Anti Rights?

One of the hot political topics over the last several years has been the issue of marriage as it relates to the LGBT or homosexual community. With the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision today and 2012 being a major election year, we’re certainly going to be hearing a lot of rhetoric surrounding this topic once again.

This has become a major rallying point for many in the conservative community, especially the [incredibly] influential evangelical movement in America. The standard position among Evangelical Christians has been one against the redefining of marriage. Thus many conservatives have funded campaigns to legally define marriage as being between a man and a women. At the outset I want to make it very clear that I believe and agree with the conservative position on this issue.

This is a theological issue. God ordained marriage as being between a man and a woman. Every culture has a basic framework for this family relationship because every culture grew out of God’s initial creation as described in the book of Genesis. The question I seek to tackle here is how we, the church, ought to engage in this discussion as we move forward into the 21st century.

This is a divisive issue. As a result of its divisiveness, it is used (like abortion and immigration) as a political weapon in campaigns to pit groups against one another and influence votes. Other than division, very little ever results from the political campaign rhetoric.

Losing the war of words

This debate has shifted, and although some “battles” have been won on the conservative side, the momentum has begun to slide to the other side, because the phraseology of the debate has changed. Such as in the debate over abortion, where we, conservatives, are now deemed “anti-abortion”, whereas they are “pro-choice”. Likewise, an ever so slight wording change has shifted the discussion over marriage. The discourse has moved from that of marriage to civil rights. We are now the “anti-rights” camp, and they, “pro-rights.” As a result, the generation called “Millennials” (those born between 1980 and 2000) are now moving into voting age and are largely pro gay marriage. Millennials will be the largest voting demographic for the next generation, therefore, as it stands now, within the next 20 years we will see the legalization of homosexual marriage in America (as well as the likely legalization of marijuana). This presents us, the church, with an incredibly difficult situation. Or is it actually an opportunity?

Changing the debate

I do believe that there is a better way wherein we can turn this discussion around, while maintaining a footing from which the church can speak into our culture in the years to come.

I do not know a single American Christian who does not love his/her civil liberties. That being the case, we should agree with the LGBT community that they should not in any way be denied civil liberties. This is not a religious issue, it’s constitutional. We are quick to cry foul when we think our rights are being infringed upon but not so quick to do so when the rights of others are endangered. We must be consistent in our position, therefore we ought to be pro rights in this area also. The question is, how can we be pro rights while maintaining a biblical position?

Yes, we believe that homosexual behavior is sin. We do not think that the institution of marriage can be redefined, for it was ordained and defined by God. Therefore, since marriage is a religious institution, and the public sector of our nation desires to maintain a separation of church and state, we the church, ought to petition our government to remove themselves from the discussion of marriage, by having them refuse to continue in providing marriage licenses. In the place of marriage licenses the government should grant civil unions only. They would determine who receives such unions and the rights associated with them. (As a side note, the government needs to clearly define who should receive such rights, as we are quickly moving in a direction wherein we have no ability to draw a line between who receives rights and who does not. In such a case we would have no ground from which to say that polygamist, pedophile or incestuous unions could not be valid).

If the church would spearhead this move, we would carry the discussion in a whole new direction. Marriage would maintain its religious definition as being a God ordained union between a man and a woman. Churches would continue to preform marriages under God’s ordered institution, while requiring those being married to also receive a legal civil union through the state, and then, we would no longer be portrayed as those taking rights from those seeking them.  Additionally, I think such a move by the church would bring to light that many within the LGBT community have a deeper motivation than the legal redefinition of marriage.

This is, by the way, not a new or original idea; Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz wrote on the subject in an LA Times op-ed in December of 2003, and many others have weighed in since that time.  There may be a number of issues I am overlooking as I open this discussion, but at the very least I think it is a discussion we need to have.

Thoughts?

Senior Boomers, Meet the Millennials

For many years I’ve been a student of culture. I blame Jeff Jackson. As a 15 year-old I found myself a pupil in a missions class he taught for Calvary Escondido; I’d like to think I’ve never been the same since. Full disclosure (or confession), I remember very little from the class (extend some grace, it’s been 16 years). But one thing I’ve never lost, remains as profound to me now as it did then; “You don’t recognize your own culture until it’s been stepped on by another culture.” Many times in the years that have followed I have found myself consciously aware of my cultural toes being stepped on and have become far more cognizant of the culture in which I live.

