Thursday, September 22, 2005

Something Just Feels A Little Off...

My wife had one of her most embarrassing moments last weekend. We were at the movies and were running a little late. In fact, the previews had already stated and I don’t like to be late to movies. Well, at Crossroads20 it is convenient to go to the bathroom before the movie because you can go in one door from the main lobby and come out another door where the theatres are. As usual, she told me to wait on her on the other side, but I wasn’t paying attention. A preview in the lobby had caught my attention as she walked away. It was only for a second that I looked away before I continued on to the men’s room (left to go into the men’s’ room, right to go into the women’s).
Anywho, as I walked into the men’s room I thought I caught a fleeting glance at what looked like Alison going into a stall. I could have sworn it was her blue jacket. I said, “Nah,” and went about my business at the urinal.
As I was washing my hands, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it had been Alison that went into that stall. Sure enough in the mirror, you could see her flip-flops and newly manicured toenails under the stall. I didn’t know what to do. I dried my hands and walked out to see the manager of the theater standing outside watching people come out. I decided then and there that I needed to distance myself from the inevitable. People were going to see Alison coming out of the men’s room and I didn’t want to be seen with her!
Sure enough, she comes strolling out, stops looks behind her as the manager and the woman coming out of the women’s restroom start to laugh. Her face turns bright red as she said, “I just totally went to the wrong bathroom, didn’t I?”
We laughed about it for a long time, but I had to ask her how it happened. I mean we go to the movies at that theatre all the time. She was dumbfounded. I then asked her, “when you walked in, I assume that the ladies’ room is the mirror image of the men’s (minus the urinals), didn’t you feel like something was wrong?” She said, “now that you mention it, it did seem a little backwards, but I had to go so I didn’t take time to think about what was wrong.”

I use my poor wife’s experience (with her permission) as an example of how I think I feel about Church. When I look at a church and what it is doing, most of the time I can’t help but feel like something’s a little off, like the way Churches are is a little backwards from the way it should be. I see two kinds of churches mostly: The latent church and the zealous church.
The latent churches have a lot of potential, but are absorbed too much in themselves. Yes, they may get out into the community occasionally to do something, but they are more concerned with people coming to them. Yes, they worship God, and yes, they may have some good programs, but the only access to the church is if you are on the inside. Usually theses churches are focused only on their own needs as a church and simply forget to, or refuse to be a part of the world around them.

Then I also see the zealous church. This is the active church that does as much as it can to convert others to Christianity. They are masters at going door to door, mailing or giving out tracks, or pushing their members at every opportunity to evangelize. These churches acknowledge the community around them, but are a counter-culture within the world. This is where the mass marketing of Christianity comes in. The world is sinful; we must convert the world to our world. This world includes only Christian music, books, fish on your car for every person in your family, Christian t-shirts, etc…
The theory is that the Church will create a world that is more Christian, and we will convert as many people as possible to our counter-culture and they will in effect be a better Christian because of it.

In my opinion, neither is achieving the great commission. I’m not saying that everything that every church does is wrong. Yes, some churches are trying hard to do the right thing. I am also not saying that either type of these churches are without good intentions. But, like Alison I can’t help but get the feeling that something is off, something is backwards.
Which brings me to my previous Blog. The U2 song has really gotten me to think about how I approach the un-churched/non-believer. We try so hard to get people to become Christian, but they can’t believe what we so strongly adhere to because they don’t see the Church fulfilling their needs. Yes, people have spiritual needs, but they also have other needs, and we are so caught up in “being spiritual”, that we don’t even think about dropping crumbs off our table. I can’t say I blame them. If the church is not out amongst the people in the world, if it is creating its own counter-culture instead of working in the world God has given to us, how can we expect to do the great things that Jesus told his disciples that they would be able to do?

“For we speak of signs and wonders
But we all need something other
They would believe if they were able
But they’re waiting on the crumbs from our table”


  1. Speaking of music, I’m not sure if you listen to Derek Webb or have a general opinion regarding his music. His 2 solo CD’s (used to be with Caedmon’s Call) include many commentaries on the Church. Here’s one off the CD I See Things Upside Down:

    They’ll know us by the t-shirts that we wear
    They’ll know us by the way we point and stare
    At anyone whose sin looks worse than ours
    Who cannot hide the scars of this curse that we all bare
    They’ll know us by our picket lines and signs
    They’ll know us by the pride we hide behind
    Like anyone on earth is living right
    And isn’t that why Jesus died
    No to make us think we’re right

    When love, love, love
    Is what we should be known for
    Love, love, love
    It’s the how and it’s the why
    We live and breathe and we die

    They’ll know us by the reasons we divide
    And how we can’t seem to unify
    Because we’ve gotta sing songs a certain style
    Or we’ll walk right down that aisle
    And just leave ‘em all behind
    They’ll know us by the billboards that we make
    Just turning God’s words to cheap cliché’s
    Says “what part of murder don’t you understand?”
    But we hate our fellow man and point a finger at his grave

    They’ll know us by the t-shirts that we wear
    They’ll know us by the way we point and stare
    Telling ‘em their sins are worse than ours
    Thinking we can hide our scars
    Beneath these t-shirts that we wear

    It is interesting that Webster defines church as 1) a building set aside for public worship, 2) a religious service, and 3) all Christians considered a single body.

