A LOVE SUPREME

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Church of the Underground

I was recently in a mood to write out a list of concise thoughts summarizing my thinking on the body of Christ in our current 21st century American context. These are also the result of some of the blogging that I have been doing on the body of Christ.

I classify all of these as being a return to the simple goals and objectives of the church; the church going underground.

1. Get the money out of the church
No more of the Big Green or the Bling Bling. No more big budgets, paid pastors who view ministry as a career path, no more expensive and divisive building projects, no more bright lights and neon signs, no more marketing and advertising budgets. Anything that needs doing can be done by those who give their time sacrificially.

2. The church is not a building
The church should go underground. If others do not know you are a part of the body of Christ based on your life, then you didn't have anything substantial to offer, anyway. Ask this: If a church didn't have a big sign, a building, a budget, or anything else that people could see, then what would be left? If the church goes underground, as I suggest, then the only thing that the body of Christ would have to display is their personal lives and the way they treat each other.

3. Anything "spiritual" that you say should come from pain
Words in these days are so meaningless. People really just don't care about religious talk anymore. Please use religious-speak very sparingly. No more repeating meaningless dogma. If a belief you have has not caused you pain as you have wrestled with its truth, then it isn't a real belief; it's just renting space in your head. I advise silence: Let God speak in a still small voice.

4. Get simple
In Galatians, Paul said, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."

5. Don't try to make converts
We don't need more Christians in the United States. We have enough people running around claiming this label. It's a term that has been so overused as to be completely worthless and counterproductive. I mean it. The language is banal. Don't use it. Don't proselytize. Make people curious. Everybody's got some kind of religion these days. If someone is truly seeking and is truly interested, then you'll know. Trust me.

6. Small-scale brotherhood
The masses ain't where it's at when it comes to relationships that count. These are the Hebrews 3:13 relationships that can save us from hardness of heart and can keep our paradigms open.

7. Scripture must live again
Most of the Bible was not written as timeless truth. God's Word was mostly for the Now. This means that Scripture is now for our Now. That is, if you understand the Word you have only done about half of what needs to be done. The Word only matters if it is meaningful for the contemporary context. A hermeneutic similar to that used by Paul and the author of Hebrews should be used as a norm to guide us in our interpretation and appropriation of the Scripture. In short, if your Bible isn't changing you, then get rid of it!

8. Burn the Bibles
The irony of American Christianity is that it seems as though the increase in the quantity of Bibles has resulted in a proportional decrease in the Bible's significance and ability to change hearts and lives. I recommend some Bible burning so that we can, perhaps, appreciate it again and read it anew. I suggest we destroy the extra paper in the name of preserving the meaningfulness of the text. Bible-making is a business for us in America, not a sacred transmission of truth.

9. Dare God to Work
It just strikes me that a good deal of those of us in America want to control God's work. That is, we want to develop mission statements and goals and objectives that we can measure and achieve. It's something of a corporate model. But honestly, I really don't think God is doing all that much in America. Sorry, but that's my opinion. I think it's time to stop trying and just pray; but pray in such a way that we dare God to move. Let it all ride on whether God decides to act. Just dare him.

10. Openness, openness, openness
Vulnerability within the body of Christ. Without it, all you have is religious duty.

11. Live dangerously
What might our faith look like if we took risks? What if we took intellectual risks and followed our minds when they started to ask questions? Even heretical questions? (Especially heretical questions?) What would faith look like if we took risks with our emotions? Our time? Our money? Even our physical bodies--Putting ourselves in harms way??? You don't have much time. Really. Your life is like a puff of smoke. Do something dangerous.

12. Do the Church Hop
Why not hop around and visit many different worship settings and interact with diverse believers??? Take a different church each Sunday and explore. This would bring the body of Christ together and help eliminate the divisions that buildings, budgets, and 501(c)3's create. Let's unite believers together by appreciating difference.

13. Get rid of the Org
While we are on the subject, ditch the 501(c)3 thing. The body of Christ does not exist as a Schedule A write-off for your 1040 Individual Income Tax Return.

14. Give generously
No. Give dangerously. And give to stuff you believe in. Don't just go through the motions of writing a check each week and dropping it in a plate. How generic is that??!!?

15. Start over every day
The Psalmist says that God's mercies are new every morning. So, why not look for them? In Christ the deeds of the past are no longer counted for or against us. The good and bad is nothing to ponder, anymore. Each day is about you and the Spirit of God. Period. I'm tired of being a "mature" believer. I'd rather be a hungry, young believer.