There has been quite a bit written recently about the cultural shift taking place in our nation as Baby Boomers head into retirement (or so they thought) and their Millennial children step into adulthood. I, as an interested observer of culture, am fascinated by this shift and am very much intrigued its implications for our nation, and especially the church.

I was born November 28, 1979, at the very beginning of this “Millennial” generation. Nearly 4 years ago, the church I grew up in experienced a leadership transition from a Boomer, Pat kenney, to a Millennial… me. Such transitions (not only within churches) are going to become commonplace over the next several years. Officially 2011 is the first year the “silver tsunami” has come ashore, as boomers are now reaching the magic retirement age of 65. But the economic downturn has brought a major wrinkle.

In June of this year National Journal published an article by Ron Brownstein entitled “Upside Down: Why millennials can’t start their careers and baby boomers can’t end theirs.” Brownstein highlighted this new strain within our society…

It’s hard to say this spring whether it’s more difficult for the class of 2011 to enter the labor force or for the class of 1967 to leave it.

Students now finishing their schooling—the class of 2011—are confronting a youth unemployment rate above 17 percent. The problem is compounding itself as those collecting high school or college degrees jostle for jobs with recent graduates still lacking steady work. “The biggest problem they face is, they are still competing with the class of 2010, 2009, and 2008,” says Matthew Segal, cofounder of Our Time, an advocacy group for young people.

At the other end, millions of graying baby boomers—the class of 1967—are working longer than they intended because the financial meltdown vaporized the value of their homes and 401(k) plans. For every member of the millennial generation frustrated that she can’t start a career, there may be a baby boomer frustrated that he can’t end one.

This cultural tremor is interesting. The governments of the world are doing everything within their power to jumpstart economies, tackle unemployment and reinvigorate industry. The markets yo-yo through peaks and valleys that make even the most ardent adrenaline junkies beg for a reprieve. All these things were bouncing around in my head a couple of months ago as my wife and I took a short vacation in Santa Barbara.

While wandering around State St. one evening we stepped into a touristy T-shirt shop. The shopkeeper’s radio was tuned to some AM talk show, on which a caller was recounting her story. Her family was struggling to make ends meet; work had slowed for her husband, which caused her to consider going back to work. Her Boomer parents were experiencing similar difficulties as they had lost their home and much of their savings. The answer was clear, “Mom and dad will move in with us, help take care of our kids, I’ll go back to work and we’ll pool our resources to take care of one another.” The talk-show host chimed in, “You know, that’s really what America was like 60-80 years ago.”

When you consider the history of man it’s very easy to see that man is oriented toward community; God created us that way. But for a number of years our modern American culture has opted for a rogue individualism. As a result we are constantly trying to “create a sense of community” because there is a recognition that something has been missing. I believe that we have been experiencing an abnormality, and thankfully mutated anomalies don’t survive. All of a sudden we are being forced to live in community. Although this feels uncomfortable (as abnormal has become normal), it’s a good thing.

As we move forward I think it is important that those who have influence (i.e. pastors) need to help people see that this new reality is a good thing. We need to encourage people to live in community this way. At the moment it is counterculture. We’ve been bred to see such community as an anti-American socialism or a failure of our success, but our culture has lied to us.

For the last month and a half I’ve been teaching through the book of Jeremiah at a local bible college. As Judah faced the Babylonian captivity the prophet Jeremiah called to the people to submit to the Babylonian rule. If Judah would surrender, they’d survive. If they would resist, they’d die. Essentially, whoever would lose his life would save it, and he that would seek to save his life would lose it. We’re living under a similar situation. Business as usual is untenable. It’s time for a change… and yes, we can. 😉

The importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship

Last month Tim wrote a great article on worship entitled “Toddler Worship.” His observations are, I believe, truly important for maturing believers. It is certain that we should not aim at the lowest common denominator when leading our churches, therefore it is foolish to craft a worship service to meet the immature in their immaturity and cater to it in such a way that they never grow.

