His assurance that there will always be a remnant. May I always be at least a small, worn thread of that precious cloth.