Let me set a scene (and weirdly, I see this happening in an Irish accent):
"That was a great service" Joe said ... meaning good contemporary music (for a bunch of amateurs), with 1/3rd of the congregation singing well, another 1/3rd mumbling their way through the words, and 1/3rd stoically waiting for it all to end.
It almost makes me cry sometimes.
So now it's after the service and we have Jesus sitting down for pint of Guinness with Joe. After all, Jesus is with us all the time, and I presume he'd drink Guinness, so why not?
"So Joe, I notice you were rather reserved in the service. I didn't quite catch your voice during the singing"
"uh .. .yeah, I guess so."
"Why is that now? I mean, I know why, because I know you inside-out after all. That omniscient thing and so forth. But you tell me how you see it, because I'm not sure you know yourself."
"Well ... I guess I'm a little embarrassed singing out loud like that. I'm not a really into this extrovert stuff. And, I mean, the words are not quite what one would normally say in front of others ... that sort of language is personal-like, something for me alone."
"Of course ... I ... ummmm ..."
"Ok, I know, remember the omniscient thing? Moving on ... or back as it may be: Worship. Tell me, what do you think of me? I really want to know."
"You know what I think of you Jesus, you're omniscient."
"Ah, now you sound like all those husbands whose wives complain that they never say 'I love you'. It also reminds me of that fish breakfast I had with Peter ... he also tried that angle on me."
"Oh go look it up another time. Joe, let me tell you a little secret. I don't want you to tell me what you think for my benefit, I want you to do it for YOU, and for those around you. I'm the omnipotent and all that, I don't NEED anything, I'm the word that was before and will always be, I'm humble!"
"Humble! I'm everything and I'm humble. Because being humble means being no more than you are, and no less than you are. Since I AM, no more and no less, I am humble. But you? Where's your humility?"
"Oh good grief, is that the extent of your vocabulary? When you keep quiet in singing worship, you're saying I'm not worth the effort. When you don't acknowledge me with all your mind, body, soul, and strength, you're effectively claiming for yourself something of me. You're saying to me that you're more than I know you to be. You're trying to get an edge over ME. You're trying to say you're in charge. That I am not all important. That's not humble. That's stupid."
"But, but ... what's so special about making a fool of myself while singing songs? It's not like it's a big event. Only lasts twenty minutes or so, and anyway, it's Sunday morning and I'm tired, and nobody notices what I'm doing"
"Hmm, so birth lasts a few hours, getting married takes even less, and sex only lasts a short while if you're lucky. Even death is a matter of seconds! Does that make them unimportant? Don't you tell me about the value of time, I made time, I walk through time, time is not what's important. And by the way, people ARE affected by what you do! If you don't worship, your neighbour shrinks back too, so you're hurting them. It's only the one's deeply in love with me who actually keep the true church worship going."
"Why are you getting so steamed up about this?"
"Because it damages YOU, you twit. Don't you see, every time you pass on an opportunity to EXPRESS worship, you lose an opportunity to be who you were made to be. And every time you choose to not express yourself, you choose to hide a reality from yourself and from others. You hold back others! Anyway, making a fool of yourself is not something you'd have to put much effort into.
Listen: there's two ways to approach worship. One way is to start with what you know in your heart to be real -- draw on those all-too-rare moments when your eyes were really open and you experienced me being right there. And from there you tell your mind to get it's act into gear and choose to put some thoughtful expression to the heart's feelings. Music is great for that, it adds a rich meaning of words. The other option is to start in the mind; take what you KNOW is the Truth, not what you'd like to be the truth. Then tell your heart to stop being so afraid of emotion and get with it. Music's great, because it catches the heart in a net of melody and merges it with your mind. It doesn't matter where you start. It only matters where you end ... in expression! Stop short of that and you may as well have never begun.
Forget about what others think of you. It's me, the omnipotent one and all that, who is standing right there in your face. Get it?"