Early in my pastoral ministry, as a youth pastor, I sought to set the bar high for the 50 or so Jr. High students I ministered to. The level of teaching they received during my 4 year tenure, was likely over their heads. Or at least the adults visiting my services told me so. I was actually not surprised that many of them grasped far more of what was taught than most adults gave them credit for. I set this purely as a qualifier for what I am about to say, especially since I do not really disagree with that Tim wrote. I’m not one to water things down for the sake of attracting people.

Several years ago, while preaching and teaching 8 to 10 hours a week for an extended period, I came down with a virus, which resulted in the loss of my voice. After healing from the illness I found that my ability to speak had drastically been affected. For several months I preached with what felt like an incredibly weak voice. By the end of Sunday services I’d be very near losing my voice. I also found that I was completely unable to engage in musical worship prior to preaching; in some ways this was a bit of an existential crises.

I’m almost sorry to admit it [now]; to that point worship to me had been inextricably linked to music. Not being able to sing caused me to rethink the paradigm of worship I’d come to know within modern evangelicalism. In my rethinking process I’ve come to recognize a number of important truths.

1. Music is not worship, but God created music to be the fastest onramp to genuine worship in spirit and truth.

2. God created music to stir our emotions, which informs us that worship should be emotional.

Genuine worship does not need music, but is greatly aided by it. One can just as easily enter into emotionally engaging worship by meditating upon God and His word while standing before the Grand Canyon, Bridalveil Falls, or merely considering His greatness.

* The affect of music upon our emotions can be for good or for bad. God did not dictate that music would only affect us in a positive or happy way. Music played at a faster tempo with major chords generally stirs happy emotions, whereas music played at a slower tempo with minors evokes sad emotions. Dissonance in music stirs negative anxiety and fear (maybe Fusco can produce some dissonant fear conjuring worship for us). 

3. Worship music that only engages the emotions is severely lacking and creates worshipers of worship as a means to emotional euphoria (ie emotionalism).

This point has been regularly reconfirmed for me over the last 10 years in working with youth and college students.

4. The theologically correct lyrics of emotionally stirring worship songs will engage the mind with the emotions to produce “heart worship.”

The engagement of the mind is essential. The emotions conjured up by the greatness of the Grand Canyon causes one to be in wonder (or worship) of the awesomeness of the Colorado River, whereas another is brought into honorable worship by seeing the same sight, while rehearsing God’s word in their mind or setting their affections upon Him.

5. Theologically correct lyrics attached to emotionally unengaging music shortchanges genuine worship.

6. Since worship music should effect us at an emotional level, style of music is important and varies from culture to culture, and across generational lines.

This time last year we were blessed to offer The Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course at CCEsco. One of our instructors, Ron Binder, brought this issue of style in musical worship home for me.

Ron is a Wycliffe missionary and an expert in Ethnomusicology. during a portion of his lecture he spoke on the importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship, and explained that just as individuals have a “heart language,” they also have a “heart music.” This “heart music” is the style or musical form that will most engage their emotions and draw them into “heart worship.”

If this is true, and I believe it is, then we ought to honestly consider this as we are seeking to disciple our fellowships in worship, especially when we consider that the Father is seeking those that will worship Him in spirit and truth. So, I do agree with Tim that we should not cater to people’s immaturity, and that we should do our best to separate the music from the worship.  But at the same time I continue to find that I need to think through the realities of style in worship far more than I ever did before.

7. Worship in spirit and truth is responsive, thus we cannot expect a person to “experience” heart worship immediately at the open of a corporate worship service. 

8.  A musical worship service, or corporate worship time should [therefore] be progressive (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs…).  It [the worship service] should lead people into worship.

Since my introduction to Calvary Chapel at age 11, my primary experience of a musical worship has been that which is engaged in for approximately 30 minutes prior to the sermon, and/or what is practiced at many of our believers meetings, camps and retreats.  These are, in our movement, commonly call “Afterglows.”

