Why the church is irrelevant and must die

Or, to be a bit more PC ‘Why our current evangelism strategies do not work in Canada’

The greatest evangelism strategy of our time. A booklet in every home in Canada, well bound, full-colour, clearly explaining the plan of salvation. The four spiritual laws in the hands of every person on campus. A Brand New Colourful Sign. The addition of guitar-driven, free worship on a Sunday, or better yet – Saturday Night! The renovation of the facility where you meet ‘oh that carpet?!’ The addition of power-point and video-clips to the message. The dressing down of the congregants at the meeting. The light green notice in the mail for the free drama production at the church on the corner. Each a carefully planned, well orchestrated, focused attempt to bring the gospel to as many as quickly as possible with the least amount of fuss and effort. All have combined to grow our churches to an incredible 5% of every man, woman and child in Canada.

Recently it was ‘The Passion’, the greatest tool for evangelism for our time. Its first weekend box-office numbers hyper inflated by the faithful remnants faithful attendance in order to inflate the numbers. To show Hollywood that we are here and we are proud!

There are those who proudly scoff at others who find the film difficult to watch, at times I feel the same rise in my chest. Many stridently revel in the movies bleak power, and actually ignore the people who feel threatened by its message. After all, this is – read in capital letters by the truly faithful – The Greatest Evangelism Tool of Our Time. Those types of people who feel further marginalized by it are merely ignorant, and can easily be overlooked. We now embrace Mel, the same person who was shunned by the same viewers a few years ago by his oil-patch language and body-baring boorishness.

The hopeful expectation tends to follow that well-worn trail. This is it! This will make the break-through. God is waking up and moving powerfully. Apocryphal stories lend strength to the allusion. I hear the breathless wonder as we learn that one of the movies viewers could not handle the violence. The on-scene violence actually exacerbated an attendee’s former heart-disease, they died in the theater. The incident lending subtle weight to that modern day proof-text of the true disciple, ‘If you were to die tonight, where would you find yourself’

Don’t get me wrong, I like the movie, I think it is powerful. Imperfect. Intriguing. Perhaps finally, that hit by The Odds of a few years back with the lyric “close but kind of meatless, like actors who play Jesus in movies of the week”, has finally had its closest brush with reality movie-making. Obviously reading reality as, well  ‘real’ or ‘not Survivor’ ™.

Although a simple story, to most, it is a complicated movie. It is agreed that Jesus was much more than a religious criminal, but from there the consensus tends to ebb. Tensions mount. I do not see the anti-Semitism that has so many up in arms – but then again, I am not a Semite, and I have never had to face the scars emotional and physical that racism leaves on the body and heart.

Watching and thinking about this film, leaves me with two conclusions. I love it and I hate it. As a believer, it brings me intimately close to the one I love, as he suffered and died – incredibly, truly – for me. Wonder of wonders.

What I loath are the simplistic and lazy conclusions that here it is, the magic bullet, evangelism will now happen, salvation expectations shot to our collective brains as high as a heroin hit to a junky. We wait, breath held, four spiritual law fingers tapping for the thousands to stream through our doors, and ignore the reality as almost no one approaches.

Perhaps the point is over there, while we rest here. How often do we look for the one-shot deal, how often do we miss it? Is this a case where we have climbed as far above the ground, on our very high horse, in promoting this film as we have climbed in the past to push against other films we found offensive. Defending Us from Them.

It reminds me of those evils of society that the church has spent so much time and energy railing against. Recently the Southern Baptist convention decided to conclude its long campaign to black-ball Disney. The immediate and full return to family values was underwhelming. The unspoken result was a further marginalization of the life-breathing revolutionary nature of the body of Christ – as we retreat stumbling from our false martyrdom.

Lest we forget, Disney has only recently topped the list of modern day cultural demons. At one time or another, many icons have all heard our voice prophesying the doom of western society. For a year or so, Marilyn Manson – with his small time following – loved our publicity. Remember how Harry Potter was destined to turn all of our children into cauldron fussing fiends while publicly aghast church leaders refused to actually read the books. As we digress backwards we can further recall the eminent evils of The Simpsons, Pokemon, Pogs, Fraggle Rock and the Smurfs – I remember each held the attention of the church for the moment. Your millennial watch could be set by the constant re-revelation from “National Christian Leaders” of the current most dangerous trend in worldliness. Each incident leading us closer and closer to the dynamic and respectful influence we now hold – or don’t.

Which leads me to my first thought. The Church is Irrelevant and Must Die.

Frankly this is not a new message. It is not even all that controversial. The church has always needed to die. The message of the kingdom of God – His way of doing things – has always been really different than we imagine. The narrative is continually upside-down. Great people serve, first are last, God dies for His creation. The backward conclusions are perhaps meant to stand – as children of the king, our royal position does not allow us to lord over others, we are called to serve all men. This, obvious yet not so enjoyable fact of the kingdom, punches the bland fattened face of the false prophet of prosperity.

God dies in order for us to live. I remember once thinking in the passion of youth that I would die for Christ, yet someone wiser reminded me that God in fact calls me to life – to live for him. To live for myself as I wish and then make one quick decision to die for Him is relatively easy. Dying for Christ makes one decision for one moment, frankly a moment I would realistically never face here in the safety of my Canadian home. To live as He wishes – constantly dead to my own pride? Infinitely tougher. In a world of grey choices, the way of Jesus asks us to make death decisions in order to live the values of grace and love for a lifetime.

The church must die. It must die to campaigns for people to live and breathe like us, and to let them live and breath in Him in whom we are to live and walk and have our being. Die to some of our rebellious and exclusionary deep-felt beliefs, many of which may only be that – ‘our’ beliefs.

Die to our cultural blindness, and realize that we are called out from our individual and blinding segregation to join in with God in a world that he craves, loves, is dying to meet.

Die to the wealth that we stroke and worship. Our cradling of resources, as though caressing the fire extinguisher that we may one day need to protect our own lives. Am I hoarding my own safety, while elsewhere on my world, continents burn?

Once again the call goes out for us to die. Die to personal offense by some movie-maker or artist. Die to our need to play censor, and live for a bigger theme.

To die as Bohnhoeffer the pastor who in facing the true crimes of the Nazis, was finally executed. As Wilberforce who three days before his death realized the dream of his rallying cry that brought English slavery to an end. As Mother Theresa – who died in poverty, forgetting her former life until the very end. Each truly chose to die far before their final movement.

Those who choose their living death, find at the end that the lacy unreality of their final physical death cannot mean so much as there own former and personal real death – a living death.

Thank God he still allows us to die.

August 9, 2005

4 responses on "Why the church is irrelevant and must die"

  1. Ah yes, the call to die!! Good words.

  2. Amen!!!Would you mind if I passed this on?

  3. "our royal position does not allow us to lord over others, we are called to serve all men. This, obvious yet not so enjoyable fact of the kingdom, punches the bland fattened face of the false prophet of prosperity…the way of Jesus asks us to make death decisions in order to live the values of grace and love for a lifetime"Yup, it's tough – but glorious, too – thank God he gives us His Spirit to work in an thru us. Bless ya Mark – good to read your reflections.

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