Thursday, February 12, 2004

Brain Dump 2002, Part 5


What is the Gospel? I remember being taught that it is something like this:

“Jesus Christ died, was buried, rose again, ascended, will come back. If you believe, confess, repent, get baptized, and live the Christian life, you will go to heaven when you die. If you don’t . . . . .”

I have come to a shocking realization. This wasn’t the sermon Jesus preached. In fact, his basic outline was 1) Repent 2) The kingdom of heaven is near. I learned part one pretty well. Part two was left out. The good news according to Jesus was that the kingdom of heaven was near. Upon closer study of the Gospels, (not just Paul’s letters, but the Gospels) it seemed Jesus was announcing the arrival of a kingdom that was BOTH “already” and “not yet.” The Gospel is just as much about “already” as it is about “not yet.” Fire insurance theology is all about the “not yet.” The church should at very least be a preview, a sneak-taste of what the kingdom of God is all about. It should be a taste of heaven on earth. This is difficult because it calls us to live in a counter-culture community that bears witness to the power of the Gospel. We must be a people who live out the Sermon on the Mount and Romans 12 literally. This changes everything!

And, (hold your breath!), it absolutely does not mix well with the American Dream or the American Political System as we know it (exhale). Shoot me, condemn me, write me off at this point, but we must get this point! It is huge. The Kingdom of God does not equal America. Never has, never will. I like America as much as the next guy, but my primary allegiance is to another kingdom whose “constitution” and “declaration” are at odds with some of the ideas behind America’s “constitution” and “declaration”. Until we can all acknowledge that without feeling nervous or guilty, than we probably still need the commandments about idolatry more than we realize.

I believe that the two great idols in our Western Culture are: individualism & consumerism. They are just as present in many churches as they are in mainstream culture. They are just hidden. We pick the church we want to go to as consumers, then we go there to get our needs met effectively. It aint much different from the process we use to buy a car, buy a steak, or plan a vacation. Some smart church leaders have figured this out and have started making church feed individualism & consumerism better than it used to, which results in dramatic growth. I know this because I was one of them. And God will use this in spite of itself to reach some people. But it is definitely not the best.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Brain Dump 2002, Part 4

Generational Issues to Cultural Issues to Theological Issues
In 1989 I made a last-minute decision to go to Bible College and to enter vocational ministry. As I look back, I made this decision for two reasons: First, because I was so frustrated that my high school friends were hurting and needed Christ, yet I felt ill-equipped to do anything for them. Second, because I was a nominal Christian at a crossroads. I knew it was all or nothing, at that point in my life, there was no middle road for me. I had to go for it completely in the only way I knew how, or I would be a nominal Christian for the rest of my life.

My desire to help my high school friends turned into a passion to reach my generation for Christ. So, by the mid-1990s, my dream was to plant churches that would specifically reach my generation for Christ (the so-called GenXers). I even wrote a miserably bad Master’s Thesis on this.

Even by the time I moved to Vegas in 1999 to pursue this dream full-time, I had already discovered that it was more about a cultural shift than a generational issue. North American culture had changed/was changing. It didn’t fit neatly along generational lines. I met some 70-year-old postmoderns, and (even more frustrating) some 20-year-old moderns. It became about taking the Gospel to this postmodern culture, regardless of their age.

Not much later, though, I began to suspect that the real issue was more one of theology, specifically, our theology of the church. Even though I knew better, I thought of church as a place, a program, a time, an event, an organization. I was always asking how we can make the place, the program, the organization better at reaching a new generation or a new culture. As I examined my theology of church, I began to realize that church is really “community on a mission”, or more simply, God’s people going where God sends them. This changed everything. Church planting no longer required a certain kind of place, a certain kind of program, or even an organization (that is if I can get past my desire to get a clergy housing allowance from the IRS!). Planting churches meant getting people into community who were going on God’s mission. That was quite a difference.

This led me to plant simple churches. Some call them house churches. I am hesitant to say “house church” because some people have run into house churches that were just a bunch of angry people who hate other Christians or a bunch of people who might serve Kool-Aid laced with something. I also am hesitant to use the term “house church” because it really isn’t about the “house” and they don’t have to meet in a “house.”

More recently I have seen the danger in promoting “house church” is much as we have. Some people see it as a program, a gimmick, a fad, or a strategy. If it is any of those, then it is not really what I am talking about when I talk about simple churches.

One friend of mine says its really about disciple making and intimacy with God. It just happens to be that house churches allow us to do those two things without getting tangled up in obstacles and distractions.

So, I am not against church buildings, paid clergy, church programs, church services, strategic plans for ministry, etc. I just feel freed and released from the unnecessary distractions that these things bring, and I don’t feel that any of these things are necessary for church planting.