In my (purely personal, non-scientific) observation of these meetings, there seems [at times] to be very little intentionality in our worship and something of a “storm the throne room” approach.  In the last several years I’ve heard many a worship leader and/or pastor lament the fact that their people are “not worshiping,” which is generally gauged by the lack of participation (i.e. singing) by the gathered assembly.  In considering this complaint, I’ve developed a theory that a worship service that draws the worshipers into heart worship should progress from psalms to hymns, which results in spiritual songs.

Psalms are – generally speaking – scripture put to music.  John Calvin believed singing anything other than the Psalms was inappropriate for Christian worship and unworthy of God.  I don’t know if I’d go that far.   But, such singing of the scriptures sets our minds upon God’s word and aids us in taking God’s word into our hearts, as music is a tremendously powerful mnemonic device.

Hymns are doctrinal and theological in nature; they exalt the attributes of God’s character and nature; they give intellectual and theological expression to our faith.  Martin Luther said, “Let me write the hymns of a Church, and I care not who may write its creeds and volumes of theology — I will determine its faith.”

Spiritual Songs are adorations, supplications, petitions, confessions, thanksgivings, etc…  They are spiritually inspired from man to God or God to man and tend to be prophetic in nature and spontaneous.  Such songs are the overflow of our heart in devotion to God.

 I believe that the lack of participation many observe in worship today is related to the fact that much of our modern worship tends to be “spiritual song” dominant.  If one does not properly, and progressively, lead the body into worship, they will likely not engage in worship as their heart has not been properly prepared to sing devotional confessions of praise or petition (e.g. “You [God] are the air I breath,” “You are all I want, you are all I need,” “Lord my one request, my only aim, Lord reign in me again.”).

I am, however, encouraged by many of the new hymns being developed by individuals like Keith Getty and groups such as  Sovereign Grace and Indelible Grace Music.

Ultimately worship is God’s idea.  He created us to worship and is seeking such who will worship Him.  John Piper is right, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” God is worthy of our worship and our greatest experiences of pleasurable joy are rooted in our worship of Him.  He inhabits the praises of His people and in His presence is fullness of joy.  These truths have challenged me over the last several years to more seriously consider the theology of worship.  Perhaps it’s a good challenge for the church as a whole?

 

¿ Apostolic ?

I recently heard a Christian leader say that “church planters” hold an apostolic role in the church, and that they ought to recognize their call as apostles. Yes, he made a distinction between “the 12” foundational apostles of the church, and explained that an apostle, according to mere definition, is [essentially] one who is sent. A modern day missionary. A “church planter.”

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the title of “apostle” being used for a “church planter.” I think we all recognize the difference between modern day missional pioneers and say, the Apostle John. My concern is that some, who are giving counsel and advice to up and coming planters, are painting a picture of the “church planter” as being some sort of rogue lone ranger, on a mission to which all else refuse to embark.

As I listened to the remainder of the exhortation, seeking to keep an open mind, I found myself thinking, “every true apostle must always begin as a servant.” The reality is that an apostle leads as a servant throughout their ministry. I’m not sure where this splinter cell mindset is coming from, but I don’t think we observe it in the scriptures.

Without a doubt, the church planting, missional, total abandoned, standout apostle of the New Testament is, Paul. Nearly two-thirds of the book of Acts is dedicated to the ministry God wrought through the converted Pharisee. The majority of the New Testament epistles are attributed to the Roman born, Hebrew of Hebrews, and aside from Christ Himself, Paul is perhaps the most well known figure of the first century. But lone ranger, he was not.

Paul’s calling and ordination to the task of an apostle was of God and not of men (Galatians 1:1). Be that as it may, it was not until he was sent out with the blessing of a church that he actually went; and when that day came, he was not alone. The thirteenth chapter of Acts gives a brief summation of the commission. Paul and Barnabas, assembled with the three other leading teachers at Antioch, were ministering to the Lord when He, by His Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Following the call they fasted, prayed, laid hands on them and sent them away.