    Ekklesia in the NT Greek is said to never refer to a building or denomination, but to a group of believers, locally or as a whole (Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, p 150).

    So. . . how do we take Webster’s definition 3 and make it definition 1 which is much more in line with the NT? After all, is Webster not more of a commentary on real life and occurrence?

  2. One of the problems you seem to be struggling with Justin is the "visibility" or "invisibility" of the Church which,(if you can belive it) is an ancient Christian theological problem.

    It goes something like this - we know what the Church is susposed to look like because we have it revealed to us in the NT. Here we have the house church; a moving body that refrains to be identified specifically with a building whose task is to follow Jesus and preach the gospel.

    This Church's practices were revolutionary - they refused to participate in emperor's cult, they held all their posessions in common, they ate meals together, worshiped daily (not weekly), they prayed together, lived close to one another, and became a community that sought to hold each other accountable to a faitful life of following Jesus.

    Here's the problem - WHERE IS THIS CHURCH??! Thus you get my point about visibility or invisibility I hope. God has promised us that this Church will always exist somewhere, and that means that this church will always be visible somewhere. However, most of what we see that call themselves churches are not churches at all.

    They are mostly social clubs, country clubs, voluntary associations, and not "hospitals for sinners." They are nothing more than the rotary club. They meet in buildings they call "churches" and it seems like their main priority is to pretend that they are sinless instead of coming there to confess their sins.

    We have to take it on faith that the church is "visible" somewhere. I think the Mennonite Church may be the closest to this. But we also have to strive to make the country clubs that call themselves churches into a "visible" church like the one modeled in the book of Acts.

    This is not easy work, and it can be discouraging, but it is only through God's power that we could ever attempt do it in the first place.

  3. Hey Justin. This is my first posting and I hope I do it right. I have been reading what you and everyone else has been writing. All of it is very good. I have to say with what everyone has written it really gives you a lot of food for thought.
    First of all I think it is wonderful for someone to really think about something and not be too rash in making a decision/statement. However, I feel that sometimes there is no right or wrong answer. You have to step out in faith and believe that what you are doing is the best for you and your loved ones at the time.
    As far as the way you are feeling about yourself and if you are in the right profession I have these comments. Are you happy? Or, do you dread starting the day? When starting out in my career (just a few years ago, ha!) I went into the Secretarial field. I just knew that I could be a Girl Friday. My boss would be the envy of all other managers because I would always have him prepared and a step ahead of the other managers. Well after about a year I began to not only dislike what I did but I hated it. I would get up in the mornings and I would have a sick feeling in my stomach. I would come home at night and cry because I was so unhappy. I began to realize this was not the career that I wanted to pursue. I was very fortunate because I was able to stay with the same company but change career paths totally. When I retired twenty-five years later I still loved what I did. What I am trying to say is that you need to like and enjoy whatever your calling may be. This is not to say you won't have bad days with any job because you will. There will always be decisions or processes handled in a way that you will not agree with. But this is what makes life so challenging and fun. We then have the opportunity to work towards making things better or at least what we think is better.
    Now, let's talk about church. To me church means a place where I can go and feel accepted, spiritually fed, loved, cared for, and I am able to be an active participant with a larger group of Christians. This is God’s house and it takes every member to make it a church.
    You compared church today with how church was portrayed in the NT. Well let's think about scripture. We were just talking this morning in Sunday school about how Solomon wrote about wisdom and seeking advice. This scripture that was written before Christ was born still applies today. Therefore, if we still do some things in church just like they did back then, well, maybe it is not a bad thing but the right thing.
    Change, to me change is great. I embrace change because it normally means prosperity and an easier way to accomplish a task. However, to some they fear change. Who knows what experience these people may have had from something changing in their life. This fear of change in others just means we will have to work a little harder to help them understand what results will come from this change.
    Justin, I consider you a good friend and I value your friendship. You have a great way of reaching young people and I have seen how our youth have come to love and respect you. I have been blessed many times by being able to be a part of the Youth Group. I have heard several of the youth say "I want to be just like Justin". Wow is that powerful or what. No matter where this journey takes you, always remember that you made a big difference in the lives of our youth.
    I know you didn't think I would ever shut up. Well I have said it all for now. I will try and respond quicker in the future. Linda