The Failure of Religion

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I take the position that the Christian community no longer lives in a favored position with its host culture. This evidence is in front of us; diminishing family life, mixed gender signals, erosion of common courtesies and on and on. To reach this culture Christians must be more like leaven than a church-centric, attractional-Sunday-center. Individually, many of us are in missional-praxis, but if the established church is to survive the next decade its leaders must start thinking with a corporate responsibility and accountability laudable in building a culture of believers who strategically “go” and seek the ‘missing’ on the missing’s turf.

I find a degree of difficulty in articulating a primary missional stance. I must concede that my failure, in the past, to expressively characterize the difference between a primary missional praxis and the praxis of the establishment church has limited the reader’s scope, breath and range of what I’ve attempted to convey. This time I hope to do better. But it’s possible you will walk away from this piece slightly confused or even thinking that we agree, when we might not. If after reading this article there are differences in our understanding, those differences will most likely be in the change needed and the corporate responsibility necessary. It falls at the feet of church leaders.

It’s important to mention that I’m not totally 100% opposed to the established church. But what I am opposed to is church leadership upholding their primary stance of ‘tweaking’ or making relevant the Sunday morning event to the point where you begin to think that they must think that people will come and rush the entrance when their doors are opened.

Faith Communities Must Become Portable

In the last half of the book of Luke and throughout the book of Acts the reader encounters a series of road stories. You find Jesus on the Emmaus road, Philip on the road to Gaza, Peter on the road to Cornelius, Paul on the road to Damascus. If you’re the least bit curious you have to ask, “Where is everyone going?”  And the answer is they are moving away from their spiritual center—Jerusalem—and out into the world.

As one reads the New Testament, especially the book of Acts, it becomes apparent that Christianity is depicted as a movement away from the center of religious activity and out into the fringes of the world. Jesus’ portability was seen in the inordinate amount of time he spent with prostitutes, tax collectors, government officials, and fishermen. Our addiction to centripetal ministries has kept us away from the people Jesus’ misses. We’ve been called to leave our temple and enter the court of the Gentiles and engage people on their turf—territory that is comfortable and familiar to them, where government officials assemble for city council meetings, where art museum curators show their prizes, and where the missing ones willingly sit with ‘people of the way’ to discuss life-issues over a glass of wine or a latte. Reaching this generation requires Jesus’ followers to step out of the boat of church life and into the streams of culture in pursuit of something unprecedented, even downright miraculous. It means we replace our preoccupation with church and begin walking the fringes of the mission field.

Stilted Religion or an Adventure with a Cause

Much of what I see in the established church today has no fire. She has become ensnared in a kind of “institutionalism” that withers in the labyrinth of its organizational structures. But maybe most serious is the people in the pew’s failure to find a worthy cause for which to live. People can live in churches for years and never discover any greater reason to live than a career, a few more possessions or a little more fame. Sad indeed.

Years ago I took my son fishing on a small creek below our home. We found a Budweiser can floating on top of the water and my son reached down and snatched it out of the creek. Inside the can was a small Rock Bass. When smaller, it must have swum unsuspectedly into the can and then, failing to find its way out, soon became too large to get out. When I freed the fish from the can, he had already begun to grow in a curve.

That story suggests the way I have experienced religion. It held out for me the promise for a fuller, richer life where problems could be handled and freedom experienced daily. In reality it brought additional problems—church politics, power plays, the resistance to new ideas and new ways to reach the lost, just one more thing to become frustrated with. Instead of finding freedom, life seemed stilted—I found myself growing in a curve. Remember Jesus? He established the greatest adventure the world has ever seen and did it in the midst of massive religious failure. We can do the same. But we must become portable. We must.

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