Will Anything Actually Change?

I’ll be honest, I’ve struggled with whether to post anything about the recent events in Charlottesville surrounding race.

Partly because so many have already posted wonderful responses.

Partly because I wanted to do more than just react.

But mostly because I have been wondering to myself: “Will anything actually change?”

 

Some of my skepticism comes from my awareness that the sinfulness of humanity is ever present in our world. But some of it also comes because nowadays there’s a lot of “correct talk” that is happening and yet still so little action.

I’m certainly appalled at the actions of white supremacists – just like I am at any group that seeks division based upon racial lines. But you know what I’m also appalled at: the continued and unquestioned racial division within our churches (especially those of popular and visible church leaders who have spoken out about this event).

 

I’m sorry, but it’s honestly difficult for me to take seriously the words of a public Christian figure who has shown little or no attempt in their own ministry context to help bring racial reconciliation to our country. It just seems like we are in a place where there are people who are saying the right thing (like the child who answers “Jesus” to the question in the Sunday School class) but don’t actually understand what they’re saying.

If we really believe that racism is evil (and it certainly is), then we would be doing everything possible to eliminate its effects from our churches. For example, we would work to remove the deeply ingrained effects of some denominations and congregations that were created based solely upon racial division!

Yet, instead, I continue to see the majority of our churches filled with mostly one race or another. I continue to watch leadership of these churches being unwilling to give up their spotlight in order to let someone of a different cultural heritage or ethnicity step on stage. I continue to hear from church people more concerned with keeping things the way they’ve always been or the way they’re comfortable with, rather than exploring the way it could be (or really should be) for a true people of God, genuinely filled with the Spirit, to join to together in one body. And I continue to see people who are merely too lazy or simply unwilling to seek the change they know needs to happen.

 

I guess that’s why I’ve held off until now to post. Because I’m still not sure whether Christians who have spoken out so far actually care enough to start doing something about a problem that’s been right in front of their eyes for their whole life.

I only recently entered into attempts in my own life and ministry to seek racial unity within the body of Christ. In our own little community there is a stark history with racial division (I mean “crossing the tracks” still means something here…). Well we have been seeking to create a new community of diverse believers that are willing to explore what it will look like for the future of the American church to no longer choose race as a valid division. Yes, there is the difficulty of creating a new shared culture, but unless we start that process somewhere then it’s never going to happen!

And the irony of the church being divided based upon race is that it’s the one group of people that have the key to this entire issue! The Gospel unifies humanity in a way that was never possible before (Ephesians 2). We become a people with a shared story, a family with a shared Father, and a place of worship inhabited by a shared Spirit!

 

This brings several tough questions to mind for me:

Will Christians and the church actually be the example of unity and love we talk about being? Or will we continue to stay in our comfort zones and justify it because of “racial differences”?

Will there actually be leaders bold enough to risk their popularity, job, size of the church and/or personal preference in order to really live into the “new humanity” described in Scripture? Or will we simply give the same party line about worship style differences (as if that in and of itself is not simply more evidence of unaddressed racial division in our society)?

Will churches finally repent of their sin, turn from their selfishness, and begin to partner with those who they have for so long perceived to be different because of race? Will we begin to create new unified expressions of church that actually represent our diverse God by displaying for the world a diverse people of God who are united in Christ by the Spirit? Or will we continue in our culturally created versions of the Christian faith that we deem meaningful when they might be perpetuating the divide that we verbally say we are against?

 

Maybe I’m wrong to be so blunt. Or maybe something in what I said is actually incorrect. I am open to being corrected and informed if so. But if not, if all we continue to do is say the right things and never actually change anything, then aren’t we all simply complicit in the racism that we have in this moment so strongly verbally opposed?

 

MLK Jr. challenged us in a similar way over 50 years ago (so why is it taking us so long to heed his words?!):

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity…Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” …

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace…If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. 

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter – but beautiful – struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”

I’m gonna need to crush your dreams to give you faith.

That is one of the hardest statements I have ever had to type, and I typed it on my Notes app during the last session of Passion 2017.