16. You have everything you need
Sure, books, sermons, DVD's, mp3's, etc. can be helpful. But let's ditch the Paperback Pope. If you've got issues/questions/struggles/opportunities the best thing to do is realize that the Spirit within is the main thing. Be rational and reflective. Trust yourself. Try. Fail. Love. Grow. Progress. Regress. You don't need to be a John Piper (or fill in the blank) Groopie.

17. Learn from nonbelievers
They probably know more than you.....ok, maybe it depends on what's on the table. The sharp divide between Believer/Unbeliever is overrated, in my opinion.

18. Make a mess
Many American churches look great on the surface. Really. We can have great worship experiences, hear good sermons, and have nice outreach programs. But in my opinion the body of Christ should be a community where one's ugliest sides of life are just as important to know as the good stuff. Most of us just bury it all inside; nobody really cares, anyway, so we all just deal. My thought: You aren't in real fellowship until other believers know the real you. So, make a mess of things. It's ok to live in a messy church.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.

27 comments:

Jonathan Erdman said...

This from the (e)mailbag:

"How about this figure:
42.5% American congregations that spend less than 10 percent of their budgets on social services in their community.

12.2% Congregations that spend more than 30 percent.

Hmmm..."

jps said...

Hmmm indeed! I just posted on the same issue:
http://anebooks.blogspot.com/2008/01/things-that-make-you-wonder.html

James

Melody said...

Your use of statistics is alarming.

Just because a church doesn't spend it's budgeton social services doesn't mean it isn't helping poeple in their community.

I know when I worked at St. Anne's there were seperate funds that weren't a part of the budget and 100% of those funds went to helping people. Plus they help people in the community on an "as needed" basis.

I mean, to be honest I haven't been at a church that dedicated to helping people since I was a kid, but the point is that in your statistics they'd be in the 42.5%.

Actually, if you mean it about the church hopping you should hop on over there...it's a lot weird, but definately an interesting experience.

Kenji said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenji said...

Much of what you write I agree with, some of it is reminiscent of the emergent church which I have some problems with, but only one point stands out to me as needing to be re-thought.

you wrote:
4. Get simple - In Galatians, Paul said, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

It appears that you pulled this from Galatians 5:6. But notice the context of this statement. The Galatians were adding to the faith (by way of false teachers) the requirement to submit themselves to the law of Moses. Not just for purposes of how to live as Christians, but that salvation could only come by faith and obedience to the Mosaic law, namely that of circumcision.

Paul's point is that salvation comes only by faith. This does not mean, as it seems you are purporting, that our faith should remain simple. Paul expects us to grow in our faith, in terms of both knowledge and dedication. Why else would he be so concerned with theology. Theology informs and guides practice. The writer of Hebrews especially attacked this point when he accused the readers of still only drinking from the milk of the word when they should have grown and moved on to the meat (Heb 5:11-14).

So yes, if you mean "get simple" in terms of how we believe (faith like a little child), I would agree. But we should not remain simple in terms of what we know about our faith (theology) and how that affects our lives (praxy).

Melody said...

Oh, also, I'm kind of curious about number five...since a few months ago you were running for spokesperson of the door-to-door society.

dawn said...

1. Get the money out of the church: amen brother...we'll never get folks outside of the church to take us seriously unless this happens

5. Don't try to make converts: I agree, our lives should tell the story...would folks know we were Christians if we didn't say we were Christians?

10. Openness, openness, openness: I feel like the way we do church in the States, that openness is almost anti-Christian

11. Live dangerously: a challenge I need to take up!

12. Do the Church Hop: interesting...totally counter to how most of us were brought up, it would keep us from being so segregated

18. Make a mess: *hallelujah hands* amen!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ken,

I don't mean to imply that we should be anti-intellectual; I am just suggesting that the focus needs to be on the simple things of the faith. Let's be honest, over the last century Evangelical and the Fundamentalist theology that preceded them did much more to divide and hurt the church than it did to advance the love of Christ and the message of the Gospel.

Theology has its place and should be explored with rigor. For the most part, I think most conservative Christians make two fatal mistakes: 1) they are not daring enough and aggressive enough in their intellectual pursuits and 2) they elevate their mediocre thinking to a status that is much too high. In other words, most of us Christians really don't think too deeply, but we really think very arrogant about the piddly little bits of so-called knowledge that we do have. I guess this is typically called "narrowmindedness."

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: Oh, also, I'm kind of curious about number five...since a few months ago you were running for spokesperson of the door-to-door society.

Just like God, I reserve the right to change my mind. (Jonah 3:10)

Kenji said...

