Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wanna Be a Guru?

I'm really surprised at all the self-appointed prophets arising in Christian bookstores in America. Every year, it seems, there is a new “in man,” whose little book is THE answer to all the problems facing the American Christian “churches.” The Purpose-Driven Life (by Rick Warren) wasn't the first, and Organic Church (by Neil Cole) won't be the last.

There is a common thread in all of these windy movements, which I have already pointed out. Each one is begun by one man, who, sitting alone in a room somewhere, one day, realizes that he has discovered THE answer which has escaped Christendom ever since Acts ch. 2. Now, if people will only “risk” believing him, everything can change, and the Church of Christ on earth can at last succeed in being what Jesus really meant it to be.

This mini-messiah complex is understandable, especially for Americans raised on a good does of superheroes and fairy tales. Who doesn't want to save the world? Sure, it's ridiculously arrogant and presumptuous to assume that the churning in your gut is Almighty God telling you that the entire world is wrong but you're his answer to it all. But hey, we've got the Bible on our side. How can we go wrong?

So what surprises me about these guys is how radically rarely they actually pick up on what the Bible says, especially when it talks about “growing” a faith community in a time when all attempts to grow faith communities are more or less failing. Granted, one would actually have to read the prophets to come across this kind of talk – and those prophets aren't much fun to read if you're looking for an easy pick-me-up kind of answer. But, interestingly enough, though it contain its portion of curb-like law, the prophets hold the Word of God for the Church in our age. Take Isaiah 58:

Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?

That is, “Why have we committed ourselves to pious strategic plans, and seen no success? Why have we encouraged 'mission' till we're blue in the face, and found no response? Why have we made worship heart-felt and full of emotion, yet not converted anyone to our cause? Why have we committed ourselves to saving your Church only to see it destroyed beneath our feet?”

Behold, God says, you fast, but only to seek your own pleasure, and be an oppressor. Behold, you fast, but only to quarrel and to fight, and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours will not make your voice to be heard on high.

That is, “You try to grow my Church, but it is for your own glory and satisfaction. You seek to have your own name on a book cover, to be recognized in the market as the pastor of 'This and That Greatchurch.' You want more members so that you can have a better budget, and a better salary. You improve your worship experience, not to increase unity of confession, but to have your own opinions be known. This will not do. I DON'T hear your prayers anymore.”

Is such a fast that I choose for a person to humble himself?

“Do you really think you're the answer?”

Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?

“Is it to play your guitar and dance in the aisles and be happy all the time?”

Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord.

God thinks we're all wasting our time trying to please him with our worship.

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, to see the naked and cover him...THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing spring up speedily, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. ...

There is your Biblical plan for Church growth: stop being Americans.

If you turn back your foot from doing pleasure on the Sabbath, and call the Sabbath honorable, if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly, then ....I will make you ride on the heights of the earth. I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Seek Word and Sacrament as the only meaning in life. And spend the rest of the week serving people. AND as a corporate body, stop meeting “felt needs” and start meeting real needs, and STOP doing all of it so that you can increase your acreage in the Kingdom, either now or in the hereafter.

If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness....Take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and the speaking wickedness.

...So....where's THAT in all these “how to fix Christianity” books I've been reading since “Ragamuffin Gospel” through “Velvet Elvis.” I can't get over what a generation of yuppyish beatniks we've been raised up into. We might as well sing “the Circle of Life” on Sunday mornings and pass the peace pipe. We don't want real religion the way St. James and Isaiah have described it. We don't want the real Jesus who says, “I'm not going to listen to your prayers” when we stop listening to his Word.

Honestly, you probably could take this passage in Scripture and run with it, and be the next guru of the American faith. It would take a little work, but the time is right. With a healthy dose of “If you do this, God will...” thrown into the mix, you could probably be a millionaire by next year (granted, all your money would belong to the “church,” but don't act like it wouldn't still be yours to manage.) The topic is right, and the emergent seekers are really looking for authentic love.

But here's the problem. If you feed the poor for your own glory, you've missed the point again. The Church doesn't need another messiah – and it certainly doesn't need a new mini-messiah every new book-season. All this chicken-little talk has wrought us nothing good at all. What we do need, what Isaiah says, is a little more pure Word of God – a little more Jesus on Sundays and throughout the week. And by Jesus I don't mean the smiley guy with long hair and a beard. I mean the man who hangs on the cross and says, “Come, follow me, even if it means taking a poor person off the street and putting him up in your house.”

But can we Americans believe in such a Jesus? Can we let him be the Christ?

That, I'm afraid, is a very scary question.

2 comments:

Father Marc said...

Amen.

Wow. It's almost like God's Word is still speaking to us today.

Naaaaaaah.

RevFisk said...

Thanks for chiming in.

Nice cigar.

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