I’ve been asked by several people now to share my thoughts on the article “Surfing Secularism: Why Fighting the Rest of the World is a Losing Strategy for Churches“. If you haven’t read the article yet, please do so. Most of this post will be in response.
First of all, this would not be an article I would read on my own. In fact, though I’d seen it on my news feed for awhile, I was content to bypass it altogether. That is, until you started emailing me about it – which I LOVE by the way! Please keep them coming.
The reason I wouldn’t normally read this is because these types of article/arguments just don’t interest me. Not at all. Christians debating back and forth of who is right, who is wrong and what the best methodology is makes me want to blow chunks. I’ll just go about my business without any of that, thank you very much.
I think the best way I can respond to this article is to share an encounter I had with God recently.
Disclaimer: This post is going to be longer than usual. Also, I am going to mention a “gypsy camp” in probably very stereotypical ways. I do not intend any offense to the Roma people. Really quite the opposite. The Roma (gypsies) in my imagination symbolize passion, living life to the full and joy.
Here is the encounter as I remember it:
I saw a huge and imposing Medieval castle. It looked weighty and awesome. I thought, ‘I need to check this out.’ So I walked through the front gates and started looking around. I saw many men and women dressed in fine clothes – they looked rich, important and majestic – they looked like kings and queens. Apparently they were too important to talk to me, because they saw me, looked away and moved on. I kept searching the castle. I got to the interior courtyard – it felt like this was the place the castle was built to defend. Planted in the middle of the courtyard was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As I watched, the people came to eat of the fruit. As soon as they had taken a bite, they started arguing with one another – debating what was right and what was wrong, who was included in the Kingdom and who wasn’t. Their speech was full of rules, judgement and condemnation. I was really confused. I became aware of the Lord’s Presence by me and I asked Him to explain.
He said to me – ‘This is the Jaded Palace and it is a symbol of what the church in the West has become.’ I was appalled. These men and women had erected walls of cynicism and judgement because they thought following Christ was eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
I was immediately taken out of the castle and brought to the other side of the territory. There I saw a sprawling gypsy camp. Wagons and tents of various colors were clustered together with no rhyme or reason. I saw lots of campfires outside the tents and wagons. As I entered the camp, I was aware of being loved and welcome. I heard music (good gypsy/greek dancing music) and saw tons of children laughing, playing and running around. I eventually made my way to the center of the camp only to find the Tree of Life there. I saw men and women, much dirtier and more worn than those in the Palace, gathering fruit and cooking it in pots. I saw women carrying food to the elderly, sick and the lame. I saw children gathering fruit and taking it to those with injuries. The children squeezed the fruit and the juice fell on the wounds, healing them. I don’t remember The Lord saying anything in particular, but my soul felt at peace and free in this place.
I remember standing in the middle of the camp, by the tree of Life and looking out over the camp. In the distance, a long way away I saw other tents and wagons. I instinctively knew that these people considered themselves part of the camp and the people within the camp didn’t argue the point. If those outside said they were in, then they would be treated as such and welcome to eat, dance and sing.
That is the end of this particular encounter.
In my opinion, “courageously confronting the culture” too easily translates into “being a dick for Christ”. I realize that is stronger language than I typically use on this blog, but I stand by it. “Courageously confronting the culture” is just Christianese for being angry, obnoxious, belligerent, belittling and arrogant. The confrontation happens over all the wrong issues and in all the wrong ways.
Exactly where in the Gospels do we see Jesus courageously confronting the culture? When He is dealing with the religious people! The people who considered themselves set apart, holy, doctrinally pure – those were the people Jesus went out of His way to insult, rebuke and beat with whips. I share His feelings sometimes.
And the sinners we are supposed to be “courageously confronting”? I’m pretty sure Jesus would eat and drink and dance with them. I’m pretty sure Jesus would talk to them about a passionate Bridegroom God who wants to bring them to a wedding feast as His Bride. And He would sozo them – heal them, save them, deliver them – bring health, wellbeing and the Kingdom of God to bear on every aspect of their lives. He’d let them know that they were loved.
Following Jesus is about eating from the Tree of Life, not the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the Law) only brings death – it does NOT make us more like God. Eating from the Tree of Life, embracing life giving activities and relationships and ways of being – having life to the full – that is what Jesus came to offer us.
Do realize Jesus came to offer us Life? Life to the full? Life overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, meekness and self-control? Life full of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost? Life that leaves us with unblemished consciences, free from any spot or wrinkle?
Those are the things I wish we were saying to our culture, not “confronting” them with religious dogmas and checklists. Anyhow, enough of that, onto the author’s article, “Surfing Secularism”.
I’ll admit, I hate the title. The title implies that the culture is the one calling the shots, establishing the culture, and the Church just has to ride it out.
But Jesus calls us the ekklesia the common Greek word used in His time to describe the group of people who exercised governmental authority for the well being of their city. It Jesus who has received all power and authority, not the world.
I feel like now is a good time to mention Eugene Peterson’s words from The Contemplative Pastor. In this excellent work, Peterson says that pastors (as representatives of the Church at large) should be unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic. The last two words Peterson uses are especially helpful in our dealings with the world.
Subversive Rather than riding the waves of secularism, catering to the whims of popular culture, I like Jesus’s image of yeast infiltrating dough until the whole batch is elevated to a new level and becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.
Apocalyptic We must understand our time in history. We shouldn’t chastise the darkness being dark – that is what it is, that is the only thing it can do. We should be more concerned with wether or not the Light is shining in the Church. Are we doing the things Jesus gave us to do without question and without compromise? If not, then let’s first remove our plank before we help our brothers with their speck. I find it helpful to remember that Jesus is the Way as well as the Truth. Jesus models the Way we present the Truth.
As for the author’s three points: 1) “It’s not about them. It’s about us.” 2) “It’s not about the trappings, it’s about the offer.” and 3) “Our culture doesn’t equal God’s culture.” I agree, though I would say things differently than he does. Based on my beliefs and the encounter mentioned above, I would say 1) it’s about belonging before believing; 2) it’s about substance rather than show, and 3) American church culture isn’t even close to being like the Kingdom. If we could find a way to take Jesus at His word and do the things He did, live transformed lives full of Grace and offer the world an encounter with the Lover of their souls I think the world would take us seriously once again, but right now we aren’t even part of the discussion. Religious church culture has been marginalized and deemed irrelevant to modern life. We have yet to prove them wrong.
All in all, this was a decent article, but not something I get really excited about. I think the author articulates things the younger generations (Millennials and iGen) already intuitively know, it is only making a splash among the Boomers.
So, there are my thoughts, but I wonder about yours. What do you think – that is what I want to know. What do you think about the article and what do you think about the things I’ve mentioned here? If you are a blogger and have written a response, would you post it in the comments? I’d love to read your thoughts.
Other than that, please keep those emails coming. 🙂 Thanks for reading friends.