Thursday, February 9, 2012

Church is in a Strange Place

"We moderate and polish the world's thinking, and name it Christian. The church embodies the upside-down kingdom. Whatever the world admires is probably not good, according to kingdom values. The church is always anti-empire.

What the church does is provide a place where pain can be touched and where the vision for a new world can be lifted up and held before people."

  --Peter Renner, "Good Is a Timely Word"

Over my morning coffee a story in the local newspaper caught my eye. The headline read: “Churches try to cross ‘stained-glass barriers.’” Below those bold words there was a picture of a Pastor with a huge tattoo emblazoned across his back. A huge Jesus had his hands outstretched over a bridge. It symbolized that Jesus is the bridge between persons and God. The article went on to report that these churches are springing up everywhere. But they don’t take a denominational name, they meet in gyms, bowling alleys, warehouses and strip malls. There are no Christian symbols to be found anywhere. One Pastor said, “I think all the trappings of traditional religion can make it difficult for people to start coming.” Filling the chairs (no pews) is the bottom line. They are welcoming people who do not feel comfortable in a regular church setting. Instead of a Robe the new Pastor dons blue jeans, Reeboks and maybe has a beard, a goat-tee or a tattoo wrapped around his young arm. Almost all are male. There are no business meetings and few Committees. The leader or Pastor is in charge period. Democracy, after all is really a messy business. Most of these churches have no hymnbooks and wouldn’t be caught playing an organ. Screens, guitars and choruses rock the worship center. Most of them say they don’t want to “look like a church.”

These new congregations are springing up everywhere. Down the street, in the mainline church you will see a lot of empty spaces and rows and rows of grey-hairs. In these new places you’ll find few older folk but a houseful of youngsters and your adults. Some Pastors even skype their services to a variety of locations.

What’s going on here? I am not at all sure. Maybe I am just too old get with it. But it seems to me that these new churches are playing a dangerous game. They seem to have little understanding of the great stream of faith that has been here generation after generation. They are suspicious of anything that sounds like tradition. The new standard is to be new, exciting and as far away from old mother church as one can get. They are a symbol-less group unless we talk about the new symbols of: Reeboks, blue jeans, screens and praise songs.

You will find few if any women in leadership positions in these new churches. What does this say to all the little girls sitting out there? You will hear almost no difficult questions raised that concern us all. You won’t be bored but unless I miss my guess there will be little room for silence or mystery or wonder. You don’t get that on Direct TV and you don’t get that in many of these churches. Entertainment is most important.

All this activity reminds me a little of the Protestants that stormed into churches smashing stained glass windows and decapitating statues and sweeping the place of many traditions. And yet—these folk are on to something. They care about people. They welcome all that come and most feel comfortable. They are determined that their worship will not be dull or boring. Some have said these are comeback churches. People come back to these places after being gone from church for years and years. After a while many will move to something more settled and more traditional.

A wise man once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is true for the mainline church as well as these new forms of church life. Yet I do know that there is something deep down that longs for some traditions. When a President or great leader dies we go to the Cathedrals. We sing hymns that have helped Christians for hundreds of years. We listen to anthems and solos that have been with us for a long time. We read the old words from the old book. Somewhere in the distance sometimes a bagpipe plays “Amazing Grace.” We do this because this old tie to our past makes bearable whatever it is we face.

Someone has said that the problem with the liberal is that they have no screens on their windows. The problem with the conservatives is that the windows have been nailed shut. Somehow in this country and the church we need to open those windows carefully, screens and all, and let the Spirit of God do its great work. God isn’t finished with God's people—organs, Reeboks or whatever.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting read. Thanks for sharing. I live in a very rural area and we have a sprinkling of the "new churches springing up even here. Few things are wholly bad or wholly good I suppose.