Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Understanding the church

Here's something to chew on B-)

One topic of theology that seems to be the most under discussed and yet is incredibly obvious is the understanding of the church. Often times Christians get so caught up in doing church and knowing the language of “christianese” that they end up not being able to see the proverbial trees for the forest standing in their way. Our fundamental understanding of whom and what the church is supposed to be is vital to our functioning in a practical Christian lifestyle. There are many definitions of the church that abound, so I will not be attempting to cover every definition; instead, I will attempt to bring out a diversity of opinions and then give my own thoughts on the topic.

            In a discussion of the Christian church, I think it’s fair to make some observations of a couple of perpetuations that have invaded traditional Christian theology and are character of what I like to refer to as “pop-Christianity”. The first is a term that I most definitely did not coin; it describes well the illness that has beset the church; it is called “the gospel of prosperity”. This is the teaching that God wants you healthy, attractive and wealthy. Then, the logic goes, God’s will is supreme and since God wants all those things for me, I guess I’ll just be ok with that. This belief is not only contradictory to the more ascetic foundations of Christianity in the desert fathers, martyrs and even Christ himself but, it excludes that majority of the world who is either ill, poor, ugly or some combination of the three. The gospel of Christ is one of open arms to the marginalized, not one that excludes them or treats them as secondary citizens or “not fully Christian” Christians.

            Unfortunately the gospel of prosperity is alive and well in charismatic or (as Simon Chan says in his book Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community) charismaniacal[1] circles. Preachers such as Joel Osteen even add to their statement of beliefs that “God intends for each of us to experience the abundant life he has in store for us”[2]. This is not only an inaccurate view of how God regards us, but it is exclusive to those who have not experienced the “abundant life”; are these people simply not included in God’s intentions for prosperity? This is a dangerous doctrine that chases people away from the church due to the narrowness and exclusivity of the gospel of prosperity

            Another major cripple to Christianity is what Author, Kendra Dean, calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in her book Almost Christian[3]. This belief is also alive and well in our churches and misconstrues the purpose of the Church. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism displaces the original story of believers who had struggles to remain holy with a story that simply says “do good, feel good and then maybe include Christ. The church is called to much more than feeling like good people, doing nice things and remember Jesus once a week.

            This is a problem of nurture over and against nature. We are directly responsible for showing a correct theology of the church to our children. In the west, we get so sidetracked to keep up with things that we forget the ever-present God who is truly in control of things. Being a Christian is more that simply being nice, doing good things and then sprinkling on a little Christ. We must be intentional now about the future generations and how they will worship.

            Moving on from some of the more frustrating issues that plague the church, we must look at a remedy. One solution to the cheap faith of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and the inaccurate proclamations of the gospel of prosperity is that of a liturgical theology. Chan does a fair job of demonstrating the importance of the worship of the Christian church. In fact, Chan defines the church as primarily a worshiping community rather than any kind of social functioning group that serves a purpose. Chan goes so far as to say “like play, the liturgy has no purpose, yet it is full of meaning”.[4] What he means is that it is unfathomably important to encounter God and yet there is no other agenda to be pursued. Truly, being a worshiping gathering of people is an end in itself.

            In order to demonstrate the balance that liturgy strives to maintain, I would like to defer to Theologian John Zizioulas. In his book Lectures in Christian Dogmatics he succinctly states that in relation to the world, “the Church should be offering itself to the world rather than imposing itself on it”[5]. While the church as a worshiping community should be focused on worshiping of God, we must not draw a strict dichotomy between the church and the world. While there are many arguments for being distinct from the world, there are few strong arguments to justify departing from it entirely and as Zizioulas says, we should be offering the world something. That something is a relationship with the creator and his church; this is something that is worth living for and (as many martyrs have demonstrated) worth dying for.

            I have already started to share some of my own ideas on what the church is supposed to be. I do like the way that Chan identifies the church as a collection of worshipers primarily. As a worship leader, I have found that it is incredibly important to maintain a worshipful lifestyle in all ways. Everything from eating and drinking to prayer and scripture reading can be forms of worship. Worship is any action that one executes in order to acknowledge God for what he is. As a community of worshipers, our focus becomes on God instead of on humanity and all of the ways that we are different or even similar for that matter. We often substitute traditional worship for feel-good songs that have little to no theological backing. How sad that the bride of Christ should forget the importance how to say “I love you” to her lover so soon after the church’s inception.

            In conjunction with seeing everything we do as worship and seeing ourselves as a worshiping community, I think it is almost as important for the church catholic to be as relevant as possible in any case; however, it is important for us to remember that the pragmatics of trying to be relevant necessitate moving outward and focusing our energies on the world who will persecute us. Following the example of Christ, we welcome this persecution for the payoff is much greater; the waking up of sleeping souls to the reality of the Kingdom of God. We as the church, the bride of Christ acknowledge our responsibility to preserve the ecclesia at every opportunity through the truth that our traditions import. This doesn’t mean the liturgy is the only answer – no, it is but one of many – but it does mean that the handing down of our faith is the only way that the church will survive; to this end, tradition is the answer.

Leave me a comment and lemme know your thoughts too!

The Dread

[1] Chan, Simon. Liturgical theology: the church as worshiping community. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2006. Print.
[2][2] "What We Believe Joel Osteen Ministries." Joel Osteen Ministries. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Aug. 2012. <http://www.joelosteen.com/About/Pages/WhatWeBelieve
[3] Dean, Kenda Creasy. Almost Christian: what the faith of our teenagers is telling the American church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
[4] Chan, Simon. "The Worship of the Church." Liturgical theology: the church as worshiping community. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2006. 54. Print.
[5] Zizioulas, Jean, and Douglas H. Knight. "The Church." Lectures in Christian dogmatics. London: T & T Clark, 2008. 161. Print.

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