Thanks, your response clears it up and with this explanation I find we are in agreement.

Melody said...

Just like God, I reserve the right to change my mind.

Comparing yourself to God now? Well, I was just curious, kind of a quick turn around.

I'm also curious with how you reconcile the thoughts of #5 with...well the New Testament. That just doesn't seem to be in line with how Jesus or his followers approached ministry.

Also, don't you think 6 & 12 are kind of in opposition to each other? How are you going to have these small fellowships and be hopping around to a bunch of different churches?

I mean, I don't have a problem with either of them individualy, I just don't see how you would do both.

I do have a problem with number 8. If you have too many Bibles send them to places where they don't have enough. No, not all countries are English speaking, but most of them have people wanting to learn so if you send an English Bible to...Cambodia, say, that would be a better use for it than as a firestarter.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: I'm also curious with how you reconcile the thoughts of #5 with...well the New Testament. That just doesn't seem to be in line with how Jesus or his followers approached ministry.

Before I answer, from my perspective, I'm curious as to how you understand the ministry approach of Jesus and his followers.

Melody: Also, don't you think 6 & 12 are kind of in opposition to each other? How are you going to have these small fellowships and be hopping around to a bunch of different churches?

That question is easy. A believer should commit their primary time and energy into a small context, and then if they have extra time and desire, then they can go visit churches. But going to church should be considered a very optional thing. The commitment is real brotherhood (in line with what I believe the NT shows us should be the heart of the body of Christ).

Melody: I do have a problem with number 8. If you have too many Bibles send them to places where they don't have enough. No, not all countries are English speaking, but most of them have people wanting to learn so if you send an English Bible to...Cambodia, say, that would be a better use for it than as a firestarter.

Ok. Fine. As long as we get rid of the excess. It just makes me sick that we have so many Bibles and so little faith.

Melody said...

Before I answer, from my perspective, I'm curious as to how you understand the ministry approach of Jesus and his followers.

Well they didn't just walk around making people curious and assuming that if people would come up to them and ask, "Why are you so different?"

Not that, that doesn't happen. I personally prefer for that to be how it happens. But Jesus went around trying to make converts. So did the apostles. There was a lot of preaching going on and maybe even a little persuasion.

They didn't wait for people to be interested.


Ok. Fine. As long as we get rid of the excess.

That's ridiculous. That's like telling people to burn money if they have too much. That you don't care how they get rid of it just as long as they don't have more than they need.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: Well they didn't just walk around making people curious and assuming that if people would come up to them and ask, "Why are you so different?"

Not that, that doesn't happen. I personally prefer for that to be how it happens. But Jesus went around trying to make converts. So did the apostles. There was a lot of preaching going on and maybe even a little persuasion.

They didn't wait for people to be interested.


Are you sure they were persuading??? You're going to have to give me some passages to back that up before I take your word for it. John the Baptist, for example, was preaching repentance. Not exactly an appealing message. And he certainly wasn't living in the desert and baptizing in a river for the sake of establishing or maintaining a religious institution. Most "evangelism" in our context is little more than an attempt to get people to sign on to our church and start tithing (i.e. paying their dues).

So, do you have any passages that suggest Jesus was "evangelizing"????

I have passages that run opposite of that idea. In John chaps. 5-8 there are two examples of crowds coming to Jesus to sign up for Christianity. In both cases, Jesus rejects them and deliberately pisses them off. Not really the kind of persuasion that we are used to, is it? Jesus came to establish a kingdom "not of this world." As such, he wasn't interested in institutionalizing a set of religious convictions or beliefs; rather, he was interested in the souls of people and whether or not they were fully devoted to him. That is why I make the suggestion in this post that we stop proselytizing. I think it would be far more in line w/ Jesus, John the B., and the repentance preaching found in Acts.

Andy said...

Burn the bibles, eh? How about, give away the five copies you don't use, to someone who could? Better yet, let's get mediaeval, and write out our own copies, by hand. THAT would make you appreciate it... and guarantee that you'd read the whole thing, at least once.

Melody said...

Are you sure they were persuading??? You're going to have to give me some passages to back that up before I take your word for it.

Well, mostly Paul is persuasive throughout Acts...and I just deleted all the notes I had jotted down..but I know in Ch. 17,22 & 26 there's definately some persuasion going on.

But you know, Peter and Stephen are kind of persuasive in the start of Acts. And the point isn't so much that they spoke in a persuasive tone, but that they spoke and specifically with the intention of causing people to believe the gospel message.

Most "evangelism" in our context is little more than an attempt to get people to sign on to our church and start tithing (i.e. paying their dues).