Nowhere do we see Paul or Barnabas giving Simon, Lucius and Manaen an earful about the greater work they had lost sight of or were missing, out on the frontier. Paul did not leave as a misunderstood pioneer without a gracious blessing from his sending church. As often as he declares his apostleship in the New Testament, he bears witness to his servanthood. Was Paul the apostle uncomfortable around other pastors, or something of a misfit? I think not. He recognized and wrote that those called to leadership within the church, whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers (or pastor-teachers if you read it that way), are all called to the same work; equipping the saints for the further work of the ministry and building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

A renewed fervor in church planting is praiseworthy. A desire to see people brought into the kingdom and bearing much fruit is right. But an unwillingness to submit to the leaders of a local church and serve an established body, because of a pressing desire to be the pioneering apostle is, I believe, a mark of immaturity.

I have not planted a church, but would go in a second, were God to call me to do so. But as a pastor of a church I am ready and willing to fast with, pray for and lay hands on those that have proven themselves faithful stewards, as servants among the gathering of God’s people. Hasty, impetuous individuals who push their way out into the field to lay claim to a plot of ground upon which to build a pulpit, prove themselves often times to be no more than self-willed children, unwilling to wait in the proving-ground of ministry for the sincere endorsement of those whom God has made overseers for their souls.

Your leaders understand you far more than you realize. Learn to submit, and let them serve with joy and not grief; it will profit you greatly.

Cultural Shift – Part 3; Implications For Western Christianity

[dropcap3]A[/dropcap3]s I’ve studied church history, I think it no stretch to conclude that local churches, over the last 2 millennia, have experienced an average attendance of about 75 adults. Enter, 20th century American Christianity. Or, as I like to call it, Consumeranity.

The average church size in America at present hovers at a little more than 180 adult members, roughly 2.5x larger than historical averages. While nearly 60% of American churches are 100 or less, and around 90% are under 400; more than half of all churchgoers in America attend a church of 400 or more adults.(1) Most congregations are small but most people are apart of large congregations. Such large [Consumeranity] congregations skew the numbers, and [unfortunately] this abnormality is normal for the majority of American Christians.

This anomaly is a relatively recent phenomena (the last 50 years or less), and I believe that the cultural shift taking place in America today will – in the next generation – bring the church back to normal in terms of congregational size and makeup. But what happens when abnormal, which has become normal, reverts back to true normal?

As a result of this shift, some will feel real pain. Many (especially the “movers and shakers” of mega-church evangelicalism) will fight against it. We tend to oppose change, as change is painful. But change is an essential part of life. Alistair Begg once said, “Where there’s life, there’s change. You want no change, live in a cemetery. [There’s no change there], accept for decay.” Therefore, if the church is to experience vitality and life, it will be faced with regular change, or it will decay.

What then does normal Christianity look like in the context of 21st century America? I think it looks like church has for 2,000 years. The gatherings of believers are smaller in size, community oriented, or people-group centered fellowships. For lack of a better word, they are tribal. This being the case, I’m not necessarily sure that multi-cultural, multi-ethnic churches are the norm. That’s not to say that there are not beautiful things that take place in such settings, they’re just not the norm.

Frontline missions has sought for generations to establish self-replicating, indigenous church planting movements. But in our own backyard we constantly seek for an American (or western) multiculturalism within the local body. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating segregation, only setting forth for consideration the idea that congregations have an established cultural identity from which they worship and express Christian love and character in a way that is relevant to the cultural makeup of the gathered believers.

What then does it practically look like? In all honesty it is quite hard to say, as I have no rhyme or reason for my belief, other than a hunch. I do however think that over the next 30 years the larger congregations in America will fracture along tribal fault-lines as the charismatic executive leaders move on. The churches will become multifarious. They would therefore do well to be proactive in their planning now, if they are to have influence then. I suggest that the best thing the larger traditional church can do is not to scrap it all in favor of a “home church movement” (as one home church movement leader once exhorted me to do) or fight against the shift to prop up the establishment, but to embrace the reality of a smaller community church model by taking what I believe is an Antioch approach.

The Church of Antioch was the first thriving “uttermost parts” church mentioned in the book of Acts. It was the first Gentile church, and the first at which the followers of Christ were referred to as “Christians.” Little is said in the book of Acts about the makeup of the Antioch church, but my gut tells me that it was a fairly large fellowship with multiple meeting places throughout the region.  They were one church, composed of many congregations, superintend by a plurality of overseers (I have purposefully chosen not to use “plurality of elders,” as it means something more than what I’m saying here). The core leadership of Antioch consisted of five apostolic, teaching leaders; Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, Saul (Paul). Antioch thrived for several centuries and was known as a charitable, missional and evangelical church.

