(I am just going to share my own experience in this article, so please note that all sweeping statements are confined within these parameters)
Never before have I seen so many different ways of doing ”church”, there seems to be an infinite number of books, programs, courses and conference speakers proclaiming different ways or better approaches to doing this thing we call church. BUT I am also noticing how many people are noticing the apparent superficial nature of each of these supposed fads.
(On a side note pastors don’t seem to be picking up on this trend as much as those in their congregation, could it be because of their level of responsibility for the end product?)
So during Dec I was walking around the mall, enjoying the solitude of my headphones and looking for a comfy place to read. So I headed over to my local Christian bookstore. I am not a fan of these stores anymore but they do keep a nice chair or two for reading. So I sat down. The chair just happened to be in the Bible section of the store and a man in his late 50’s was looking at the Bibles.
I saw he was looking at the KJV Bibles and so I thought I would leave him alone as the KJV is no friend of mine 😉 (apologies) but then I noticed he was looking at a few other translations. It seemed he was having a hard time choosing which translation to buy. So I thought I would engage on the topic and offer a tit-bit of advice. “Tough to choose from all those bibles isn’t it?” I said. He nodded and we started chatting. (Another fun fact Amazon lists 24257 different English bibles)
Eventually we got onto the topic of merchandise and how Christianity in so many ways had just become another product produced in China. If someone didn’t know history they might be fooled into believing that these stores made the christian thing up just to sell their product. A slogan might be #buy_some_merch_and_build_his_church
What was interesting to me was his solution. He told me of a small privately own bookstore that had a strong emphasis on Judaism, it’s roots and sold many different Jewish items. He said that he was looking to connect with his Jewish root as he was so tired of his church jumping from one fad to the next.
I can understand how when one finds that when everything new or modern seems so superficial the natural inclination is to seek out the safe fortress of age old tradition. What seems strange to me is how similar most Christians think Judaism is to Christianity. It’s almost as if they see Judaism as Christianity1.0 while we have received the Jesus Christ Service pack and upgraded to Christianity2.0.
Now I am not trying to diss Jews, or the Old Testament, or in fact denying that Christianity has Jewish roots. However people who think like this have not seen the huge chasm between these two religions. A helpful exercise might be to chat with a Jewish person and ask them why they have a hard time with accepting Christianity. One will soon find out that while we might worship the same god, Judaism is simply not just another one of Christianity’s denominations.
So what am I trying to say. The issue/reason for all these fads is actually quite a good one. The church is seeking to be relevant in a rapidly changing world. The problem as I see it though is that we will never be “relevant” in a secular world. It’s a bit like playing cards with a young child, they always change the rules so that you lose and they win. The secular world will never acknowledge the church as being relevant. Obviously irrelevance is the other side of the same coin. Going back to Judaism will also not work as to do that is to deny the radical nature of Jesus and His Gospel.
The church in merchandising the Gospel, it seems to me, has gotten into the supplement market. It has said that accepting Jesus into your heart will fill your life with blessings, bigger bank accounts, allow you to live your best life now etc. The only problem is that a couple months after the last book you read, sermon you heard, conference you went to, we simply doesn’t see the changed life we were promised. So what does the church do? It starts supplementing the process. We must be doing it wrong, maybe there’s a principal we aren’t applying correctly. Maybe a new technique will provide better results.
I want to ask that we stop merchandising, stop making promises we can’t keep, stop supplementing our experience and find the person of Jesus again. Find the Jewish man from Galilee, that blew religion out of the water and showed us that we didn’t have to follow a bunch of rules but that connecting with God was as easy as saying “Daddy”. The man who showed us that religion will never give us God, only a the violent death of a cross-shaped love can do that. To replace faddish relevance for a counter-cultural revolution of love.