Sunday, February 27, 2011

You Don't Have to Be a Pastor to Get It...

Last week I spent a day with my wife and we walked through antique malls and the like.  On our way back home, we decided to stop at the Burlington Coat Factory store in Nashville.  I was wandering down the pants aisle and stopped to look at a couple of pair of pants (but did not buy).  It was then I heard a conversation.  The men would standing only a few feet away and were not talking in whispered tones.  The topic of their conversation was compelling, surprising, and encouraging.

The two guys were in their early twenties, good looking, well dressed young Black men talking about church.  One took the lead inviting the other to come to church with him.  The other was leery of it and not shy about saying why.  "I am sick and tired of going to churches that talk about how to be blessed and get wealth or success.  It is the same message nearly everywhere I go.  Believe this, do this, pray this and God will give you money and bless you.  They talk about an anointing of money and success.  Well, I go out dancin and I drink (sometimes too much).  I don't pray all that much and I am doin better off than some of my friends who try to be good and all that."

He gets it.  If Christianity is about getting ahead financially or materially or in terms of happiness, and you are doing okay now, then why would you need it?  He was expressing burn out from churches that all say the same thing and offer the same "blessing."  But he was still interested in faith.

He went on to say, "I don't know where to find a church that is interested in me and not my money.  I wish I could find a church that would talk to me about something more than how to get ahead or stay ahead or be happy.  I know I need God but most of the churches that I have gone to think all I need is a blessing of money from God.  If I could find me a church like that, I would be interested."

The Christian who had invited this man to go to church with him was now on the defense.  He denied that his church was like that (and I don't know anything to doubt him).  But he did insist that talking so much about money and happiness was a trick to get folks into the church (but in this case, it did not work so well).  He did not give up and began to describe how Christianity was a blessing to him.  About this time another guy showed up, seemed to be a friend to one or both of the previous fellows, and he entered the conversation.

I was just about mustering up the nerve to offer him my business card and say when he was wanted to find a church interested in his soul, in the forgiveness of his sins, in the emptiness of a life that could end in death at any moment, or that offered him the fullness of the mystery of God's presence through the Word and Sacraments, he should give me a call...  And then the three of them took off for a different part of the store and they were gone...

But this is not simply a post about my lack of courage... this is a story of a man who "got it."  He got it so much he was sick of it all.  If all that "church" offered him was how to get a financial anointing or a blessing for success or a pathway to happiness, he did not need it.  And I would suspect he was speaking for a lot of folks his age who might think of church in the same way they think of the pressing need for health insurance or disability insurance or nursing home insurance.  But it was clear that he was looking for a church that had a spiritual center (and one not inside the person of the believer).  He might have been ready for a church that offered him the presence of God, hidden where He has made Himself accessible, in the Word that does what it promises and the Sacraments that convey the gifts of grace.  If I had the nerve to interrupt their conversation, private but not quiet, I might have given him something to consider.  I console myself in that it was not a conversation to which I had been invited and it was 60 miles away from where my parish is... but that is another story.

This guy had been to a number of churches that claimed to be Christian and found them all the same -- interested in making this life more abundant with more money, more success, or more happiness... or interested in getting more money, success, or people for their churches.  What he had not yet found was a church that proclaimed the Word of the Cross.  I am convinced that this is exactly the issue with Christians, and with some Lutherans, today.  Instead of proclaiming the Word of the Cross we have taken over the message of the Osteens, Warrens, and Hybels of this world, whose Christianity is an enhancement of the mortal life and not primarily the gift of eternal life, the application of forgiveness to the guilty, the restoration of the lost to the family of God, and the grace sufficient to sustain us through the ups and downs of this life...

It was just a few minutes near the dress pants sale aisle of the Burlington Coat Factory but it told me a great deal.... When Christians proclaim a "gospel of success" (theology of glory) that is hardly different from the other gurus of happiness, she ceases being the distinctive community of faith, built upon grace, centered in the cross that Christ established....


Anonymous said...

The "Health and Wealth" Gospel is
promoted by Pentecostal TV preachers
like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Fred
Price, Kenneth Copeland, and Joyce

This false gospel is condemned by
Rick Warren. In Time Magazine he
said, "This idea that God wants
everyone to be wealthy? Baloney.
It is creating a false idol. You do
not measure your self-worth by your
net worth."

Anonymous said...

Bill Hybels is definitely not a
"Health and Wealth" preacher. He
wants to reach the unchurched Harry
and Mary. He stresses evangelism and
encourages his parish members to
build relationships with the unchurched and invite them to seeker
worship services.

In the last 10 years Hybels has said
that his approach was too shallow
and that his congregation needed to
offer in-depth Bible classes for
the newly converted. Hybels has
recently attempted to offer more
meat to his sermons by stressing
a Christ-centered approach to
sinful humanity.