As large western churches navigate the current cultural shift, and more and more church planters step forth to birth new works; I propose (as possible first steps) that they/we maintain established church structures to raise up a multiplicity of lay pastors to oversee small community fellowships throughout a city, county or region. Furthermore, churches ought to establish an apostolic core of leadership dedicated to discipleship, for equipping an ever increasing population of overseeing pastors and missionaries.

Ideally, for our fellowship (Calvary Escondido), I’d love to see us get to a point where we have 30+ lay pastors, overseeing small gatherings (under 75) in homes, community centers and other well-suited venues throughout our city and the surrounding region. I would expect we would maintain the structure we currently have for regular corporate worship gatherings as well as a central meeting place for equipping and training. Such a body incorporates the strengths of smaller fellowships (self-care of benevolence, discipline, counsel and other pastoral care needs) as well as the accountability and enabling resources of a larger congregation.

I am quite sure that I’ve overlooked several blind-spots in my consideration of where ecclesiology is headed in 21st century western culture, but as I’m certain it is experiencing a course correction, I want to be at least hypothesizing what that may look like. At the end of the day, I know one thing for sure… God builds his church, I tend to be just “along for the ride.”

[divider_line]

(1) National Congregations Study – 2006-07

Cultural Shift – Part 2

[dropcap3]M[/dropcap3]inistering in a theistic environment is relatively easy. Relatively easy in the sense that the you, and the person to whom you are ministering, are playing from the same deck. When you ask, “Can I pray for you?” there’s likely a common understanding about prayer. When you speak about God you can assume that your hearer has a similar concept of God. Religious people with a similar [theistic] worldview are generally more receptive to the gospel, thus “large-scale” evangelism can be effective.

Evangelism in America for several generations had been anything but cross-cultural. For many, “cross-cultural evangelism” has been the equivalent of “foreign missions.” That is simply no longer the case, and contextualization of the gospel is now commonplace for evangelism in our own backyard. There are however some problems. “Contextualization” seems foreign to most ministers over 40. The mainline church is still [largely] relying on evangelistic tactics that are oriented toward a theistic worldview, and expecting receptiveness to the gospel like what you’d hope for among theistics (if I can make up a word).

At the close of 2008 I began teaching through the book of Acts at Calvary Escondido. Six months later, as we came to chapters 10 & 11, I was struck by how the move of the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, to the “uttermost parts” – or the Hellenistic Roman world – mirrored the shift of culture the church is now facing in 21st century America. In many ways we’ve reverted to a 1st century mindset and culture in the west. How’s that for progress? This is incredibly foreign for the western church, as it has not experienced such an environment for centuries. This epic shift has given rise to the term “Post-Christian,” which strikes great fear into the hearts of masses of evangelicals.

The first week of April, 2009, Newsweek’s cover featured the headline “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.” John Meacham’s provocative article “The End of Christian America” got more than a little rise out of many in the Christian community. A year prior, in February, 2008, The Pew Forum released it’s nearly 150 page “Religious Landscape Survey.” Pew’s survey of more than 35,000 Americans explored this religious and cultural shift; it was, in many ways, the catalyst for Meacham’s article and Newsweek’s cover.

Post-Christian. This is the cultural landscape of 21st century America; and Western Europe for that matter (Europe is actually far further down the path). Christianity and the “Christian worldview” are no longer the default in America. Some staunchly hold that America is a Christian nation and consider it their call to defend [politically] “Christian America.” Every time I am confronted by this mindset, I am reminded of Jesus’ words to Pilate, “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight… My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36, emphasis mine) Perhaps we’d do well to actually read those bumper-stickers that are so trendy among evangelicals today.

