Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Letters to Emerging Christians

posted by xscot mcknight

Here’s a new letter that crossed our desk. The young person has a beef with the Church, or should I say he fears what God thinks of the American Church. I’ll open this up for discussion, and give my thoughts later today.
Scot,
I’ve been struggling with some similarities that I have seen with several Hebrew Scripture passages and our current church culture. My struggle is that I read Isaiah 58 or Amos 5:21-24 (among others) and I see a people that is obsessed with worship, traditions, going through the motions. I then see God’s displeasure with outward displays of worship and His urgent desire for us to seek justice. What I cannot shake is this feeling that God views many of our American churches today in this way. With the obsession with musical worship, programs, churches run as businesses and so on, I get this sense that we are in danger of looking like the ancient, unfaithful Israelites (with the exception that we are not being threatened with imminent doom).
There is a part of me that wants to push this aside because when Jesus came everything changed but then I can’t ignore the first three chapters of Revelation as well. What are your thoughts on this? Is it possible that God does view us in the same way that He views the ancient, unfaithful Israelites?
If this is something you would like to answer on your blog then I give you permission. If not, then if you have any insights at all, that would be incredible.
Thanks.
Jon



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Jennifer

posted June 27, 2007 at 1:51 am


What an interesting question!
My initial reaction is that there may well be churches, or individuals whose worship is an outward display that God is displeased with, BUT that’s not a label an outsider can put on any other group or individual. An outsider just can’t know what is going on in a stranger’s heart. It would be a totally different thing for that topic to come up in a spiritual friendship where a vulnerable and honest conversation could take place in context of trust.
I just think its better to give others the benefit of the doubt – assume they are worshiping in spirit and truth in their hearts until you are in a position where you’ve earned the right to be in conversation about it. I don’t see what is gained by judging the way other groups worship. There are plenty of worship styles that don’t suit my taste (and might even send me running from the room!) but I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who are practicing them. I sure don’t like it when people judge the kind of worship practices I enjoy as unspiritual simply because those practices don’t suit their sensibilities.



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Sam Andress

posted June 27, 2007 at 2:37 am


Yes Jon, it is quite possible that the Lord is utterly displeased with the majority of popular or mass consumer Churchianity in the United States.
My own experience is that much of the way our churches perform services are the result of hyper-modernity. John Drane, one of my professors at Fuller wrote a book titled The McDonaldization of the Church. He based it in connection with George Ritzer’s sociological study of the McDonaldization of the World.
I think God is moving through the emerging movement to preserve a faithful remnant which will follow the radical way of Jesus. Popular Christianity in America, whether it be purpose-drive (trademark), willow creek association (trademark), or “your-best-life-now” stuff does not take into account the active, subversive and reorienting nature of Jesus’ teachings. Of course Jesus was not abolishing the Torah and Prophets, just calling those who claimed to be the people of God to faitful put those teachings into practice, especially their charismatic leaders who would’nt lift a finger, but built fine “Crystal Cathedrals.” Check out David Fitch’s blog http://www.reclaimingthemission.com for some in depth discussions on how modernity has hijacked and reduced the radical call of what it means to be the church.



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Allie

posted June 27, 2007 at 3:09 am


Precisely, Jennifer. The reality is that what we see is only a small part of what’s actually going on. God, however, has all the information, and can therefore accurately discern the real from the fake. He knew in the Israelites’ case that it wasn’t about the worship itself, it was about the sin they were committing outside of their worship times, and that they were not willing to repent of that sin. If that’s true in the case of a specific church or organization (like a campus group), then it’s up to God to make that determination, and take appropriate action in that circumstance. Only He can convict people of sin, and teach them the things they need to repent of.
I think, then, Jon, in response to your question, that a reexamination of the Isaiah 58 and Amos 5 passages may well be warranted. Neither passage contains anything that remotely addresses programs, “churches run like businesses”, or anything like that. They are addressing the heart issues of hypocrisy and flagrant, unrepented-of sin. The people involved in that kind of worship were so far from God, not because of their programs or anything like that, but because they were unwilling to look at their lives with His help, and realize that they needed to understand that their hearts were far from Him.
That same dynamic is what Christ was addressing in the letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7). After commending their faithfulness, He then says, “Yet this I hold against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (2:4-5, TNIV).
Nowhere in any of that is anything about an “obsession with musical worship” or “churches run like businesses”. Those things largely reflect the American culture, which is entertainment-driven, and consumerist to its very core. (I apologize for stating the patently obvious). Therefore, I really don’t think the passages you are struggling with are necessarily applicable to American churches in the way you think they are, since our culture and context has to be considered when you apply them.
I will definitely back up Jennifer on this one. If there is a specific church that God might be speaking those words to as corrections, your only job is to pray that that specific church is listening, and willing to repent. If it’s your church that you think God might be speaking this to, your job is to humbly say, “This is on my heart. I don’t know if it’s the reality here, but I think this needs to be said. Then say your piece (be sure to back it up with plenty of evidence–specific instances of sin, not just a smear campaign that happens to include Scripture!), and listen to the response. If you can, then offer yourself as help in any way you can to church as it seeks to discern a different path. It’s not enough in this case to merely say the hard thing that a church needs to hear if it’s going to change. You must be a change agent, willing to help that church draw closer to God, otherwise your words, however well-intended, will go to waste.