If you did not attend Passion 2017, or have never attended a Passion event, simply Google Passion Conferences or 268generation and research what it’s all about. I have been a supporter and participant in this movement ever since I attended Passion 2005 in Nashville, TN. God has used Passion in my life in important ways. And I will never speak negatively about something that is so powerfully emboldening an entire generation of college students.
Continue reading “I’m gonna need to crush your dreams to give you faith.”

The irony of a “pop-culture church” in a culture where Christianity is not popular

It should be fairly obvious to any halfway observant Christian that over the last generation Christianity has gone from a religion that America endorsed, to a religion America ignored, to now being a religion that America is antagonistic toward.

From the news articles about Christian schools losing their accreditation, to the ones concerning the potential forcing of all Christian ministers to perform marriage ceremonies they fundamentally disagree with, to the removing of Christian campus ministries because of their attempt to require its members or leaders to sign a code of conduct, it has become evident that culture no longer believes Christianity is acceptable in the public sphere.

Another observation that is fully obvious over the last generation has been the trend in the church toward popular culture – or in other words, the trend in the church toward “popular Christianity.” From music labels, to book deals, to TV stations, to celebrity pastors, and on we go… It is now apparent, like never before, that while the culture is moving away from Christianity, the American Christian church is still trying to move toward the culture.

The most obvious arrival of pop-culture into the church has been thru the occurrence of what has been coined “the worship wars.” With mostly contemporary worship winning out, we have seen the embrace of secular music culture within the church. Lights, cameras, smoke, lead guitars and drum solos, “worship music” being sold for profit, and so on.

None of the creative aspects of secular music being brought into the church are necessarily sinful in and of themselves, but they do make the potential for sin (pride, greed, etc.) more accessible by elevating certain aspects of production in the church. And, let’s not forget the obvious downfalls to the celebrity pastor status and followership that has become common in popular Christianity as well.

All of that is true.

But what is most interesting about all of this is not the discussions about what has actually happened, but rather the discussion about why it has happened and continues to happen.

Then, Why?

Why does the church continue to bring pop-culture in when Christianity is clearly being rejected within pop-culture?

Why does the church look more and more secular when secular society continues to distance itself (and in some cases attack) Christianity?

The answer may surprise you.

Jesus.

Now I know what many of you may be thinking, “It sounded like this article was headed toward calling the church away from this trajectory. I thought you were about to crush the church for trying to be like a culture that hates it…”

And you would have been right – if you were expecting me to be like most American Christians who are for some reason scared of the reality that Christianity seems to be “losing ground” in our society.

But I am not like those Christians. I see our situation a little differently. I like to think I see it a little more like Jesus…

How’s that?

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus’ first act in the plan of salvation he was called to fulfill was the act of incarnation. And yet the last thing the church ever seems to talk about is what it means for us to be incarnate in our society.

If the first step for Jesus was to become like those who he was looking to save, then why is it that Christians are so surprised when he expects the same of us?!

In fact, I have started to believe that unless the church becomes more incarnate in the world and begins to actually function completely outside the walls it has created by going right into where those who need us most are living, then the trend of antagonism toward Christians will only continue.

What I am not saying is that we should act like the world – Jesus did not. What I am not saying is that we should compromise our integrity for the world – Jesus never did. But what I am saying is what Paul said:
“When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ… When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ… When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.”

So what?

None of this removes the fact that there is an intense irony in a reality where we continue to pursue a culture and a people who continue to push us away. But by doing this we act like our very Savior who did the same for us.

In fact, we should strive to be incarnate just like Jesus – where we do not expect others to somehow get to us but rather where we do whatever it takes to get to them. We must stop trying to invite the world in, and start going to where the world is…

Are people seemingly “too busy” to come to a church event? Then go to where they are busy. Has the culture begun to value sports, and concerts, and bars, and other events more than the events of the church? Then get involved in those events and take Christ with you!

Our call is to be the church, not simply build a church.

So if the church we build looks like the culture and even goes to where the culture is (exciting events, etc.), as long as we are still being the church that God calls us to be (light, salt, etc.) then we are fulfilling exactly the call God has placed on our lives: to live like Jesus. And remember Jesus lived incarnate.