A Deep Concern [jay]

I’m getting tired of this.

And this.

And books like this.

And most of all, this.

God’s Church has been around for 2000 years, and now God’s people are to recognize and shift to accommodate the whims and preferences of a bunch of American twenty-somethings?  Or whatever it is that makes American men comfortable and happy in a church setting?  Or the preferences of young people as divulged through through a surveyed cross-section of the American church scheme, crafting for any church what is assumed that church most wants: lots of people and lots of money?

This humanistic pelagianism is killing us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Church is healthy.  Au contraire…in my opinion, we are so unhealthy and given to idolatry that we are living as a Church in a season of judgment.  In the midst of this, though, I am so very sick and unbelievably tired of people prescribing the Bride of Christ any cure other than the centrality of Jesus, the esteem of His supremacy, the authority of His Word and a broad move of His Spirit.

Here’s an interesting thought stream from the “most of all, this” article about millennials and their posture toward Christ’s Bride.  The author expresses:

“But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.”  

Then, she wraps up her article with:

“But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.”

Which, to me, sounds exactly like asking them what they want to consume and how they’d like to perform.

Many millennials will say, “But we’re leaving the evangelical church for something truer, something richer, something better.  I love Jesus, I just don’t love the Church.”  You can’t love the Head and hate the Body.  It doesn’t work like that.

I too have friends who have left the evangelical “low church”, in order to begin attending “high church” services.  The author of the why-millennials-are-leaving-the-church article says that many of them are doing this because high church services offer liturgies that are unpretentious and authentic.  In my experience, that’s not the case at all.  They make the shift because the high church is an individualistic experience with God, not a communal one.  The sacraments are the place of fellowship, but being known, pursued, walking a relational journey through sanctification together…these things are, for the most part, not there.  That allows a person to craft and expand an individual theology, ethic, practice, and code of life with no voice from or accountability to a local Body of Christ.  That’s not a critique of the high church; it’s a critique of we self-absorbed, fickle humans.

I’m getting a bit off track.  I can rail on the symptoms and evils of the consumeristic worldview that has found its way into the Church all day long.  People far better than I have referenced and contained those things in thought processes and communication far better than I could offer.  Every Jesus-follower concerned about these things should read this book and this book.

I would like to go back to an earlier statement I made though: humanistic pelagianism is killing us.

1. Humanism: the philosophical notion that humans are the center of things; emphasis is on the value and goodness of humans, human felt need, and rational solutions to human problems
2.  Pelagianism: the theological belief that humans are without original sin; emphasis is on the innate goodness and free will of humans

The main problem with all four of the offerings in the first four sentences (sentence fragments) of this blog post is that they are trying to address spiritual concerns through human centrality.

Men aren’t coming to church.  What’s wrong with the church that men won’t come?  We want men in the church, so let’s do things that make men come to church.  Clearly, if we just ask men, they’ll have a good read on themselves and know why they don’t like church because essentially, men are good people who the church just needs to serve better.  Men are now the center.

Young people are leaving the church.  What’s wrong with the church that young people are leaving?  We want young people in the church, so let’s do things that make young people come to church.  Clearly, if we just ask young people, they’ll have a good read on themselves and know why they don’t like church because essentially, young people are good people who the church just needs to serve better.  Young people are now the center.

Humanism.  Pelagianism.  Killing us.

Worse possibly, is when church is the center.  The church is a means to an end; it is not the end.  But that is another post…back to death by humanistic pelagianism.

Take, for instance, the church’s return (particularly young people within the church) to a strong focus on global social work and global social justice.  I am gravely concerned that this focus on social justice is simply humanistic pelagianism at work in our midst.  Don’t get me wrong, justice for the sake of justice is a good thing.  Digging wells in Africa, freeing child-sex slaves in southeast Asia, working against child slavery in South America, warring against racism in American schools — these things are great and I hope they continue, especially under the authority and activity of leaders native to those regions.  But motivation matters.  Why we pursue social justice is as important as the work itself.  In my observation, we are engaging mission for the sake of mission.  People need help.  Christians should be helpers.  I’m a good person who sees a valid need.  Let’s go help!

But at its core is the human, or the mission.  I have this same concern about some of the recent church planting movements in American cities.  The mission is the motivation, and that’s not ok.

Jesus is our motivation; at least, He should be.  For all the good that might be happening around the world right now in the name of the American church levying resources and people in those general directions, it will not be sustainable and it will not meet the truest needs of people because it is not centered on Christ.  We’ve pendulum-swung, and in twenty years these same social justice activists will be saying, “I’ve been working so hard for so long, I’m done.  I’m headed back home and I’m going to read theology books and pray the rest of my life.”  Then twenty years after that, we’ll be back to social justice.  Back and forth, to and fro, like a ship on the waves…almost sounds Pauline.

I said it earlier, I’ll say it again: in my opinion, we are so unhealthy and given to idolatry that we are living as a Church in a season of judgment.  Because of this, we must, must, must come back to the centrality of Jesus, the esteem of His supremacy, the authority of His Word and a broad move of His Spirit.