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Jarrod Saul McKenna

posted June 27, 2007 at 3:47 am


Was it Peter Maurin that said “The best critque of the bad is the practice of the better.”? In trying to throw my life into a living alternative I’ve become aware of my own deep need for grace and helps me first remove the log from my own witness (and the strange mystery is God takes that and convicts with empowering grace both us and others).
great questions Jon. Let’s follow Christ in being now what God wills the world to be ultimately, in resurrection power, and do it in humble ways that others can join.



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Greg Laughery

posted June 27, 2007 at 6:07 am


Jon,
If I understand your letter, I must say I’m sympathetic and share your concerns. I take it that you’re drawing an analogy between ancient Israel and some expressions of contemporary church. All the details won’t be the same as with any analogy. But there may be some common ground here. Idolatry is rampant in both contexts. If we recognize our own failings in this and not just say it’s everyone else’s problem, that would be a good start. Justice starts at home.
Today, we may be too focused on the externals – the prim and proper – the right appearance – caught up in outward displays, but inwardly we’re wasting away, instead of being renewed in Christ day by day. Exchanging the former for the latter seems to me to be a real danger, as Western culture is all too often the idol of some churches. Gracious critique in love here may be appropriate.
Yet, it is also true that there are other churches where this is not the case. We can be grateful that in both kinds of churches Christ is working out redemption and that through the power of the Spirit it is taking place in a variety of contexts, including our own lives.



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RJS

posted June 27, 2007 at 7:29 am


“I think God is moving through the emerging movement to preserve a faithful remnant which will follow the radical way of Jesus.”
Sam,
As I see it, having read fairly broadly in the history of the church – this is a misguided statement – and one that can have dangerous consequences. If God is preserving a faithful remnant (and I think that there is a faithful remnant) it is dispersed throughout all traditions in the church. There is no clearly delineated us – them in this fashion.



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Mike

posted June 27, 2007 at 7:36 am


Thank God for Scripture! Yes, everything changed when Jesus came, yet the inspired writers of the Greek Scriptures understood the Hebrew Scriptures as still applicable to the present realities of the church. Maybe I’m missing something in your question, but it makes perfect sense to me that you would examine God’s word and find counsel, judgment, prophecy, etc., that continues to speak to contemporary Christians.



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Paul

posted June 27, 2007 at 7:48 am


they are some great thoughts and of course for me it is never as black and white – a lot of american churches i would say do a lot of good in their communities and i’m sure all these churches have flaws too – given that there is no perfect church :)
Worship and justice are not too oposing choices – the two inform each other – in our worship we ascribe proper place to any hope of justice being God orientated. God is seeking a people who will bear his name and his image…



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Helen

posted June 27, 2007 at 7:53 am


I think God has got nicer since those days.
I like the God presented in Evan Almighty. Like you, Jon, he is into people being sold out to doing what’s right. No matter how inconvenient or bad for their career it may be.
But he tells Evan to build the ark because he wants to save people from destruction.



