Here is some thoughts I’ve been wrestling with in the last months, please feel free to comment by clicking on Shout Out

Church confusion and addiction to pornography

Howard Macey once said,

“The spiritual life cannot be made suburban. It is always frontier, and we who live in it must accept and even rejoice that it remains untamed.”

I love this quote! It touches something deep within me; it awakens a hunger for something that is missing in my life. I’m a pastor and I work in a “church” – the environment that I’m working in by definition tries to make the spiritual life suburban. This is where my confusion and pornography begin.

Church is obviously important to God but I’m wondering if my definition of church or for that matter if “our” definition of church is the same than God’s? In my daily conversations with friends and others, it seems obvious that I’m not the only one thinking about this – I find this comforting – but also disconcerting: what are we to do about the current situation?

I’ve discovered a peculiar relationship in the last few years, the marriage between the Body of Christ and the success of the Business World. The relationship can be termed as prostitution between the two and as a result an illegitimate baby is born! Let me explain. In the modern era, success as defined by the boomer generation, are all about organizational smoothness, capital gain, and huge buildings. This is also known as the ABC’s – Attendance, Buildings and Cash. Due to our infatuation with the world’s definition of success pastors compromised, the “holy” church bed was defiled – God was exchanged for a business plan – being wedded with God for a fornication session with the world of the Fortune 500 companies. Eugene Peterson once stated:

In this marriage servanthood are exchanged for consumerism and God for a puppet. The Lion of Judah are nothing more than a fluffy cat to calm our emotions. A successful deity ready to sequence our lives with a few anecdotes, so that we can live more “Successful lives”. Is this what God calls His Bride, or are we bastards – created by our misconceptions?

I just read an ad in a leading leadership magazine that reads as follow,

“This is such an important time for our church. What should we do next” , the answer: “Clarify your vision, Align your culture, Extend your reach – it’s as easy as that!

Not. Somehow I don’t think the apostle Paul would have come to this conclusion – especially if I read 2 Corinthians 6:3-10,

3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Comparing a current ministry magazine with the Bible is a shocking experiment – where is Jesus? Where is brokenness ? The upside down kingdom? The cross. Everything seems to revolve around methods and outward measurements. But the focus in the Bible is on Jesus and we are in the background – the jar keeping a terrific treasure.

“The church changed my life and other idolatries”.

It seems like the mega church mantra: “The church is the hope of the world”, becomes a very subtle form of idolatry. Last time I read the Bible, Christ is the hope of the world. Christ is the treasure not the church. This mantra puts a dangerous reversal in motion: the church becomes the treasure and Christ is the ‘earthen vessel’ that keeps the treasure. The focus is on the church and not on Christ. Just listen to pastor talk: ”the church pays me a good salary”, “my church is really growing”, “the church has an enormous impact on people”, yadi, yadi, yadi.

A year ago my wife and I attended a mega church service where people gave testimonies of how their lives were changed. Six people shared their story, everyone ended with something like this: “And then the church changed my life”. Huh! Suddenly the subtle idolatry sounds like bleating sheep (1 Samuel 15:13-14). Jesus changes people. It seems like we spend SOOOOOO much time looking at what is church – a good thing to do BUT we need to spend even more time looking at Jesus. The focus should be on Him more than on us. If we focus just on ourselves then we will fall into the trap of trying to cover up our mess and start to live a fake life – we become addicted to pornography, church pornography:

Eugene Peterson writes:

“Parish glamorization is ecclesiastical pornography – taking photographs (skillfully airbrushed) or drawing pictures of congregations that without spot or wrinkle, the shapes that a few parishes have for a few short years. These provocatively posed pictures are devoid of personal relationships. The pictures excite a lust for domination, for gratification, for uninvolved and impersonal spirituality. My own image of the desirable congregation was shaped by just such pornography – a tall-steeple church with a cheesecake congregation. It alarms and dismays me even though I long ago quit looking at the magazines and lining the walls of my vocational imagination with the pictures, I am still vulnerable to seduction. (Under the Unpredictable Plant, p.22)

Might church be as simple as a lot of messed up jars emptying themselves to be filled with the ultimate treasure? Are we spending to much time painting the jar and making it cute and never actually filling ourselves with Jesus? Are we overcomplicating things? I am. Just wondering about you?