I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the whole issue of church and what it is or what it shouldn’t be and what we as Christians should and shouldn’t be doing.
A case in point at present is the whole media circus around a tiny church of 50 and their idiotic pastor. Either he’s a marketing genius who has got himself known all around the world or he’s a lunatic. Either way there's very little of the grace of God in his interviews etc. Anyway, he’s not my main topic here and he’s already had way too much publicity so back to the question in hand.
Two things I’ve read lately have come back to bug me and the more I think on them the more I feel they are simply wrong. It took me a while to come to this conclusion because one of the comments came directly from a church leader I have massive respect for and the other came from a leader in the same church.
The first is this: “Parents: Model to your kids obedience to authority figures in your own lives.” Whilst I broadly agree with the principle I have a problem with this as a blanket statement or instruction for Chrsitian living. Jesus only gave respect to those in authority when it was earnt. Certainly those who did little or nothing to earn his respect got treated with the contempt they deserved. Calling the Pharisees ‘whitewashed tomb stones’ was pretty offensive and highly contemptuous!
I want my kids to grow up understanding that it is good to respect their elders and to respect those in authority but I definitely do not want them just to doff their caps without understanding why they’re doing so. I want them to grow up with a healthy respect and a healthy appetite for questioning those in authority and in doing so testing the integrity of those in authority. Where respect is earnt then respect is due, but only where it is earnt.
Terry Jones is a church leader but certainly not one worthy of a single iota of respect!
Secondly, in this blog article: Making a case for reading the author makes a reasonable case as to why we should read and again I broadly agree with the principle. In fact, I’m passionate about books and reading. Our lounge has three bookcases with several hundred books on them. Our office has another few hundred books in it. Our boys have just over 200 books in their bedroom and we even have twenty books in the bathroom! So it’s fair to say that reading is important in my house. As an aside, I think this is a far better article on why we should read: Welcome to the secret world of Christian books.
However, I’m always concerned when a theory is proposed and then a theology applied to it retrospectively. I also get concerned when particular words in bible verses are reinterpreted to add meaning which isn’t there. The author of this blog post uses ‘law’ in Psalm 119:97 to mean ‘word’ as in ‘bible’, but it is clearly not the original meaning of the word! Also, the author misses the fact that the overwhelming tradition in the bible for communicating God’s word was in fact oral, a tradition still prevalent in many cultures and a tradition well worth preserving.
OK so I might be picking over bones in this but here’s my reason. One of my bugbears in Christianity is that all too often new converts to the faith must also undergo a cultural conversion to be able to fit into whatever model of church they’ve just been saved into. Often, particularly with the larger charismatic churches new converts need to travel considerable distances to attend. This tends to be most noticeable for the poor as so many churches are located in the nicer parts of town. Suddenly social mobility becomes a key part of the new converts faith when it shouldn’t be. Recently in our church a new member stopped coming because she felt she didn’t have any suitable clothing. Many of our folk arrive in their Sunday finery and this put the new member off as she couldn’t do the same because of her poverty.
So in our church we’re part of a community that doesn’t have a book culture and it is quite unusual to find many books in individual homes. Even where folk do want to read they still tend not to have access due to financial and even transport constraints. So how do these church members fit within this authors take on why we MUST be readers? To comply many of our members would need a cultural conversion alongside their spiritual one.
I guess what I’m really coming to in this is the question posed by Casper in the book Jim & Casper Go To Church (a great read!). Casper an atheist posed the question after a church visit “Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?”. As I’ve been thinking on this I’ve come to realise that so much of what Christians think of as church and normal Christian behaviour is actually a long way from what Jesus told us to do. Take my starting point in this post when I quoted “Parents: Model to your kids obedience to authority figures in your own lives”. I don’t see Jesus advocating this at any point in his ministry. I may be wrong and I’m open to correction but from my reading of the gospels I can’t find it. In the same way when a Christian leader makes some declaration on why Christians MUST read I again struggle to find any reference to this from Jesus.
As I said, I agree broadly with both of these principles but I’m unconvinced that they’re essential parts of the Christian life or Christian character. To propose that they are is losing sight of what Jesus really commanded us to get busy with. There’s a fine line in any religion between adhering to the faith and social control and I believe that Christianity has more than its fair share of social control masquerading as ‘biblical truth’ or ‘Christian living’.
I reckon if more of church life was concerned with what Jesus told us to do, just as the early church in Acts 2 & 4 did then we'd see massive growth through genuine spiritual conversions without the cultural addons. On that note I’m trying to get busy and keep myself busy with loving my neighbour. I’m pretty hopeless at it and fail spectacularly but it’s not for lack of trying and I am utterly convinced that it’s one of Jesus top priorities for my life.