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Matthew

posted June 27, 2007 at 8:06 am


I then see God’s displeasure with outward displays of worship and His urgent desire for us to seek justice.
I am not sure the contrast in the prophets is so much outward display of worship vs. seeking justice, but rather outward display of worship vs. worshipping with and from the heart. For example, Jesus talked about worshipping in spirit and truth; both OT and NT talk about being circumcised in heart.
I really appreciate God’s emphasis on justice through the prophets, specifically for the orphans and widows. It shows his caring heart. He expects us to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. God doesn’t desire false, outward displays of legality that hide perverted justice any more than he wants false, outward expressions of worship that hide proud, unloving, fleshly hearts. The message of the prophets, then, does speak to us today.
A caution: it would be possible to take up the mantle of the prophets and declare an entire denomination or continent of churches to be dead. Sometimes people do need a kick in the rear. (Bonhoeffer’s “Cheap Grace” sermon comes to mind; Paul expressed some sharp rebukes) My concern is that I have seen many people who believe that they speak for God do damage. Please be careful to hate the sin and love the… oops (http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=2507) … love God and love others as you attempt to be the spiritual one who restores the wayward ones back. In short, our mission is reconciliation, not condemnation.



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cindy

posted June 27, 2007 at 8:20 am


Jon, I’m no scholar, but after months of prayer and as much of the kind study that i was able to do, i wrote an article called idols on the altar and images in the pulpit
I posted it, with some revisions for my blog here:
http://cindybryan.blogspot.com/2005/10/idols-on-altar-and-images-in-pulpit_25.html



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cindy

posted June 27, 2007 at 8:26 am


Jon, sorry- I should have put this in the previous comment.
Here is the line that I thought you’d be interested in: “As a result of the two most intense years of my spiritual life thus far, I can say without hesitation that I believe that when God looks at the Church today (specifically the Church in the U.S.), most of our worship looks the same to Him as the idolatrous worship of Israel prior to exile.”
sound familiar?



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted June 27, 2007 at 8:36 am


This is an important question to ask, though we must always be mindful that there is One Church. We cannot critique it as “they” or “those”, but rather “we” and “us”. This requires us to see the Church as God sees it, requiring the grace that has shaped His relationship with His people throughout history.
I want to affirm the Peter Maurin quote that Jarrod shared. Our best critique to live the difference. Gandhi said it too when he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
I look forward to hearing your take, Scot.
Peace,
Jamie



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cas

posted June 27, 2007 at 9:14 am


The shocking thing to me about this letter is that before my husband and I confronted systemic corruption in our fellowship of churches, Isaiah 58 had been given to us as a vision for our ministry. We were serving at the mother church in our affiliation and thought it had to do with future ministry after we left there. Eventually, it became clear that the passage was given for that time and place.
“Cry aloud, spare not, tell my people their transgressions …[loose paraphrase:they do all kinds of religious activity with wrong motives]… Those from among you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations. And you shall be called the reparer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
Several colaborers were given identical passages from Haggai, I believe, that talked about reform. Perhaps the Spirit is speaking the same words to many.



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T

posted June 27, 2007 at 9:19 am


Jon,
I don’t know if this helps, but I definitely think its possible that God views the American church similarly to Israel to whatever extent we are doing what they did (though I echo some of the comments above that making large-scale church by church judgements would be a mistake).
The NT–the Gospels, Acts, the pastoral letters, 1 John, James, etc.–isn’t any softer on greed than the OT. In fact, I find Jesus far more disturbing on the subject than any of the OT prophets, but we’ve built theologies around Jesus and the rest of the NT (if you’re evangelical) to take all the bite out of the teachings on that subject. I’d encourage you read what the NT says about money and digest it. (By the way, the parable of the talents isn’t a teaching about money–if you’re going to start somewhere, start with Matthew or–worse!–Luke.) If you’re going to get zealous, (in prayer, in preaching, in piety, or whatever) you should have the knowledge.



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Pastor Doug

posted June 27, 2007 at 10:09 am


Tim Keller has an excellent talk on “doing justice” and he delves into the passages in Proverbs which talk about this very issue – sometimes God looks at our worship and, because it isn’t connected to justice, it makes God sick. Keller’s talk is at Mars Hill’s Resurgence podcast site here: http://theresurgence.com/podcast?page=4
I’m always suspicious when people start talking about “the American church.” I wouldn’t even know what is being referenced by such a label. It’s hard enough to talk about “evangelicalism,” given it’s diversity.
And I don’t think it’s fair to write off the purpose-driven and seeker-driven people. Willow Creek and Saddleback do A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT of social justice work.
All churches are works in progress, and if you read the New Testament you’ll discover that it has always been so.
Blessings on you..



