Thursday, August 28, 2014
The Primacy of Relevance. . .
Perhaps we were once concerned by the tension between the two opposing paths of affirming self or seeking God where He has promised to be found, but we seem no longer ashamed to hijack this thing called worship and make ourselves the center of all that happens and the criteria by which we judge its success.
God would not want me to. . . Well, you finish the statement. God would not want me to worship in a way that was not to my liking. God would not want me to sing what I do not find meaningful. God would not want me to give offerings that might deprive me of something I desire. God would not want me to be uncomfortable. God would not want me to be part of something I do not fully understand. God would not want me to worship in a way that is not relevant or modern. God would not want me to be part of a church that I do not like or feel at home in.
We feed ourselves these lies because it justifies our abandonment of Scripture and our disconnect with tradition in both doctrine and practice (liturgy). We look little like the Christians who went before us and we like that. We want to be thoroughly modern even in our pursuit of nostalgic trinkets from a bygone era. They are souvenirs but they have no relevance to us or to worship except to provide ambiance. Liturgy, ritual, reverence, awe, attention, and devotion are antiquated concepts to the church of me.
We come to church on Sunday morning in order to be affirmed. We may sin but we are not sinners. We may screw up but it is only an occasional lapse in judgment and not a defect of our nature. We come to be reminded when we feel low that we are not really bad but only slip up now and then. We come to given tools to help us be better and the better we want to be is truer to self. We define our worst sins as when we have put someone or something ahead of ourselves or our desires and the freedom we seek is the abandonment of any and all restraints. Entertain us a bit, give us an instructive but relevant sermon on obtaining our best life now, celebrate the lives of our loved ones with the consolation of memories when they are gone, and give us something equal to the money we put into the plate and we will be glad to be religious, spiritual, even Christian.
This is what so many mainline and evangelicals have been taught, what they find on Sunday morning, and what passes for faith and religion. Lutherans so tempted to improve our statistics think that we can emulate their methods while preserving our doctrinal integrity but it cannot be done. There is no methodology or style that is not inherently infected with substance and doctrine. That is true for modernity and for the ancient faith as well. Thirty years ago it was all the rage to believe that style and substance were different, disconnected, and distinct. We drifted from the realm of the means of grace into the uncertain ground of feelings and personal preference and now, some Lutherans, fear giving up the mall like campuses and full service programs even though they understand that it is no longer possible to drift by degree. In fact, what we are all realizing, across the religious spectrum, is that the modern Christianity with its pursuit of relevance is not a different style of Christianity but a completely different religion from the creeds, confessions, liturgy, catechesis, and doctrine of old. Cleaning up our mess is not easy but if the folks on all sides of the spectrum are honest with themselves they know that Christianity cannot survive this schizophrenia of me or Thee.