Thursday, September 6, 2012

The "Curse" of the American Church - Pragmatism

Earlier in the year I was invited to attend a gathering of "Network Leaders", facilitated by a church we would all be familiar with. The 3 day event was wonderfully and generously hosted with attention to detail and extravagant in their new facility.

As the sessions rolled by, I became increasingly intrigued by the fact that the bible was not opened nor used. Besides the scripture being referenced for devotions, we were never taken to the sacred texts to wrestle with what they say about the great conversation. In fact, to be quite honest, I left after the second day feeling so saddened by the fact that these leaders were being instructed by business consultants and sociologists [and some of it was very interesting for sure, and we certainly can learn from them] but not by apostles or prophets who take us to the scriptures.

I am seriously alerted to the notion that the American church is governed by the "if it works use it" mantra. When Playboy caught the attention of the world with their highly appealing "if it feels good do it", it was serving a palatable diet to an emerging postmodern world. Has the church gotten on that gravy train with a little more elegance?

Now I do know that there is a debate about whether the New Testament is "prescriptive" or "descriptive" in the way church is suppose to be run. This eternal debate must not distract us from the need to make our first pitstop in the word no matter what the conversation must be about. To simply head down the road of "best practices" before we scrutinize "bible practices", is to really reflect the charge against Israel where "everyone did as they saw fit".

I love the entrepreneurial nature of American society. The entrepreneur makes "from nothing, something". This 'can do' attitude is contagious and so empowering to a church that can so easily get stuck in "old practices". However, this strong cultural component can perpetuate a biblical illiteracy that already pervades the width of this nation's churches.

Surely, we can be courageous enough to ask questions like:

Is this conversation,
biblical - is it clearly in the text and must therefore be replicated, or
a-biblical - the text neither endorses nor rejects this, so it is scaffolding useful to get the job done, or
unbiblical - it is clearly against the teaching of scripture and must therefore be rejected at all costs?

Although I will look at this separately, allow me to add here that one of the great sacrifices at the altar of pragmatism is the role of Ephesians 4 gifts to the church. Replaced with coaches, mentors, consultants, these Christ ascension gifts have been sidelined to irrelevancies. Surely a tragic mistake. To ignore that part of Jesus that he left of himself in the lives of men and women through his gifts, to replace it with a very poor surrogate is surely a serious tragedy.

My suggestion is that we get back to the posture of humility that once again sees us getting to the text first with grace and faith. This is not a call to bland legalism. It is a joyous appeal to see what the bible says in this regard. Where the word is spacious and expansive let us step into those places with courage and boldness [like multi-media and lighting -  reflecting the fun and power of an exotic thunderstorm] but where the word speaks clearly, let us forge our architecture with similar intentionality [like raising up sons rather than producing hirelings].

There is a road back from this most unhelpful of lenses. What will we pass on to the next generation - a passion for the doctrine and practice of the scriptures or an abandoned irresponsible quest for success that reflects our consideration and not that of scripture?


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  2. I wonder . . .
    is part of the problem that too many today cannot have a conversation about "what the bible says about _____________" because (other than a few favorite quotes) too few (in "the pews" AND "behind the pulpit") know what the bible says -- period. Harsh, I suppose, but
    I wonder. . .