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John W Frye

posted June 27, 2007 at 10:10 am


“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” wrote James the brother of Jesus.
Jon, I don’t see too much difference in your observations from that of James.
Don’t worry too much about using the OT analogically to what you observe in the USAmerican church. There are more ways to read the OT than exegetically.



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eugene

posted June 27, 2007 at 10:20 am


It’s hard to speak to worship styles, preferences, and the genuineness of one’s heart. Like others have said, it’s hard to discern that. But, I think the original question speaks to something deeper – about the possible duplicitous nature of the larger Church. Where is our devotion?
Anyway, while it may not directly speak to the question, I thought this quote from Cornel West was worth sharing:
“I speak as a Christian- one whose commitment to democracy is very deep but whose Christian convictions are deeper. Democracy is not my faith. And American democracy is not my idol. To see the gospel of Jesus Christ bastardized by imperial Christians and pulverized by Constantinian believers and then exploited by nihilistic elites of the American empire makes my blood boil. To be a Christian- a follower of Jesus Christ- is to love wisdom, love justice, and love freedom. This is the radical love in Christian freedom and the radical freedom in Christian love that embraces socratic questioning, prophetic witness, and tragicomic hope.
If Christians do not exemplify this love and freedom, then we side with the nihilists of the Roman empire (cowardly elite romans and subjugated jews) who put Jesus to a humiliating death. Instead of receiving his love in freedom as a life-enhancing gift of grace, we end up believing in the idols of the empire that nailed him to the cross. I do not want to be numbered among those who sold their souls for a mess of pottage- who surrendered their democratic Christian identity for a comfortable place at the table of the American empire while, like Lazarus, the least of these cried out and I was too intoxicated with worldly power and might to hear, beckon, and heed their cries.
To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely- to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away. This is the kind of vision and courage required to enable the renewal of prophetic, democratic Christian identity in the age of the American empire.”



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cindy

posted June 27, 2007 at 10:29 am


eugene- that’s a great quote from West. will you tell us where to find it?



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eugene

posted June 27, 2007 at 10:39 am


oops. sorry.
it’s from “Democracy Matters.”



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Glenn

posted June 27, 2007 at 10:55 am


Yes Doug – “Willow Creek and Saddleback do A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT of social justice work! One of the problems with the American body is many churches are independent and fly below the radar or are connected to small networks/denominations, etc. This past Sunday I visited a small independent evangelical church and during the service three different speakers promoting lay ministries in this church asked for financial support to combat aids in Africa, to support Palestinian families during the present crisis and to support orphans in Asia. What many churches do week in and week out is never picked up by the mainstream media and other than God, a few saints and those in need will never be noticed by those outside the church walls. That point aside, Jon has raised some great issues in his letter. We in the church do emphasis things the New Testament places almost no weight upon and neglect the tough and long road of discipleship to Jesus. Great posts!



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kent`

posted June 27, 2007 at 11:29 am


I wonder if there has even an era when we have examined and critiqued the church more? We have so much information and exposure that we are often overwhelmed with the sheer volume of the material. And the vast majority of this focus and scrutiny is on a literal handful of congregations. There are over 300,000 church in the USA who may well be doing the very things called for in Isaiah 58 and Amos 5 and James 1. Do we get it right all the time – no way, but I do not think our entire focus is off the mark.