Three articles I recently found thought provoking:
1. A Point of View: Is it better to be religious than spiritual? (by a non-christian)
2. The Other Side of the City - not unlike Cape Town.
3. Are We Stuck with Our Bad Choices Forever? "Tough love: It’s an oxymoronic — or maybe just moronic — psychological phrase that has crept its way into Christian thought"
4. Letting Scripture Interrupt You. When a verse or passage grabs your attention, don't be afraid to stop and ask why.
God is nothing, ... a strong statement. Now hold your reaction, and let me first lead off on two related developments.
First is "New Secularism" (sorry about that, another big word!). Along with its close cousin of "New Atheism", this is building a militant anti-faith attitude that pervades our society while failing even its implied principle of tolerate everything but intolerance.
Second is the increasing sense that "Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith". This essay captures it nicely, despite it's headline tending to hyperbole.
OK, so with the stage so set, let me return to my opener and complete it:
"God is nothing, if God is not definitive."
Think about that for a moment. It's a basic logical statement. God, by the popular definition and common use of the word, is perfect, complete, flawless, all knowing, all powerful, and beyond and above our universe. Something that is perfect is, by definition, definitive! If God is not definitive, he's not God.
It's hard to think of anything that's actually perfect. The closest I know to perfection is the object recently created as a potential new standard definition of a kilogram; a near perfect sphere of silicon. And note, its "near perfect", they are trying to reach perfection in order to define a standard. If it's not perfect, it cannot be a definitive reference.
So God, by definition, is definitive. And that also means unchanging, because if you change perfection, you no longer have a definition, you only have an approximation.
Yet this world, this culture, this post-modern and post-Christian society seems hell-bent (excuse the pun) on reducing God to an approximate definition. The purpose is, of course, to make space for our deviancies.
Our Christian culture is not inclined to talk about a perfect definition for fear we may offend someone.
We want to say "Oh, murder is wrong", "love is right", and "in between its all gray". But we really, really don't want to say where the boundaries are. Now I agree, some boundaries are fuzzy. I'm also passionate that we need to be compassionate; that we need to treat everyone with love, with sensitivity, and without (our) judgment, and be what we need to be to reach all for Christ.
But we run this one huge and massive risk; by not showing the sharp edge of God's definitiveness, we also tacitly endorse imperfection as acceptable. We become complicit in the secularization of Christianity, in turning its definitiveness into a muddy dilution that hides God's holiness behind a cover -- every time that we go silent and back away from a situation where we see the acceptance of compromising God's definition.
Its all very understandable, because if we're definitive then people think we're trying to make the definition in order to be their superior ... they think that because that's actually what everyone tries to do. We all want to be the definer of right and wrong. But by definition, God is the definer despite what I think about it.
So, if Christians keep silent about what God's perfection is when it comes to things like recreational sex, hedonistic materialism, late term abortion, or our pervasive apathies that abuse the poor, then we are tacitly endorsing all these as being ok. We convey a message of a pathetic version of an imperfect definition as being normal, that all this is part of the grand new Christianity for a new age.
And I fully understand this. I do it too. Because I am scared of hurting people, alienating people, and being seen to judge people.
Yet strangely, I'm also willing to be very definitive in so many other contexts. You say "climate change is a hoax" and I'll jump all over you for your contribution to unethical multi-generational consequences. But when you say "recreational sex is ok" then the chances are I'll duck behind some nonsensical muttering.
And this pervades all our "modern Christianity"; you say "I'm a loyal and faithful Christian and all religions lead to God", but the church pretends not to hear.
God wields a two edged sword; perfect love (which we are all so passionate about emphasizing) and perfect justice (which we all energetically run away from). It cleaves perfection from mud and defines the edges. It does not purposely destroy, but draws a line between the perfect and imperfect; it says "this is God-nature, and that is not."
Can I stand back and in the same breath say the sky is red, up is down, and I'm a Christian? And a more difficult question: when do I speak up about the real boundaries, and when do I keep silent?
UPDATE: Now also go and read this essay.
Two (I think) important essays.