It is that big a deal and it is important enough to hold out and work for the big kahuna: another reformation.  But it will not be ours.  I am praying it will be our great-grandchildren’s.  Someone has to be the generation under judgement, issuing the first calls for reform and willing to lose in order that those coming after us might win.

10 thoughts on “A Deep Concern [jay]

  1. Pelagianism is one of my favorites.

    “The mission is the motivation, and that’s not ok… Jesus is our motivation; at least, He should be.”

    I don’t think there is a difference between “high” and “low” church in regards to communal/individualism, that all has to do with the people, not the structure. I would guess that more Millennials are flocking to “high” church because it’s new-even-though-it’s-old… similar reason why people flocked to “low” church starting in the 70s; they think structure is an end rather than a means.

    (I also think there can be good current cultural reasons to participate in “high” church).

  2. I thoroughly agree with your main points. Consumer research is not Spirit-led church planning. Jesus should be the focus and the body must be a body, not just a collection of cells.

    At the same time, a question comes to mind. A church will reflect the culture and personality of those that planned it at the time it was organized. When millennials see a “low” church they might very well see it as a reflection of baby-boomers and generation x, while at a “high” church they don’t see such a strong reflection of their parents/grandparents and thus perceive it as more “authentic”.

    Just some cud I’m chewing on.

  3. Justin and Phil — you both make excellent points. Like I said, I didn’t offer those thoughts as a critique of “high church” at all, but rather as an observation of the purposes of the people that I have engaged shifting from one to the other. I could say the same thing about people I know who have shifted from small churches to megachurches where they could “hide” and have the same individualistic engagement with God.

  4. I’ve been aware of a “season of judgment” in the church. I am not quite sure it is the same as what you speak of, but what I see is, yes, impossible to combat with any ideology or system. I think the judgment is one brother toward another. WE cannot do anything to combat this judgment, season, or otherwise. The moment we step into a situation, a time, and speak a word regarding judgment, we are judging, and thus multiplying (and dividing.) God is judge. Our only action must be to continue to receive His mercy, unless we have been compelled by God himself to profess judgment. Words – spoken in judgment or otherwise – are powerful. Our tongue is regarded as a weapon, and unless the Spirit has engaged, it should be guarded.

    I believe we are not in a season of judgment. We are in a season of mercy, called to live according to His purposes. We are followers of the most High, a Just and Good God, not judges. Followers of Christ love one another, encourage one another, share, live and speak the gospel to their neighbor. It’s all an overflow of receiving His mercy. We are not under judgment, unless we refuse to let God have His way with us. His yoke is easy and His burden, light, and His mercies are new each morning. Receive His mercy – Take His hand and let Him walk you to the cross. He bore our judgment, and He bears it still. He is not confined to our time, our small world. Should we allow ourselves, as co-heirs in Christ, to be so small as to say we are stuck reaping the consequences of a generation? Or, should we allow ourselves to see how big and how wide and how vast our God is? This is a life lived in communion with God. In it is much joy, and much hope.

    Mercy triumphs over judgment.

  5. Jessie…thanks for the comment. Yeah, I didn’t mean that at all the way you read it. I meant that for the point in history where the American Church is now, we are in a season of God’s judgment due to our idolatry. We are not condemned; but we are being judged.

    After hearing and engaging several friends/thinkers about this post, I think I’m going to make my next post about what it means to be a Church under judgment.

    For now, I’ll say this: we should always be thirsty for God’s judgment. God’s judgments are right and good, bringing joy to the heart of a son (Psalm 19). The discipline of God is based in the judgment of God, His discernment and wisdom as to what is right and wrong, good and bad (Hebrews 12). God’s judgments are always right and unsearchable (Romans 11). We the people of God under the New Covenant continually go astray and are deeply needful of the judgments of God to pull us back to His ways (John 17; Romans 7; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Timothy 3; Hebrews 6; and most of all 1 Peter 4.12-19). The prayer of the people of God should always contain: please Lord, judge us.

    As you point out, James 2 speaks strongly to mercy over judgment, but as you can see in that context (James 2.8-12), it is relationally…human to human.

    God’s judgments are His mercy, and no son will be condemned.

  6. I like the idea of judgment without condemnation. I couldn’t agree more with this post. Most questions we seem to be asking have to do with either ministerial success (those of us who work for the church trying to see ourselves as connected to something that is successful) or consumer desires. Either are incredibly fallible with humanism being an apt monicker.

    Without condemnation means this is a period of corrective adjustment not a period when all hope is lost.

  7. Really magnificent post. It of course helps to have the benefit of the context of your sermons as a foundation for understanding both the post and your heart in writing it.

    A couple of Christmases ago, a family member of mine was reading Why Men Hate Going to Church. There are many reasons she could have been reading it, but ultimately, her heart was hurting for her husband.

    God’s judgment–His eyes, His heart, His Word, His mighty arm–is the only place of safety in the midst of fear and pain. Man’s prescription, birthed from his own experience and pain, will always fall short.

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