I guess I always figured it was because Jesus said go and make disciples of all nations. Saving people from sin and hell and all that.

So, do you have any passages that suggest Jesus was "evangelizing"????

The gospels?

Jesus preached - alot. Most of it had to do with coming to God. The passages you mentioned talk about coming to God.

5:24 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgement, but has passed from death into life.

5:34 Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.

5:38-40 But you do not have His word abiding in youm because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. Yopu search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.


I dunno Jon, sounds kinda persuasive to me. I'm not even sure why you mentioned that first chapter, they're trying to kill Him in 5, not follow Him. It's in 6 that they try to force Him to be king. He doesn't really piss them off either, He just leaves and then He confuses some people on the other side of the sea (v. 22) with the bread of life talk. They took Him awfully literally for a people that are supposedly always using hyperbole.

Chapter 7 His brothers give Him a hard time...Jesus makes some outrageous claims about being God..some people argue over whether He is or not, they try to arrest Him. Chapter 8, more claims to be God, people try to kill Him.

Where was that second crowd of people wanting to sign up? I missed it. He spends those chapters telling people that He is God. The part where He slips away is because they wanted to make Him king, which isn't the same as signing up for Christianity.

Not that He never sent people away, but there seems to be a theme of them not "getting it".

That is why I make the suggestion in this post that we stop proselytizing. I think it would be far more in line w/ Jesus, John the B., and the repentance preaching found in Acts.

Now I'm just confused...because how is the repentance preaching in Acts different than any other kind of evangelism?

Matt said...

Converts are different than disciples.

It's like a gym membership, lots of people sign up, but not many actually keep using it.

Melody said...

It's like a gym membership, lots of people sign up, but not many actually keep using it.

But the people who keep at it and who don't all have to sign up the same way.

chris van allsburg said...

Jon, since I left the standard evangelical church and started going to a reformed church, I have been able, through much toil, to begin to uproot myself from much of the evangelical mindset. It takes a long time, and it's like experiencing schizophrenia, b/c I still listen to Moody radio (some decent talk shows) which is uber evangelical.

But, in my church, there are no gimmics or neon signs, or marketing or programs, really. The kids learn the catechism, we do put $ in the plate, but it goes for many diff kinds of benevolence at home and abroad, and there are just a lot of fine people there who are genuine and not ashamed to say that life has its struggles.

Plus, we have wooden pews, stained glass windows and best of all the Psalter Hymnal!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: But you know, Peter and Stephen are kind of persuasive in the start of Acts. And the point isn't so much that they spoke in a persuasive tone, but that they spoke and specifically with the intention of causing people to believe the gospel message.

The intention that you speak of is where I disagree with you. The point of these speeches is to move people to action, one way or the other: either come to Christ in full commitment or realize that you are in spiritual opposition to God.

They were presenting the bare truth of who God is and what he has done to those in the institution. Those in the institution were not interested in the living God, but in keeping their power situation. Stephen/Peter did not intend for converts, as far as I can see.

Me: Most "evangelism" in our context is little more than an attempt to get people to sign on to our church and start tithing (i.e. paying their dues).

Melody: I guess I always figured it was because Jesus said go and make disciples of all nations. Saving people from sin and hell and all that.

That's you seeing the Bible through the Evangelical glasses that Chris talked a bit about in his comment. I would say that "saving souls" is not the primary concern. Proclamation is the foundational issue. Jesus and the early church (particularly Paul) proclaimed the truth of Jesus, the bare/brute message of the Gospel without periphery theological concerns. They challenged people to respond one way or the other with a full commitment for or against Christ. There was no middle ground (i.e. pray a prayer and then go to church each Sunday for religious experiences).

Me: So, do you have any passages that suggest Jesus was "evangelizing"????

Melody: The gospels?

Jesus preached - alot. Most of it had to do with coming to God. The passages you mentioned talk about coming to God.


Where I disagree with you on your interpretation of Jesus in John is that I see Jesus as proclaiming a message and not only that, but hitting people where it hurt. So, in chap. 8 there is a crowd of "believers" (v. 30). Modern Evangelicals would be thrilled: sign them up as church members, they believe! Jesus as not content. He kept going deeper and challenged them at their core: Are you satisfied with being children of Abraham or will you come to me for truth and freedom from sin.

The crowd becomes deeply offended: how can Jesus challenge our spiritual heritage! Keep in mind that these were believers, just look at the stuff they believed: that Jesus was the light of the world (vv. 12-30)! But Jesus challenged them at their core, and that's what's lacking in our pre-prepared evangelism. It lets people off the hook. They can hold on to their spiritual security blankets and still sign up as Christians. But Jesus kept ripping the blanket away, and people didn't like that.