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ChrisB

posted June 27, 2007 at 12:22 pm


I see a people that is obsessed with worship, traditions, going through the motions.
I understand Jon’s concerns and share them somewhat too. These comments could be construed as saying something I don’t think he intended to say, so let’s be explicit: good musical worship does not equal spiritual superficiality. Also, God’s displeasure is not with outward displays of worship but merely outward worship.
So is the worship in American churches merely outward? Another way to ask it: Is our worship living for Jesus or simply singing about Jesus? If our worship is confined to the latter, then we fall short.
But let’s talk about God’s urgent desire for us to seek justice. God is concerned about more than just justice. The people in these passages were not just not taking care of the poor. They were sacrificing to Baal, ignoring the Sabbath, and committing sexual immorality as well as violating other covenant aggreements that do not apply to us.
God’s desire is for us to be conformed to the image of Christ which means that we immitate His love (for God and man) and His holiness. We will do both of these things imperfectly until we are glorified, but any Christian who is not seeking both is incomplete. Let’s be frank: groups who are good at seeking “justice” (as they define it) are not generally good at seeking holiness — and vice versa. In the same vein, those good at loving their neighbor by seeking justice for the poor tend not to be very good at loving him by actually making him a disciple of Christ. I’m not defending those who ignore justice so much as saying we’ve got a lot more to worry about than just that — and especially that those who think they’ve got the justice thing nailed down need to see how they’re doing in other areas.
Ok, we’re in the New Testament era, the age of grace, so what changes should we expect to God’s expectations and reactions? Jesus fulfilled parts of the Law, but he did not change God’s character and in fact raised the bar on many issues, so the mere fact that we live post-Calvary doesn’t mean that we are going to get away with un-Christlike behavior. Though it may appear rare, God does occassionaly judge His people temporally, and He will certainly judge us eternally, and while His people are not in danger of hell, there will be consequences for those who have not lived lives worthy of the gospel.
So “doom” might not be the right word (of course, it might be), but it is very possible that the American church will be judged because of the things it didn’t do.
So what can we do? Plank before the speck — check out how you’re doing, first. Then talk to your pastor about this concern and see what changes can be made at your church. Then see if y’all can get this concern to spread. And see if you can get Scot to write another book :)
Though we’ve got a long way to go, I really think we’re living in a mini-reformation where issues like this are getting a lot of attention. Though there are a lot of stagnant single-issue churches out there still, a great many churches are seeing that they have to take a more holistic approach to the Christian life.
The megachurch I attended until recently has a professional quality worship service every week (staffed solely by volunteers). From the pulpit people are being taught that the Christian life is about all of life, that your Sunday-self and Monday-self need to be the same person, that the poor are especially important to Jesus, that evangelism is every Christian’s job, that discipleship must come after evangelism, and that God is a big, holy, righteous God who is worthy of respect, awe, and worship. The church is, not surprisingly, imperfect, but you’ve got to say they’re giving it a good try, and I don’t think this church is unique.



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Mariam

posted June 27, 2007 at 1:09 pm


Jon, you do not say whether you are looking for a church you feel spiritually connected with, whether you are an outside or inside or whether you active in a church and uncomfortable with what you see. As Jennifer says there are many styles of worship (and theology) and not every style will suit each individual. I don’t think it is up to any of us to judge the worship style of another – if there is any judging about the sincerity of one’s faith and how one expresses that surely that is up to God. It is up to me to find or look for or create those moments and places that strengthen my faith and my conviction to lead a more loving and authentic life. Or rather it is up to me to be looking for God and listening. Rituals which may seem meaningless and empty to one, may bring another closer to God. Music which may seem loud and shallow and populist to me, may provide another with a way of expressing their love of God. When people grow up in a church they may really just be going through the motions because they have never thought about what they are singing or saying. They just take it for granted. Sometimes we tend to sit back and wait to be entertained. Sometimes we need to take a more active role even if that just means truly paying attention and listening to the words we sing or say.
I am a recent Christian and I attend an Anglican church, which has a liturgy which I find beautiful and meaningful. To me it is as if God led me to a map which points the way to him. It is all new to me and I am like a child in awe. When we sing through Lent and Easter “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us and grant us peace,” I invariably feel a desire for spiritual healing. When we sing the Lords Prayer I really mean it and I often sing it slowly when I am alone thinking about each part of it and what it means to me in that time. I take comfort in hearing the same antiphonal responses and prayers each week. Most of the time I find the sermon personally meaningful and, when I don’t, I know that there is no doubt someone in the congreation who does. The Eucharist for me is a solemn and sacred thing and in our congregation it is a quiet and respectful sacrament. I have been in other churches where people took the opportunity to chat (loudly) with their neighbours as if they were in a bar and the communion was a bit of entertainment you didn’t really have to listen to. This past Sunday one of the hymns was “One bread, one body, one Lord of all” and there were many offering that as a tearful prayer as our Canadian Church grappled with differences that threaten to tear the church apart. And yet I know that for some the liturgy and the rigid form of the Anglican service is very offputting, as is for some the vagueness of our theology.



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bruce

posted June 27, 2007 at 1:32 pm


Scot
Worship is without a doubt the most important issue for the local church but its justice, or lack of, that is the issue for the global church. Global injustices such as what is metered out by the Israeli against the Arabs , whether they be Christains or Moslems, south of the Levant. This Israeli action is supported by most of the Churches in USA and a significant support from the churches in UK . It was the UK government who cause the problem in the first place.



