Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Okay, okay

So I was probably a little hard on Burke. You know it's difficult for me to abide people who have no respect for our rituals. I feel like they just don't get it.

Anyway, so far nothing Burke is saying is all that original. Barth talked about chucking religions, and Lewis talked about opting out of grace (rather than it being an opt-in situation).

But what bothers and frightens me is this new hostility to the church. I've seen it also in the people from the church plant. It's this rejection of everything, and it's quite easy to lump in ritual and dump it without realizing what you've lost. Or worse, bring it back in little pieces that don't relate or have meaning or power because they're out of context and divorced from history.

I don't like it. Sure, lots of churches are messed up. I grew up in a particularly sick one. But I didn't leave the religion altogether - I found a well one. Several, actually, and even my old sick one seems better nowadays. If the church isn't working for you, there might be something wrong with that particular community or there might be something wrong with you. I don't like how the first thing is to say we need a whole new kind of Christian that's not stuck in the mire of cultus. No, no, no, why can't we trust that God works in the church - it's his body after all, his presence on earth - and figure out where things are going right and encourage that rather than leave altogether?

I know, I am sounding more and more Catholic. Salvation only found in the church. Only I'm not really talking about salvation...except in the sense of it being reconciliation and intimacy with God which yes, I do believe is found most successfully in community (primiarly, but not exclusively, Christian community).

The thing that I think Burke is missing is that ritual is something that young people love. It's by no means a deterrent to their faith. In fact, many would chuck out the deeds and beliefs and keep the pure aesthetic performance. And you know, I feel like those rituals - especially of course the sacraments - have power in them that will work to transform despite the intentions of those performing them (all - leaders and otherwise). There I go with the Catholicism again.

Anyway, let's just lose the misconception that so many boomers are laboring under that young people are turned off by rituals and church services and prayer and even, yes, propositional truth. In fact, you know, I think these movements out of the churches are just today's seeker sensitive approach. They think they have to water Christianity down, this time not into a snazzy worship service but instead into the deeds and words of the good teacher Jesus. Jesus is no longer Christus Victor who is celebrated at Eucharist, but rather a nice man who healed and fed and taught, so we go out and do likewise.

And we miss, in the process, so much of what our transformational journey is about.

In my research for the universalism paper, I've found a really wonderful book written by two Quaker pastors. It says a lot of the same stuff as Burke, BUT they are not abandoning the church, and they approach the questions Burke raises with grace and humility rather than the rather shock-jock, sensationalist attitude the self-proclaimed (and proud) heretic offers. They advocate universalism, but they present it as very good news and maintain the urgency of spreading the gospel (something that many critics claim is impossible for universalists). Burke falls back on Lewis's ideas about it being possible to reject grace, and that's fine. These pastors don't believe it's possible forever, though, and their book is about why that is.

The book is more pop than scholarly and relies heavily on personal experience and stories. But it's beautifully written and speaks well of what's been on my heart in regards to this whole issue. So no more suspense: it's called If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person and it's by Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland. I highly strongly deeply recommend it.


Anonymous said...

Something to throw in there. I've entirely stopped using the word "church" to describe Christian Communities. You'll find in the New Testament "the Church in suchasuch place." I don't know that we shouldn't capitalize the C. After all, what's being referred to is the universal (catholic) Church that has members who are geographically located in that city.

So I call em congregations. Or I refer to the Church in Minneapolis, meaning all the congregations. And some congregations do indeed need to receive letters of instruction from others, but what's missing most is for denominations to partner in worship, community service, fundraising, whatever.

Would it be so hard for our leaders to call one another and team up with stuff like this? That's what my college group wants to do.

I also wanted to make a remark about seeker sensitivity. I think it contradicts Jesus and some parts of scripture.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." ~Jesus

"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." ~Paul

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." ~John

I don't think these guys were seeker sensitive. The gospel was too urgent and they were too straight-up in people's faces for that crap. Jesus didn't tell the rich young ruler to just give half, he let him walk away with his riches, even though he loved him. He gave the Pharisees and Herodians hell, so did John the Baptist.

So with gentleness and respect, I think we should just be up front about the sacrificial life of Christianity. People should either love our message, or be infuriated by it. Are we trying to super-size, or be faithful to Christ?

spencer said...

Feminary (someday hope to address you beyond your user-id),

Thanks for taking the time with the book - especially during your busy class schedule. I am sorry I gave the impression that I am at odds with the Church. I know it is subtle but I try to differentiate between the "institution" of church and The Church her self. It is my love of Church, the gathering of other children of God and the rituals of that community that I hope to unleash from the "institution". We may be saying the same thing but with different words and context.

I hope I am calling us to look beyond the old ways of categorizing each other and try to find new ways of being the Church in our world. I use the metaphor of "Email" and "Postal" as a way of looking at the church from two different perspectives. I don't believe one is better than the other but I do think the future is opening up communications with "email" church. So I am not trying to be hateful or destroy the "postal" church, I think this side of the church will continue even as the "email" church evolves (maybe we will even find ways of creating NetFlix opportunities).

My critique of where we have been and where we might be now as the church, is only to ask the question are we satisfied with the results OR can we look to the future and see possibilities for Grace beyond our present circumstances. I have been posting something that might help...

I liken it to other industries in transition.
*The music industry sold vinyl and plastic but that is not MUSIC.
*The movie industry sold tickets but those are not MOVIES.
*The church industry counts weekly event attendance but that is not the CHURCH.

The record companies told us MUSIC would die if the ALBUM died, but they were wrong MUSIC is strong than ever (from .99 downloads to ring tones). The movie industry told us if the theaters went empty MOVIES would lose their funding, but they were wrong MOVIES are stronger than ever (from netflix to youTube). The institutional church says if we propose CHURCH as "Jesus beyond Christianity" or "Grace Beyond Religion" then the CHURCH will cease, but will it be stronger or weaker...

"A Heretic's Guide To Eternity" is a survey of spirituality today and a proposal for a bold new way of approaching the future as the Church.

I hope this isn't Hateful but rather seen as Hopeful. It is my love of the Church, Scriptures and Jesus that motivates me.

I do believe rites and rituals are central to the community, but they are not the only goal - they are part of the whole and I think we both are looking for the balance.

It would be great to touch base personally, please send me an email.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading If Grace Is True and have also found it enlightening. If you haven't read Gulley's Harmony novels, I recommend those, too. Don't be fooled by the saccharine-seeming exterior-- they are smart and funny and hopeful, and sentimental in only the best way.