Flying Blind

But flying all the same

Church Influence and Weeping

I have waited more than a year to post this.  I wrote it in July of 2015 and did not post it because I was afraid it would offend somebody.  The truth is that I have been (and still am) wrestling deeply with these ideas.  The debate to post wavered back and forth…

 

 

A couple thoughts float around in my head.  I hear phrases like:

More seeker friendly, less seekers coming in

and

Increasing focus on being culturally relevant, decreasing influence in culture…  ergo less relevant?

And I am saddened.  I am hurt.  I am confused.  I get frustrated.  I feel as though I have no voice in this culture even though it is very much my culture.

If the point of the church is to influence the local community, what are we to do when the local community communicates with resounding solidarity that they don’t care about what we have to say?  We are no longer being ignored with polite passive aggressive behavior, we are being told quite clearly that we are not wanted, what we have to say is offensive and we are to keep it to ourselves.  There is not just a practice of ignoring us, there is a confidence in pushing back and silencing us.  I would say this pretty clearly communicates that we, the Church, have in fact, FAILED to accomplish our mission.

I said it.  We have failed as a Church.

Barna group reports increasing growth in church attendance.  Filling pews is not the mission of the church.  If the idea is that, the more people in the pews, the more people get to hear the Gospel, then it is not Church. That would be called Sunday Morning Evangelism.  Other research from the Southern Baptist Convention and Barna group state that a major trend is growing in which people are receiving discipleship, community, and other Christian involvement in small groups of less than 20 people and rarely or never attend a “church.”.

This tells me that there are still people who want what the Church is supposed to be giving.  So why would they stop going to Sunday Morning Worship and start doing things not in the “church”?  Because the Church is failing to feed.  Where do sheep go when the flock is on dry, grassless ground?  They wonder off looking for grass… or die.  I have heard church leadership lash out against people who are Christians, who are involved in the local church community, who are active in reading and studying their Bibles and having daily time with Jesus, but who say they are tired of church.  The response to these weary, active Believers by some church leaders is to chastise and rebuke them.  In turn, these folks turn and say they are done.

If the church’s mission is to encourage the members of the church, equip and train the members of the church, and send those members out into the local culture with the purpose of influencing that culture…  What’s happening?  A quick look at the division of our nation will clearly indicate that the ministers of reconciliation are not making much headway in reconciling.  Instead of seeing healing and community springing forth in our streets, we are seeing division, and not just in our communities, but in our churches too.

What are we to do when we see that our current model is not working?  What is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

We have to separate emotions and tradition from what is going on around us.  We can feel uncomfortable in the discussion of reforming the current, modern practices of church, and then get to fixing ourselves, or we can silence that conversation because of what we “know”, think, and feel and then, in time, have nobody left in the church to have that conversation with.

I think, as a shepherd, as a church, as a community, step one is to spend some time prayerfully evaluating.  It is the only thing that makes sense.  I would suggest listing out on a big board everything that the church is doing.  Meeting on Sunday, midweek meeting on Wednesday, youth group, singing before sermon, communion once a month, communion each Sunday, offering plates passed, offering boxes in the back, small groups…  EVERYTHING.  Then write next to each of these topics the simple question…  Why?

Why?

Search your Bibles and list scripture next to each of these things.  If you find there are no scriptures, or very few, to support the “What”, then we need to evaluate the priority that is placed on it by the church.  For instance, what scripture can you point to that models or sets a precedent for singing songs before receiving some sort of message?  I don’t know of any.  So why are we doing this?  What would happen if the elders of a church were to join each other on stage and say to the congregation, “Starting next Sunday, we will have the sermon first, followed by singing”. Who wants to staff that church office during the following week to answer the phones that will surely be ringing off the hook.

What about the meeting on Sunday mornings and being done by a strict time prior to lunch?  I can find scripture that talks about folks worshiping all day and through lunch.  Again, what would happen if the Elders stood together and said, “No more strict time schedule like a TV production.  We will start with singing, we will move into a sermon, then we will move into a time for the congregation to give testimonies of their interaction with God during the previous week and a time of adults reciting passages of scripture which they have memorized.  This may take awhile, plan on bringing a lunch.  We will not be pausing”.

I know of only a few mandates placed upon the Church by Jesus.  One is “Go into all the World and make Disciples”.  Are we doing this?  And don’t say “yes” because your church has a discipleship ministry, or because you have small groups, or because y’all have done studies on discipleship.  I have a good friend who told me one time that they were excited to be involved in a discipleship ministry so that they could communicate to the folks involved that discipleship can be a long distance thing, done every other week or once a month.  After a little bit of questioning, it became clear that this person’s idea was that they could remain distant, answer questions, give suggestions, and watch the growth occur.  Discipleship?  Absolutely not!!  Will the other person grow?  Possibly, maybe, if they are actually in scripture and prayer, more than likely.  But this is not discipleship… not life on life… not intimate… not like Jesus and His DISCIPLES… not like Paul telling Timothy to “take the things which you have seen in me (actions/behaviors/attitude/character/skills) and pass them on (not teach, pass… model and train) to faithful men…”.