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Scott Watson

posted June 27, 2007 at 2:10 pm


This thread has been unduly pulled out of shape by a type of Protestant angst about ritual vs. true worship of the heart. In fact, this is truly anachronistic,biblically speaking.Worship in Isreal was ritualistic,too.The issue in these prophetic books is whether the life one leads is commensurate with the worship,that is,is one practicing injustice while worshipping YHWH,the god of justice.One cannot worship YHWH and defraud or oppress the poor or practice immorality such as adultery,etc.This is the crux of the matter.



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jon

posted June 27, 2007 at 2:34 pm


i want to make it clear. i am not in any way talking about worship styles. this isn’t about preferences, this is about where our focus lies. i have been to too many churches where programs, our musical worship and the Sunday to Sunday services becomes so much of the focal point. and i ask myself, “aren’t there more important things that we could be doing with our time then sitting in our churches thanking God for how good he’s been to us when outside our doors or even within our doors, there is a lot of pain that needs to be addressed and dealt with?”
what i have have resonated with the most in these comments is the focus on the individual church. i agree that we cannot know the hearts of the “american church” nor even the heart of the person sitting next to me. but most of us can get a basic sense of what drives our churches and if they are living that mission out.
i suppose much of this came after i read eugene peterson’s version of these passages. i highly suggest reading those if you haven’t yet (the message version). thanks for the comments. looking forward to hearing from scot.



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Peggy

posted June 27, 2007 at 2:54 pm


Jon,
I am right with you brother…this is why I frequently describe the Bride of Christ as a quadraplegic, because of the vast number of people who are disconnected: from the local church, from each other, from the leadership, from active discipleship, from the power of the Holy Spirit, even from God.
She can talk a good story, sing up a storm, see what needs to be done, hear the Word…she just can’t get up and dance with the Bridegroom.
I also caution speaking the words of the prophet…unless it is absolutely clear that God wants you to do this, it has a very poor chance of being heard and a very good chance of coming back to injure you!



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gary

posted June 27, 2007 at 2:59 pm


I could have written that letter…I feel the same way and I think he is 100% right.
May answer: Plant a Church with like minded people to lead others to Christ in a more Biblical and Jesus centered way…
If he wants help he can email me at transformission@hotmail.com



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Jennifer

posted June 27, 2007 at 3:58 pm


Jon,
I think you’re raising really good questions. You see something that seems wrong and you’re willing to challenge it – I love that :-)
I’m just wondering though, when you say, “i agree that we cannot know the hearts of the “american church” nor even the heart of the person sitting next to me. but most of us can get a basic sense of what drives our churches and if they are living that mission out” are you talking about the American Church in a general sense? Or about a specific church you are a part of? or both? or neither?
If you’re talking about the American church – which I assume means many many church you don’t know personally – I’m wondering how you know what drives them?
I’m not trying to question your heart – I think you’re asking questions we all are asking. I’m just thinking that we all, as human beings, find it easier to attribute negative motivations to other people’s actions easier than we do to our own (“the fatal attribution error” in social psychology). I imagine those people that you see as failing to live out the mission of Jesus, would have a very different explanation of their actions. And the flip-side of that is true too, and it seems like this happens all the time to emergent types….”outsiders” see a few too many candles and prayer forms they are not used to and call the whole thing “new age” (just one example). But if you ask the people involved, the motivations for what they do are solid.
I guess I’ve been on the losing end of this too many times and feel like unless you’re talking about people you know intimately, it’s really hard to throw such allegations at their churches.



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Glenn

posted June 27, 2007 at 4:10 pm


“aren’t there more important things that we could be doing with our time then sitting in our churches thanking God for how good he’s been to us when outside our doors or even within our doors, there is a lot of pain that needs to be addressed and dealt with?” – I think this statement is the driving force behind the emergent movement, Renovare, Alleon, and the list could go on ad nauseam. Jon – you’ve hit the nail on the head!
“While the New Testament speaks often about churches, it is surprisingly silent about many matters that we associate with church structure and life. There is no mention of architecture, pulpits, lengths of typical sermons [or sermons!], rules for having a Sunday school. Little is said about style of music, order of worship, or times of church gatherings. There were no Bibles, denominations, camps, pastor’s conferences, or board meeting minutes. Those who strive to be New Testament churches must seek to live its principles and absolutes, not reproduce the details. (Quoted in Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard, p. 235)



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jon

posted June 27, 2007 at 4:13 pm


jennifer,
i was referring specifically to our own churches. i have no way to judge or know the motives of the american church in general but i think each of us can get a basic sense of where the focus of our own churches are. thanks for clarifying.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 27, 2007 at 4:16 pm


Glenn,
I can’t figure out if you are critiquing or agreeing.



