Historically Used In an Exclusive Sense, This Blog Aims to Explore What God's Up To Inside & Outside the Institutional Church

A View from the Half Way Line

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Please permit this older guy a moment of reflection. I turn 50 soon. 5 decades or a half a century on planet Earth. Those of you older will probably say “you ain’t so old” or “you haven’t seen anything yet!” – Those younger need not say anything unless it’s nice or you want to take me out for dinner. Also this summer will be 20 years since I graduated from seminary & the same amount of time as a “professional church leader” (the official denominational term these days though I find it extremely antiseptic).

So with less hair and what I have remaining more gray, I’ve seen a few things about the church I’d like to comment on from my totally subjective viewpoint. Someone said – those who want to trash the church are legion so if that’s what’s intended – take a number and wait in line with the rest. That’s not my purpose –  I feel surprisingly hopeful about the church, at least that which is defined as God’s people on God’s mission. Despite all the silliness, triteness, failure, and weakness of what we are engaged in God is still up to something good around us, in us and through us. I find that amazing – it must be grace!

First, a brief (highly selective) comment about cultural change –  The last 50 years have seen the end of the Cold war, the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism, the civil rights movement (from Rev. King to President Obama), the resurgence of conservative politics with Ronald Reagan and its collapse in the 2008 election, a post-WW2 economic boom with unprecedented prosperity for the middle class, the rise of consumer culture from Woolworth’s to Sam’s club, from Maxwell House to Starbucks to the housing and credit crash of 2008,. Technological advances for computers, communication and entertainment have exploded – we’ve gone from rotary phones and black & white TV to text messaging and plasma screens. The sexual revolution and the Woodstock generation have re-shaped the beliefs about marriage and family – from “Leave it To Beaver” to “Bruno” from Doris Day to Brittney. Like a tsunami the social changes have been massive and dramatic. The church, embedded in culture, even with its wonderful and amazing variety has also been caught in the same waves of change. This is not intended as a cultural lament (many others do that) – we simply are not in Kansas anymore or at least the one we thought we knew.

I came to faith in Christ in 1974, indirectly but during the days of the Jesus People and the mainline charismatic movement. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit brought many to faith in Christ in those days but did not transform many institutions those people belonged to. Like the other corporate giants they were modeled on (GM, GE) there has been a significant decline in the mainline – after enjoying the dominant wave of cultural popularity and acceptance for over 50 years it is now watching from the sidelines.

The post WW2 evangelical gospel vehicle personified by Billy Graham and parachurch institutions like Wheaton has careened its way along a rocky road of fads, trends and bandwagons. Religious music became a lucrative industry as Christian recording & worship resources exploded. Publishers capitalized on controversies – as gallons of ink addressed the meaning of inerrancy, lordship, open theism, Bible translations, justification, and gender roles. The dominant post-Woodstock, growing Baby Boomer generation ministry model was dominated by the expository-big name preacher-mega church model. That “mega” brand Cadillac was soon challenged by the “seeker sensitive” BMW, itself to be run over by the “Purpose Driven” SUV, which was side-swiped by the “emergent” Vespa only most recently to be passed up by the “missional” Prius.  Generations before us agonized over the correct use of “iotas” in their creedal statements – now much dust is kicked up over church structure, form & function – i.e. attractional / incarnational / house / multi-site / nomadic, no-site, etc. Yet, such fine-tuning, hairsplitting, parsing & adamant insistence on getting the terms right can miss the forest for the trees, (or to stick with my analogy) become so distracted and distracting that we buzz on by God’s on-ramp.

As a kid I took boxing lessons – the goal being to take out one’s opponent one way or another. This natural training & ability (I had a mean right hook) carried over nicely into my theological training which majored on critical analysis, debate & argumentation. However, these days, I am less interest in disabling my foe or administering the “coup de grace” – in fact I’m less interested in climbing in the ring, except for the most essential of things. The body of Christ is greater and larger than our most heated arguments and disagreements. Yet I am still a dreamer – and after all these years still find these persistent ideas in my mind worthy of attention and development:

–        That “church,” “the ecclesia,” is first & last God’s work for the praise of his glory and not our own personal or corporate engineering project…

–        That preaching and teaching, to hear and be formed by “the voice of God in the Scriptures,” is still necessary even in the digital age for the health of the body and the faith …

–        That worship is more than the “American Idolization” of music, instrumentation and singing by talented celebrities but the doxological work of all God’s people with their whole lives…

–        That the Holy Spirit is the birthright and inheritance of all who confess Jesus as Lord and not for a select few “superstars”…

–        That the power of God’s Word and the power of God’s Spirit are not enemies or competitors but friends and companions, working together and what God has joined together man ought not to separate…

Despite (or because of) the debating, arguing, discussions, and conversations in the midst of the tsunami changes, I am encouraged to see the younger generation of pastors and leaders concerned for both theological coherence as well as bringing the life of Christ to their communities, a life rooted in our historical faith and yet not afraid to look at the realities of the people, towns and cities around them. Perhaps this is a sign of the end of “ticket to heaven” evangelism and hide in our buildings and “wait till Jesus raptures us” eschatology that despaired of life, society and being a viable witness beyond church services and in-house activities. I am encouraged by the younger people I have met along the way who are passionate about loving, worshipping, and serving Jesus. There are more hands-on training and serving opportunities than ever to channel that passion that move beyond the classroom and church building walls. May your tribe increase!

I feel it is time for those of us who may be privileged to serve in the years ahead as elders in the faith to cheer on the next generation. No, I’m not retiring and I’m not interested in golf – Like Caleb, I plan on taking my own hill country. But may they learn from our mistakes, blunders, and dead ends and sift what wisdom is there for them and develop immunity to the generational and spiritual pathogens that so often disabled us. May they be stronger and go farther because of it.

Now I think I’ll go have some more cake, turn up David Crowder and rattle the windows.

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