And this is the crux of the failure.  Not the stuff I listed above, though that stuff needs to be sorted out.  We have become a culture of Christians who are lazy, takers of a social organization which seeks to teach while being entertaining enough to hold the attention of the attendees.  I have seen this model before… I used to see it all the time right around breakfast in my house.

We called it Dora the Explorer.  My kids would stop what they were doing in their normal, active lives, spend a given period of time being both entertained and taught, and when the program was over, they returned to their lives.  Interestingly enough, I can ask me kids about Spanish words and they know the answers.  They can hold their own in discussions about Swipe and Boots, but they NEVER mix Spanish into their daily vernacular.  They NEVER come ask me if we will have a Fuego after supper.  They have received knowledge which has not led to any transformation of their daily lives.

The church has effectively taken this model, and it is producing the intended effect.  Educating and bringing familiarity with the subject to the learners.  Christians should feel good knowing that, should they ever encounter a moment when the HAVE to speak about Christianly things, they can have the right answers.  Interestingly enough, as this has occurred, the world around us has said, “We don’t care about your answers any longer”. Christians have responded by setting aside their answers because they are not a natural part of their lives and have instead moved to being culturally accepted… which is what is normally occurring in their daily, natural lives.

Here I sit, each Sunday, watching us do the same thing we did last Sunday, the same thing the Sunday before, and before that.  Each Sunday I watch the smiles, and hear the conversations, and each week I watch as we become more and more marginalized.  I am afraid I don’t think I can do this much longer.  I don’t set aside a couple hours a week to sit in a stationary car.  I know there are benefits to sitting in a stationary car, it would keep me dry if it rains, it gives me a place to sit and relax away from standard distractions where I can meditate, or sing without the worry of being judged by those around me.  But I don’t do it.  Because that is not what the car is for.  So why am I filling a pew during Sunday morning social club and calling it Church?

It’s not.  Pop culture and Christian culture may both call it Church, it might be on the sign, it might be labeled this by history and tradition.  But this is not what I see defined in Scripture as church.

I understand that there are some of these communities on Sunday mornings that are, in fact, still a Church.  I applaud them and pray for them.

But I think I am done with the standard Sunday morning system.  Good people, looking for something more…  Good people on stage doing what they know to do with noble, honest hearts…  Good people on all accounts performing in a culture which has been influenced by the world in which we live…  backwards if you ask me.

I wept in anger a couple weeks ago as I saw Christians on Facebook attacking other Christians on Facebook because of their responses to a shift in our culture regarding more than one issue.

“My people perish for a lack of knowledge.”

I just don’t know if I can keep participating in a cultural organization with a clearly defined purpose when they have effectively and clearly failed to accomplish that purpose… and then refuse to reevaluate what they are doing and instead, like ostriches with their heads in the sand, continue to do what they have always done and expecting things to change.

I am not hear to be entertained.

This is not merely a hospital for the sick.

I am here to be equipped and encouraged.  I am here to equip and to encourage.

This is the meeting place of warriors.  To train.  To learn.  To rest.  To heal.  To be built back up for the brutal fight known as influencing a culture.

I guess it is time for me to look for those warriors who, like me, are wanting more and are being equipped for the battle.  I’m looking for the people who are longing to engage the cutlure in whcih they live and I believe I will find them, whether it is in a pew on a Sunday Morning, or on a couch on Friday Night.  And we will engage.

 

 

 

Previous

Next

2 Comments

  • I met with a Protestant pastor over lunch one Sunday afternoon to talk about my potentially joining a program he was running. The program was loosely based upon a manual I had read on church planting and I was interested to see if this was a potential avenue I might take. This was during the time when I thought that perhaps my call was to some sort of Protestant pastoral office which I now know with certainty that it is not (but that’s a different story).

    As we talked he encouraged me to get into the field and begin working with him in his organization. There are a few things he mentioned to me which bothered me to no end though.

    The first was that he said he didn’t know of one church which closed its doors for theological reasons. It was his belief that it was more important to have organizational skills akin to business practices than it was to be theologically concerned in regard to an organized group of people.

    The second thing which struck me was his profound ignorance of the history of Christendom. We got off on some topic which I don’t have time to mention here and I mentioned that this particular theological quandary was dealt with in an ecumenical council as heresy for such and such reason. This was a Christological issue, thus very important, and yet this man was for some reason both ignorant of the fact that this was heresy and that it was taken care of over 1000 years ago.

