“Church Shopping” – as I have been doing in recent weeks – landed me in Bible class for the first time in years recently. I guess I am a bit jaded; I don’t really care what people think (or something like that). Wow! That sounds pretty crass alright. But really, sitting around listening to white, middle-class Americans hem-n-haw about “my truth” and “your truth” (which of course is not what we actually call it because this is THE segment of society that resists the very idea that “Truth is Relative”, despite ourselves). And when we actually get around to talking about the need to be “counter-cultural”, well, who are we kidding?
Yeah, it came up for discussion recently. And so I sat in a plush church building with its coffee bar, its “worship center”, it’s trendy worship team (a concert band), and all that “counter-cultural” stuff. Shoot, I even noticed near the entrance in the lobby we had a giant movie-style poster proclaiming the upcoming sermon series!
Does ANY of this sound even remotely counter-cultural?
A sat there trying to recall my sociology courses from college where we discussed culture, cultural artifacts, institutions, and “group think” etc… and of course, counter-culture. It’s all basic sociology.
Hey, at least we Bible-class attendees were talking about it! – Right??? And I must say, I know several individuals in this church personally, including the head pastor who taught a graduate course I once took. He definitely earned my respect as a Bible teacher. And there is no doubt that Bible class in the academy (as opposed to Sunday School) is a whole different culture – one where there actually are right and wrong answers, tests with grades, and where your thinking gets challenged at the core! No hem-n-haw; did you read the text? What did IT say? How does it read in the original languages? Are there textual variants? – You know… stuff like that.
And my limited previous experience with this church demonstrated to me that leadership there sets the agenda for all the Bible classes. Then they “train” the teachers, laity-volunteers, to present the material in the various “classes” in an effort to “equip the saints” in biblical teachings. And that sounds good in theory. It certainly starts off with some high-octane Bible doctrines, but… (there’s that “but” again….)
The lay-volunteers who teach tend to be like middle-management. They are not the skilled Bible students or the professors from the academy. Like so many others, they have at least as much to unlearn before they can re-learn and then actually teach. Once turned loose with the other laity, the gospel agenda enters the collective digestion of the free democratic system of thoughts and ideas. And so the good material tends to break down into the morass as the hem-n-haw gets going and churns out a little “my truth/your truth” by another name.
(As an aside, it’s like… How can such a great nation produce only the lousiest two choices of presidential candidates? You would think we COULD NOT, but, but, but… that’s just what we do!)
I was, however, actually and pleasantly surprised, for a moment, when the teacher asked the class to look around us and consider how we might be counter-cultural amid the trappings we obviously were invested in – and not only that, but he asked us to consider bringing in new people – “un-churched” people – to join our counter-culture. Yeah. The moment was pregnant with possibility.
But here’s the thing about being “counter-cultural”. “Counter-culture” is actually a rather generic notion; it is not necessarily Christian at all. So the question then really is: Which counter-culture do you have in mind? And it would seem obvious that we are talking about a Christian counter-culture as opposed to a 1960’s hippie counter-culture or a Muslim counter-culture. And those counter-cultures have a lot more focus on their agendas than we in this classroom have on ours. We are blind to our own cultural assimilation!
How did this teachable moment play out? (Glad you asked.)
Some good brother hem’d something about how good it is to be counter-cultural as long as we don’t get “legalistic” about it. Then a good sister haw’d about “legalism”, and in a matter of seconds the whole discussion of counter-culture was blunted instead of sharpened, and then assimilated into the hem-n-haw of personal truths as we chased “legalism” bunnies. Then another good brother turned that into a hem-n-haw about going to heaven when we die as he wanted to keep the focus on the real point of it all. Yeah. Pie-in-the-sky! (Sure, that’s the point!)
Meanwhile, I sat there thinking about the teacher’s question asking us to consider bringing in the “un-churched” in some counter-cultural ministry. And I immediately thought: Hey! Unlock the doors on this place tonight at about 9 pm, and throw a Luke-14 party where all us white, middle-class white folk get in our cars, drive around the streets and alleys of Lubbock finding homeless people, and compel them in to the party!
Of course, I kept my mouth shut. That is exactly the kind of rhetoric that got me in trouble at the church where I got shunned, and the homeless church where I got kicked out, and got me passed over at the job interview for working with the homeless at another ministry! I have tried just that kind of truth-telling (IN LOVE no less) exercise before. It does not work. And it gets me landed on the outs.
So, then I sat there contemplating how many (not all to be sure, but still MANY) of our Muslim neighbors gather in counter-cultural cells to discuss their holy scriptures and then how they get focused on counter cultural objectives! And SOME of them take those ideas to deadly extremes.
How is it that we (the church) sit around so clueless?
“Legalism”? Really? Do you know that is not actually even a word in the Bible? It is a straw-man argument brought to pop-culture Christianity largely by Chuck Swindol over 35 years ago. And that is the kind of crap my generation needs to unlearn before we can re-learn what the Bible is really saying and doing. Legalism isn’t even a Bible concept. I have no desire to deconstruct it on this blog, but I will say that Jesus came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. Wait a minute… Actually, he said that (Matt. 5:17-20).
And anyway, that discussion lead away from where we could be going… where we SHOULD be going. And then there is that pie-in-the-sky garbage that is always a show stopper for the Kingdom of God. Why do you want to “go to heaven when you die”? If you pray, as Jesus taught, you ask for God’s Kingdom to come ON EARTH as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Why are you trying to escape the Kingdom Come?
Yes. We have a lot of un-learning to do. If we could clear this diffusive nonsense out of the discussion, THEN hopefully we could begin plotting revolution! And that is a term that makes “counter-culture” seem rather mild.
It is my assertion, if I would be allowed to make it – if I would be allowed even the hearing, that we, the people of God – the church, are the tip of the spear, the salt-n-light, bearers of the resurrection power of God tasked with the mission that goes head-to-head with those terrorist cell groups planted like weeds among the wheat. And currently, they are making the headway for their agenda(s) as they have already successfully pit American against American in politics, fear, and distaste. I go to the airport and look at all the strangers and wonder if they are one of us or one of them. And how can I know? But if the church, the Body of Christ, got serious about being counter-cultural, we would be loverist cell groups, plotting revolution and setting off love bombs in this culture that blow open imaginations and settle human hearts in love and trust and faith around the Lord’s Table.
Just for starts…
I tried to be respectful and “get along”, so I kept my mouth shut and politely let the church engage in its spiritual masturbation.