The Sacraments of Place
The Sacraments of Place
Letters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals
February 29, 2012
176 pp., $10.57
The North American church is in a credibility crisis. We find ourselves in a culture that no longer sees Christianity to be true, relevant, or, for that matter, interesting. Yet we keep doing church the same way—as if nothing has changed. We continue to do Sunday morning (and Sunday evening) services, put on Christian rock concerts, do outreach events and hang out in the fellowship hall. We do it all seeking to reach the world with the gospel, but we discover that only Christians are showing up. Meanwhile our neighbors and the world go on oblivious to the good news of Jesus Christ. We are looking more and more like a people having a conversation with ourselves that no one else cares about.
We keep counting what we call "decisions for Christ" in our churches. Yet we know most of these decisions don't mean anything. Statistics continue to show that only a small percentage of our recorded "decisions" are made by people who will still be following Jesus a year later. And yet, like the teenager who keeps going forward in the Baptist church service week after week, "making sure" of his decision one more time, we keep doing this. We intuitively know this ritual is making no connection to the way people live, but we can't stop ourselves.
The progressives among us do the same thing with justice. We create enormous energy around justice issues in the name of God. Some impressive money is raised and some good works are done in the name of Jesus. But often, too often I suggest, the word justice becomes a bumper-sticker-like rallying cry that makes us feel better rather than accomplishing anything that actually takes root in our lives. Sadly, we participate very little in actual relationships with the poor who live alongside us in our churches or near our church buildings. It is much like buying fair trade coffee at Walmart. Nonetheless we keep doing it.
I contend that one of the best ways to understand what we're doing is to study ourselves as an ideology. Ideology has been called "false consciousness" because it can keep us repeating the same behaviors over and over again while covering over the contradictions that would make us question what we're doing. By studying ideology, we can help people see the contradictions. When it becomes apparent that we are saying one thing while doing something quite the opposite, the emptiness in our way of life is revealed. We end up manufacturing justifications and even enemies to keep the church going. Contradictions appear. Lies get revealed. Our ideology loses its credibility and it goes into a crisis.
There are reasons to suspect that this is what is happening among us as the church in North America. For instance, sadly, over the past twenty years we have become known more in North America for our duplicity, judgmentalism, and dispassion than for the gospel. Whether it is because of the "evangelical right" and the various New York Times bestseller "hate books" written about it, or the megachurch pastors who get caught in sex scandals, evangelical Christians are now a people who are best known for our fighting against gay people, those who don't believe in absolute truth (read as "those who don't believe like we do"), or the liberal political agenda. We are living in contradiction to the gospel. Whatever is to blame, our way of life as evangelicals has failed to make the gospel compelling in the society we find ourselves in. We're looking very much like an ideology that is losing its credibility and is in crisis.