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Jennifer

posted June 27, 2007 at 4:19 pm


Jon,
Ah. So, what comes out of conversation when you talk with people in your own church about your point of view?



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jon

posted June 27, 2007 at 4:36 pm


jennifer, luckily, i believe that my current church does a very good job of being socially aware and looking for the needs in our community. i go to vintage faith in santa cruz, ca. we recently formed a social justice group and and trying to figure out what that looks like. it is very much a process.
i bring this up mainly because i am a worship leader and have been for awhile, so i’m very aware of the importance that music is given in church. i bring this up because i have been involved in so many different churches where i have sat in the audience, staring at amos 5, feeling really uncomfortable. i have wrestled with this for a year and have discussed it with my OT professor but have yet to be satisfied with an answer. maybe i never will. maybe i am supposed to live within this tension.



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Jennifer

posted June 27, 2007 at 4:58 pm


Jon,
I’m gald you’re in a place that fits you now. That is such a gift.
In your previous churches, what would happen when you voiced your point of view?
Jennifer



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Josh

posted June 27, 2007 at 5:04 pm


I definitely agree that there are major problems in the church in America. And you know what? The church has problems around the world. I remember being in Romania doing an evangelism event that focused on children (kick ball- whoo boy). The local Orthodox pastor came out and tried to run us off. Earlier that week we had come to him anonomously and he had gave us a tour of his church. We found out that the would pronounce “curses” on people for the right amount of money. If your house was burgalarized, you payed the priest money to curse whoever did it. Word got around the village and pretty soon the thief would get freaked and return the money. We all got problems.
But sometimes the problem is with the prophet. We just run from everything we don’t like. We retreat to our safe spots and blog about how bad the church is instead of confronting the person/s or ideas spoiling the church ( I have been guilty more times than not; this is not finger-pointing). The prophets went into captivity with their people. They did crazy things to turn God’s people from their sin (Ezekiel cooked his dinner over a doo-doo fire). If we are going to make a difference we are going to have be brave, stay in the midst of God’s people, and speak the truth.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 27, 2007 at 5:11 pm


jon,
I guess I’m with many who really sense a discomfort about speaking about the “American church.”
Second, I have to be committed to working out the changes for myself if I want to weigh in about the group.
Third, how do we measure a “good” church? (Hard to find the right word: not “success” or “effective” … .) A good church, in my estimation, loves God and loves others. It follows Jesus. It shows mercy to the poor. It serves its community. It makes a difference in families and neighborhoods. It worships God — and I refer here to Jon Wilson’s stuff we’ve been blogging about on Fridays. It has a solid teaching program and adheres to the orthodox faith and makes it come alive.
Fourth, I have absolutely no program problem with good programs and good solid professionals on weekend services. I like to see things done well — we offer God our best in our location.
Fifth, I believe fellowship and relationships are at all time low in churches — people are too busy. The younger generation, ironically, is calling my generation back to its Jesus Movement days of a more informal and relational expression of the faith.
These are my thoughts.
Is the American church like ancient Israel? Yes and No.



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Jennifer

posted June 27, 2007 at 5:18 pm


Scot,
I love how you said it here : Second, I have to be committed to working out the changes for myself if I want to weigh in about the group.
I have found, in my own life, that the most effective “prophets” are not the ones who speak with the tone of “this is how it should be”, but are the ones who speak with, “this is how the Lord is leading me, and if he’s leading you that way too, let’s walk together.”



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Diane

posted June 27, 2007 at 5:18 pm


Many churches in my experience tend to follow the society and that’s where the wedge needs to be put. We need to first identify where a social norm is selfish or consumeristic or cold and then challenge that norm without judging people. One of the most heart-warming churches I saw had an extensive after-school ministry. Many children lived nearby and came home to empty apartments. The church ran homework clubs, games, etc. for the kids. The kids loved it. That was the part that most impressed me: how much the kids adored it. However, I have seen other churches turn away from precisely these situations, following the dominant cultural belief that if the parents don’t take care of the kids, why should anybody else. So it was great to see a church filling a gap.
Excuses I have heard from church groups for not helping:
1. Nobody helped us with that problem and we got through.
2. If they need help, they have to ask.
3. They want the church to do for them but they never give back.
All of these reasons conform to a culture of individualism and quid pro quo but do not conform to God’s expectations.