    Another thing which struck me was that he enjoyed the idea of the “wide umbrella” this particular church organization offered theologically. He enjoyed the fact that so many of the pastors within the organization could disagree and that this was ok as long as they agreed on some “core tenets” of the faith. What I found most interesting about this can be summed up in two thoughts.

    One, here is a man who is incredibly ignorant of history who wanted a sort of “creedal Christianity” yet wants nothing to do with creeds because they divide. He understands at the core that in order to be a group which stands for something that they must agree on something yet he wants to have the requirements for that agreement blurry and shadowy in order to avoid division.

    The other thing is that he, unknowingly I think, wants to define core tenets in order to build a group yet I find it confusing as to what authority he finds for those tenets being binding. What I mean by this is that before a group can be founded the core tenets of what that group is must be established. Who established the tenets? Well, the tenets stand based upon the authority of the groups existence. So, the group stands on the tenets for unity and the tenets authority stand on the unity of the group. Often, why these groups form is because one person breaks away from another group because they are convinced they have “found the truth” and attract people towards themselves based upon this claim. Once the group forms with a few people then the group forms an authoritative body behind the leader. This happened with Wesley, for example. Wesley started Methodism, a group formed around Wesley, Wesley died, the group now claims authority over Wesleyanism. Really, the issue here is that this “authority” is based upon one individual’s opinion which started this group because of an inability to rectify with another group they were involved with.

    I think the issue really boils down to Fides Qua versus Fides Quae. Fides Qua basically means “the faith which believes” and Fides Quae means “the faith which is believed.” To put it simply, Fides Qua is the faith which an individual Christian has and Fides Quae is the joined faith of a group of Christians.
    Fides Qua and Fides Quae are married to each other. For example, nowhere in Fides Quae can we find “Jesus was an alien” which is used to show that a person who’s Fides Qua holds the belief “Jesus was an alien” thus is unjustified and is wrong in that belief and thus does not have salvific faith. We attempt to use Fides Quae as an authority to teach each other what a proper and mature Fides Qua looks like.

    I find one of the major issues with Protestantism is that we look around at people we are surrounded with and lament the Fides Qua of those people because it is noticeably weak and wrong in some serious ways. However, very often the questions of Fides Quae are not asked.
    How do Protestants claim authority for stating what Fides Quae is? How can a group of Protestants define Fides Quae for a group of people and have that be binding on how they ought to define their Fides Qua?

    Going back to Wesleyanism. Wesley had his own convictions about what the Fides Quae ought to have looked like. However, his convictions about this were the result of his own internal convictions, Fides Qua, which he attempted to ground and justify with his theological epistemological quadrilateral. However, I find it difficult to see how Wesley can define on his own authority, or his own Fides Qua, what ought to be believed by a group of Christians, or a Fides Quae, and have that be justified and binding. Why can’t I simply state that I’m more justified than Wesley in some belief and write off what he says as wrong? Why can’t I then go create my own group and establish a separate Fides Quae? To be frank, how is it that my Fides Qua is married to any true and objective Fides Quae as it must be according to the invisible church theory?

    There are two ways Protestants attack this problem I’ve noticed.

    The first is to severely weaken the need to Fides Quae by stating that “only the essential stuff matters.” This attempt to shrink Fides Quae to something pathetic and less controversial has lead to the decline of Protestantism into something of a social club. This has lead churches to become nothing more than seeker friendly soft Christianity which leads no one to anywhere other than friendships and smiles. It’s not aimed at truth because it claims we can’t aim at truth and that aiming at truth essentially aims at nothing. It’s essentially a nihilistic Christianity which claims to have a direction and all of the answers. It’s pointless.

    The second is to try to create a whole system in which fellow believers must adhere. You’ve stated many examples in this post by stating what ought and ought not to be done in a Church. You have rightfully noticed that there is no unity in your local Church and have rightfully stated that a Church without Fides Quae is not a Church at all. You’ve rightfully stated that there is a divorce between the Fides Qua people are claiming and the Fides Quae which doesn’t exist when you look at the group as a whole.

    However, what gives you the authority to make truth claims about what a Fides Quae ought to be? You allude to the authority of the bible. However, in doing so you are simply pitting your interpretation of this text against another. In fact why is the bible authoritative at all? How can you make the claim that the bible is authoritative when it seems that this claim is rooted in its core in your own interpretation of what ought to be authoritative and what ought not be authoritative. In essence what I am asking is why should I care what you have to say and why should I bank my Fides Qua on what you claim about what ought be the Fides Quae? Why should I care what you think I should think?