1. Despite a somewhat hyperbolic title, this essay deserves some serious contemplation
To quote from the article: "We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity ... is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian religion. … It is not so much that ... Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith"
Read the full essay here
2. New Secularism is an attempt to undermine and destroy Christianity
Closely tied to the previous issue, which is perhaps partly a consequence of this one, is this issue of secularizing morals. From the article:
"Secular = Not religious or spiritual (Oxford English Dictionary)
Secularism = the belief that the state, morals, education, etc should be independent of religion. (Chambers)"
Read the full essay here
An interesting article on trends ... want to see where you might be in the future? What do you think the evangelical trends will loo
"I’m framing my prognostications in the familiar “what’s in and what’s out” categories. Here’s what I think (and hope) are in and out for 2014:"
Read more here.
Whether you're a fan or not of Christian radio and/or TV, this article has caused a bit of a storm at the moment. While on the surface it's about Christian talk radio, that not the real issue here. There's a really important underlying message we need to think about. It ties into post-Christendom ... and that we need to meet people where they are, in compassion, humility, and not from our personal pedestal of confidence.To quote from the article:
“And honestly, if all that I knew of Christianity was what I heard on Christian talk radio, I’d hate it, too.”
Read the full article here
Church leadership likes big words that sound too complicated. Should we understand them?
Here's one they don't use much, perhaps because it's yet to be understood? Post-Christendom.
Events of the last few weeks, and this morning (see later) have started me (once again) thinking about post-Christendom ... the era we've falling into so fast that most don't even comprehend it. It's the era where Christianity no longer dominates culture.
We see symptoms everywhere, yet studiously ignore it. Such as how Lord Carey, former Archbishop of the Church of England, writes to the European Human Rights Commission that Christians are being persecuted. And we see it in the insidious syncretism - implied or explicit - buried deep in the good-intentioned teachings from people like Bell and Rohr and Mclaren and many more in the mainstream of church life. Post-Christendom has fundamentally changed the context for the expression of church.
But that is not what I've most been thinking about; its more the question of "what is the church" in post-christendom? What is my role in this thing called "church". And perhaps more pragmatically, why is the church desperately clinging to something that's fast being buried beneath the deluge of change, clinging to institutional practices of ineffectiveness? Why? Where is the radical change that's needed to match the new world we're in?
There is one fundamental aspect to God's engagement with the world (and here's some more big words): that orthodoxy (about the unchanging nature of God) is not the same as orthopraxy (how his nature is expressed through the actions of his people). Orthopraxy changes, and should evolve. If nothing else, God explicitly calls us to a Spirit-led pushing of the orthopraxy boundaries, and does so now more perhaps than ever before.
I wrote to someone recently that "Church is not a democracy. It's also not a theocracy", that "think of church as the God-intentioned emergent property of community", and that church management often "measures itself by how well it manages itself."
This morning I had yet another discussion with someone about this. He's been a Christian professional (i.e. a minister) and has recently given up the formal church structures where he was the leader, and is starting a new "ministry" from the ground up. He spoke of "infiltrating" society. It's a highly attractive idea given the church's institutional barriers, but also has some deep complications. Nonetheless, at the frontier of change it's one model of practice that some need to explore.
But what about the people of the established church? Do we all walk away from our churches? Do we increasingly become inward focused? Or, do we transition our structures into a post-Christendom era, where we are one of many religions, where biblical values are not a given, where relativism holds sway and syncretism binds the cultures. What does this mean, to transition? It's unlikely to be a gentle change.
If you and I do not think deeply on this, if our denominational leaders do not face this head on, our missional value (weak as it is at the best of times) becomes increasingly eroded until its no more than a box buried in the sand, with a frayed rope that the world sometimes tugs with the passing thought "I wonder what's at the other end."
I want to write more on this; to think about our church future, especially in my personal context. How do I live as one centered in the relational absoluteness of God's unchanging love and justice, and which establishes a normality the world is (largely successfully) trying to ignore? My purposed existence is two-fold; to walk a path toward being centered in God's normality ("be perfect"), and to serve those I encounter along the way. Where does the traditional institutional church fit into that, if it does at all?