Why does this reality seem to frighten us so much? Have we totally forgotten that the world in which Peter, John, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus and many others ministered was wholly non-Christian by the very fact that it was pre-Christian? Do we honestly [and arrogantly] believe that America is the last hope for the Christian faith? Look at the statistics, Christianity is not slowing it’s pace of growth in the least. Sure, it may be growing fastest in places other than America and Western Europe, but the Christian faith is not in decline, even in the west.

What then is in decline? To answer that we’d have to ask, “What exactly is “Christian America?”” I believe that “Christian America” has actually meant “Christian Consumerism,” or if I can make up another word, “Consumeranity.” If that is dead or dying, may it be that the DNR is signed and notarized.

Certainly the long way about it, but what exactly is the point for 21st century evangelism in America? Clearly it’s going to look different than it has, but it’s going to be more like it was, as in the days of Paul.

Large scale “crusade evangelism” may still have a place [for a time]. However, most who attend crusades are already theistically minded. They are, for lack of a better analogy, the low hanging fruit. Paul did seek such individuals in his evangelism. Always when he entered a new city he searched for the synagogue; he first desired audience with the Jews and gentile god-fearers. Ultimately he would endeavor to reach the unreached; the paganistic, polytheistic, pluralistic Roman mind.

Evangelism with Romans involved contextualization and more explanation; and uptake, or receptiveness to the gospel was on a much smaller scale. Roman’s were skeptical and suspicious. At Athens in Acts 17 there were a few who were open, but most mocked and dismissed Paul’s defense. This is what I believe awaits the evangelist of our day; skepticism, suspicion, mocking and dismissiveness. Add to this, they, the modern day lost, are not going to come to us; we must meet them in the marketplace, outside the structure of the church.

These may be changes from the norm of Christianity in America, but the reality is that what we’ve experienced in America has not been normal to Christianity. American Christianity for the last hundred years (or more) has made abnormal, normal. So much so that we’ve lost sight of the fact that every Christian is called to be an evangelist on mission. We have exalted a few key leaders as evangelists and cast on their shoulder the burden of the task. The harvest is white and the few laborers are bound to grow weary unless we reengage the body as a whole.

Culture Shift – Part 1

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation — at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”

Candidate Barack Obama, June 2007

The conservative [especially] evangelical community was stirred into a frenzy by the above quote. Political opponents from coast to coast sought to use it as a rallying point for their base. While four years later I find few statements that I can heartily agree with from our now president Barack Obama, this is definitely one of them.

Cultural shifts are difficult. They are not always sudden and jarring like a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. They tend rather to change landscapes like the slow crushing move of a glacier. The cold hard reality is that culture is never static, which poses a significant problem, as we [humans] don’t much like change.

The Christian, more than any other, must be flexible and ready to adapt to the realities of cultural evolution. We are to be men and women, on mission; a mission which involves a commission to “go.” So, like culture, we are also not static. Our default however, is to tend toward inflexibility. This means that the life for the Christian will [almost] always involve some level of discomfort. As strangers and pilgrims in this world we will never truly find home, in this life. It is this truth that Jesus identified when he said to a potential seeker,  “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20)

Acts chapter 11 highlights for us a major cultural shift for the early church, one which I’m convinced mirrors what the 21st century evangelical church is now facing in the US and western Europe.

Briefly, Acts 11 brings the church face to face with the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ prophetic promises. Jesus prophesied saying, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

For roughly the first 10 years of the church’s existence, it found its base among Jews and Samaritans, primarily. Those who filled her ranks came from a theistic worldview; they were religious. Gospel uptake among those of a theistic persuasion was pretty good. At the birth of the church during Pentecost we witness something akin to the crusade evangelism of the 20th century as 3,000 were converted. Shortly after that there came another 5,000 (depending on how you read it). But a decade in, at Acts chapter 10, we witness the gospel’s advance into a paganistic, pluralistic, polytheistic, somewhat secularistic environment. Acts 11 reveals the apostolic reaction to what we could call “culture shock.”

Culture shock is what happens when you wake-up one day to find the culture around you has changed, and you have not. The evangelical church in America is experiencing a culture shock similar to that of the church in Acts 11. President Obama’s quote exposes the cultural shift, which the church is beginning to wake-up to. How we (the church) react to this shift will shape much of our evangelistic efforts in 21st century America.