    This issue is one I’ve been obsessed with over the past two years. I have been struggling with these questions (and so many more which I don’t have room here to even mention in passing). I’m attempting to write a blog series on these thoughts but there are so many I’m having too hard of a time organizing them. In short there are so many problems here that I can’t even begin to talk about it.

    In closing thanks for posting this. I don’t know why more people are on the weak side of defining Fides Quae instead of trying to work it out. The authoritative issues I roughly lined out I believe are the root cause of this issue and I’d like to hear your thoughts on that. Keep on keeping on.

    I’ll keep praying for you. You keep praying for me. Maybe someday we can find a Fides Quae not built on sand but built on the Rock.

    • Great comments!

      You ask a couple questions near the end that seem to me to hinge, not on where I derive my authority, but where scripture derives its authority. Quite frankly, struggling and wrestling with the ideas of Church is a much lesser priority than struggling and wrestling with the idea of the authority of scripture. I say that because Church is a Christian thing, described and defined by passages of the Bible, concerning the development of the people who have placed their faith in the Jesus of the Bible. To say,”In fact why is the bible authoritative at all? “, while a very legitimate question, is placing the cart before the horse. If you are seeking Church, or Fides Quae, without acknowledging the authority of scripture in your life, then is objective truth important at all or is it merely the medium in which the experience is found? Atheists have come to see the benefit of “church” and have started their own. This is “church” without acknowledging the authority of scripture.

      To the point of the question, “In fact why is the bible authoritative at all? ” I would answer, “Because it was written by God.” While there seems to be a bit of circumlocution here, I find that the Bible defines itself and makes claims for itself. I then look at these claims against historical data and find that these claims have proven to be true. The number of claims made by the Bible that ring true against historical data is astounding. For this book to be merely a book and yet as accurate as it was in its prophecies, is mathematically impossible. I then look at the influence of the Bible on world culture throughout history. I see that it is the only book (or the only one i know of) that has been hunted with the intent of total eradication with such fervor from several different cultures. It still persists in existence. Great writings, with less empirical or historical data supporting the claim of veracity, which are widely and unquestionably accepted as true, have dismally small numbers of the ancient copies in existence today. These copies tend to exist, not from the era in which they were written, but often hundreds of years later. The Bible on the other hand is a mere few generations (if I am remembering right). I look at these 2 arguments… is it real (existence from ancient times confirmed) and is it true (based on historical data analysis) and I come to the conclusion that it is a book that appears to be true. If it appears to be true, then I look at what the book says and I chose to accept it (faith) as truth. I also tend to “test” some of what I read, I watch to see if it really does what it says it does and I have found it to be true in this manner too… or at least so far! LOL. Which then leads me to the claims the Bible makes of itself. If what it says is true, and the claims it has made that can be tested have been proven to be true, then the claims it makes which cannot yet be tested are safely assumed (faith) to be true… therefore… Why is the Bible authoritative at all? Because it is the very written word of God.

      If that is not accepted, then all discussion about Church, end times, ethics and morals, social justice, government and relgion, are moot because they are not based in any source of authority (solid, unchanging) but are instead based on our interpretation, feelings, desires, demands, or culture (changing, relative), and if that is the case, then there is no authority with anybody to say anything about what you, or I, believe.

      Thanks a lot for taking the time to hammer out your response. I am pretty busy right now but felt that, if you took the time to read what I wrote and then took the time to put your thoughts on this post, it would be disrespectful to wait for a long time without replying.

      Oh… and 1 more response… Why should you care about my thoughts… 2 answers 1 (the easy cop out) you shouldn’t! My thoughts are of no consequence when placed upon the landscape of your convictions and your connection to Jesus. 2… you should care about my thoughts because my thoughts motivated me to express something that is very controversial to some of the folks in my community. My thoughts have burdened my heart to a point of breaking as I see friends and family dying of thirst while getting mere drops from the jug of life. My thoughts hold no ill will towards any organization and the expression of my thoughts is to encourage every Jesus Lover who reads the blog to consider in what ways they can connect more deeply with Him, and in what ways the practice is getting in the way of the Purpose. You should care about my thoughts because that is how discussions are had… LOL… If you don’t care about my thoughts, and I don’t care about your thoughts, then do we care enough about each other to actually speak of these things?

      I must admit, I have not prayed for you since we left Washington. Now that you are in my thoughts again, I will in fact remember to pray for you and Kristin!!

      Thanks again for replying.

      And for those who do not know Joshua Buzzard and don’t know me that well… understand that we speak passionately and with commitment to our beliefs. We do not tend to put qualifiers on our statements in order to make them more palatable or malleable. Or at least I don’t think we do! His questions to me are not taken as an attack on me (though it could seem like that) but are taken as the words of a man who is passionate about this stuff. I know that about him and recognize it for what it is.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: