Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Giving permission to be narcissistic. . .

When we as the Church adopt certain things from the culture, we give our people permission to indulge in that culture.  Nowhere is that more true than the culture of self and individualism.  We live in a time of unabashed narcissism epitomized by the selfie.  Why, at the symphony the other night a handful of folks around me (not all of them in their 20s) pulled out their smart phones, took a selfie, and posted it to the social media right there before the sound of Brahms (it was the Requiem).

By tailoring everything in the Church to individual taste and personal preference, we have, in essence, given cover to our people and permission to be as self-indulgent as the world around them.  You worship when it is comfortable to you, in the style you prefer, listening to the music that appeals to you, in seating designed primarily for comfort, while sipping away at Starbucks or the perennial water bottle.  That is what religion has become.  And we have given permission for this shallow and self-absorbed idea of faith and life. We have ridden the horse of culture so well that even service to our neighbor is primarily about me -- the care and feeding of the volunteer and the intentional design of projects so that people will get more than they give have virtually assured our people that Jesus was just kidding when He said, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me...

Not everything in culture is a hill worthy dying on but this one is.  Faith does not condone the natural narcissism since the Fall.  No, faith speaks the law to the curved in self and frees us from the prison of "me" with nothing less than the victory won by the opposite -- the suffering of the Servant Son of God who died in our place our death and payed our debt for sin.  Where is the talk of responsibility, of self-control, of growth in faith, of increase in holiness, and of sacrifice?

I will be honest here.  I love to preach the things God did in love to save us.  I will preach the law that condemns us for our sins.  But I loathe to preach sanctification.  I know I am not alone in this.  Yet part of what we must preach is the new way of those declared righteous in Christ and born of the new birth of baptism.  We have not been free to be me but freed in Christ so that Christ may begin to be all in all in us.  He died for all that those who live [because of that death] should not live for themselves but for Him...  I read that somewhere.

The worst thing about the cultural Christianity of the day, about the entertainment worship of the moment, of the appeal to self, individual choice, and personal preference is not that it fails to bestow what it promises upon the sinners in need of redemption but that it condemns us in our sins, justifies our arrogant self-indulgence, and excuses our narcissistic manner of life.  Who needs a faith to do that?  The world is already doing a more than fine job of proclaiming the gospel of desire.  Are we just justifying our jobs?  It seems to me there is only one reason for the Church -- to proclaim Christ and Him crucified.  When and where that happens (authentically), the selfie lifestyle will be exposed, challenged, and labeled for what it is -- the glorification of that which marks us as the already dead.  Unless we use church simply to plan a party for the dying to mask the reality of their mortality, we need to counter the culture of me with the one and only word that can convict us with respect to sin and deliver us with respect to new life.  That, my friends, would be the Word of the Lord, the law in its bite and the Gospel in its sweet healing.  Like the old movie, we find the taste of truth strange and prefer instead the lie that is the soylent green gospel.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Wow. Spot on. There is nothing the Church preaches to the world unique except Christ and him crucified.

As Rodney Dangerfield said, "I went to my shrink to boost my self esteem" He said, "Eh; you're not worth the trouble."