That's my problem with you saying that persuasion and "saving from hell" is the key part of evangelism. Jesus/early church were not trying to persuade but to proclaim a message that challenged specific people. In John 8 we find that Jesus was more concerned with driving away those who were not 100% committed than he was to persuade them to sign up for the ministry.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Matt,

I like the analogy. Very good. To continue the analogy, Jesus was like the guy who went around to the flabby lifters and the half-hearted and challenging them to either give everything they have to the gym or just stop fooling themselves and go home.

Melody said...

The point of these speeches is to move people to action, one way or the other: either come to Christ in full commitment or realize that you are in spiritual opposition to God.

Ok, I don't really dissagree with that asessment. It's just that God is not willing that any should perish, so wouldn't you say that His preference is on the side of "coming to Christ in full commitment"? Or do you think it's all the same to Him whether people are for or against Him?

That's you seeing the Bible through the Evangelical glasses

Everyone wears glasses.

I would say that "saving souls" is not the primary concern. Proclamation is the foundational issue.

How would proclamation ever be the foundational issue? It matters what's being proclaimed and then you take another step and figure out why it's being proclaimed.

Example: "Seat belts save lives." Is proclaiming something the point or is spreading the knowledge that wearing a seatbelt can save your life the point? Or could the point possibly be to get people to put that knowledge into action so that they do wear seatbelts and protect their lives?

John the Baptist came to proclaim Jesus' coming so that all men might believe (John 1:6-9)

Skip forward a few chapters to where Jesus is doing a crash course on the gospel with Nico (John 3) and you'll run into this saving people talk again. It's mentioned as the reason why Jesus is there.

So, in chap. 8 there is a crowd of "believers" (v. 30). Modern Evangelicals would be thrilled: sign them up as church members, they believe! Jesus as not content.

Still not quite the same as "an attempt to get people to sign on to our church and start tithing (i.e. paying their dues)."

And ok, the church is a bit wimpy about our depseration to sign people up. We don't actually believe God is going to do anything. I realize this is a problem, but it is not the same problem as misunderstanding the purpose of Christ's incarnation or of some kind of weird greed.

just look at the stuff they believed: that Jesus was the light of the world (vv. 12-30)!

Light of the world could mean a lot of things. Maybe they thought He was saying He would rule or that He was a prophet. Both common misconceptions at the time and it says in v. 27 that they didn't get the stuff about the Father, which would imply they didn't understand His claim to be God.

Further proof that they didn't get it would be verse 33. I mean, it took several centuries to get verse 33 turned into the snappy, "If Jesus is the answer, what was the question?" bumper stickers, but it's the same basic thought.

Forget commitment, they didn't even understand what they would be committing to.

daniel said...

Jon, you left out something: going to the ends of the earth.

The US church is still tops in sending out missionaries, and believe me they DO bless the church in the rest of the world.

Something to commend maybe? :)

P.S. I agree with Melody about sending more bibles with them. You chould see how Bibles are treated in places like Central Africa - more precious than the finest gold!

daniel said...

Regarding preaching:

Isn't it strange how it is the one thing the world hates most about Christians - that they try and "push" their faith?

Preaching is the most un-pc thing to do. Satan always goes after the word. We should be preaching more, imo.

Of course, maybe it comes down to what we are preaching.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel,

I do believe that preaching should occur. But what did preaching look like in the NT? What is "biblical" preaching??? Well, for starters, it usually is believers preaching to nonbelievers. This is the Proclamation that I was talking about with Melody. But is there any evidence that in the early church there was preaching from believer to believer???? Remember, Jesus said that we are only to have one Teacher and that we are all brothers.

I think preaching should be minimized b/c here in the States it is idolized among conservative churches. This is certainly the case at my church. We parade people on stage each week as though they are gods. This is not right, as far as I can see. It creates an unholy hierarchy of spirituality. But as far as I'm concerned, all brothers should have a legitimate voice in the congregation, especially the marginalized.

What do you see from the NT in regards to preaching, Daniel????

daniel said...

That believers preaching to unbelievers makes lots of sense.

Truth is there are lots of unbelievers in the churches, and the kind of preaching that is going on does little to unsettle their unbelief.

As regards preaching in the NT, I like Stephen's sermon before the Sanhedrin. Also the epistles of John. Amongst others.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel: Truth is there are lots of unbelievers in the churches....

That may be one of the primary reasons why the church should go underground.