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jon

posted June 27, 2007 at 5:22 pm


jennifer,
unfortunately, i was in each of these churches for less than a year each because i was away at college and some i was more or less forced into due to internship credits. so my situation is unique one.
scot,
thanks for your response. i had figured that this wouldn’t be a black and white issue (or a yes and no issue). there is too much surrounding my question to answer it so simply. if i had to come to a conclusion, then i suppose it would be that we are each responsible for voicing our opinions in our respective churches rather than point at what i believe is wrong with “the American church.”



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Jennifer

posted June 27, 2007 at 5:37 pm


Jon,
Oh, that’s too bad. I think it really would have been interesting to see where those conversations could lead.
One thing that always amazes me about my relationships is that I can still grow in my understanding of why people do what they do – even in relationships I’ve had for years and years. I can imagine how frustrating it must have been for you to do that with relationship you only had with those folks for a few months.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 27, 2007 at 5:43 pm


jon,
I forgot to write down my most important idea: the Church is the Body of Christ, after all. Which means we should be respectful and honoring at all times in what we say.



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RJS

posted June 27, 2007 at 6:53 pm


Scot,
I agree with all of your points here (although it should be no problem in the fourth point right?)
Especially #2 – don’t complain unless you are willing to be part of the solution (time, effort, energy, possibly money).
I also believe fellowship and relationships are at all time low in churches — perhaps people are too busy. I actually think it has more to do with priorities than “time” – fellowship and relationship are not a priority. I hope that the younger generation calls us back to a relational church.



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Joshua Smith

posted June 27, 2007 at 9:58 pm


I have wrestled with the same issues that were mentioned in the letter over the same passages of Scripture.
My fear with the emerging movement or any movement is that we scrutinize over the modern church, American church, emergent church, white church, black church, etc as if we are NOT part of the church. I think that God graces us with these convictions about his Bride and in fear we criticize it for not accomplishing what God is calling us to do (personally or communaly).



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M.A.C. (aka) Bruce W. Moar

posted June 27, 2007 at 10:22 pm


I believe the problem is deeper than just America but includes all of North America and Europe if not the whole world. Europe is where the majority of North Americans came from, but Europe is in need of missionaries to spread the gospel all over again.
The problem is like Bonhoeffer and more recently Gregory Boyd has pointed out. “Love is the central command in Scripture and judgment the central prohibition”. We judged God in the beginning and we continue to do it today so the judgment of each other is an extension of our original sin.
So what’s truly missing is the outrageous love that the early Christians had for each other. We do what we are taught and tradition wins over truth 99.9% of the time. We are in trouble if we don’t repent and change our ways. God must be first or he is second and we break the first commandment daily.
We cannot do it without the Holy Spirit and to often we quench the spirit in our churches and choose man over God.



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Anonymous

posted July 2, 2007 at 11:57 am


Fluid Faith » Blog Archive » Struggling with similarities

Quick-thought: Patriotism
What kinds of prayers do patriots pray?
In thinking about our churches encouraging people to “Pray for Our Soldiers” or “Remember Our Military” I was told by a friend to check out Mark Twain’s short story “The War P…—–
[...] I have some more thoughts on this later, but here’s a link to a discussion at Jesus Creed on whether the American Church resembles (in God’s view) the Israelites to whom Isaiah 58 and Amos 5 were written. The comment thread is well worth reading and considering … and indicative of how difficult a subject this actually is for us. 0 Comments posted on “Struggling with similarities” Post a comment [...]



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Jon

posted July 2, 2007 at 5:19 pm


Jon is a good buddy of mine, and I’m so excited to hear the questions he raises. The two of us and a handful of our closest friends are in a community group together. We meet once a week outside of our Sunday morning gatherings. These questions don’t seem to gain solutions very easily, so thank G-d for our gatherings… thank G-d for this blog and all of you who are writing in an effort to walk with my friend through this process.
Whenever questions like this are brought to the surface within the Church, or within close knit groups, it’s easy to take sides; to agree or disagree. Some of the posts seem to do so. However, I was really happy to see what Jennifer said in the 39th posting on this page.
Whether we agree or not, let’s just continue to walk with each other. Emerging or not, this denomination or that… let’s just walk together and see what happens.



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