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This past year I have read Internet Monk….. almost daily, before checking almost any other blogs. So I’m not being glib or just name-dropping when I reccomend that you check out his last post on American Evangelism, and while you are there check out his last few months of blogging. It’s some of the most real, up close and personal, and honest writing I have seen on the web, as well being “spiritually edifying”. Check it out.

I found an excellent post by Carl Trueman at Reformation21, by way of Justin Taylor this morning. It’s sparked by the controversy over Rick Warren, an evangelical who is opposed to gay marriage and other gay issues being selected to pray at President-Elect Obama’s inaguration. By all means, go and read the whole thing, but here’s his thoughts when it comes to the church at large:

 

You can have the hippest soul patch in town, and quote Coldplay lyrics till the cows come home; but oppose homosexuality and the only television program interested in having you appear will soon be The Jerry Springer Show when the audience has become bored of baiting the Klan crazies. Indeed, evangelicals will be the new freaks.

There are two temptations here which must be resisted at all costs. The first is to compromise biblical standards. The mainline denominations and seminaries are already doing this. As usual, as soon as religion’s cultured despisers find something else to despise in religion, the mainlines, with their various seminaries and colleges, abandon it and join in the general anti-orthodox chorus, as radical, original, and revolutionary as a trust fund kid with a Che Guevara teeshirt and a Lexus. To apply a quotation from Michael Heseltine, like a pathetic one-legged army they march along, `Left, left, left, left left.’. They are merely part of the problem, not the solution. But there is a problem here for the orthodox too. The pro-gay issue is carried along by a veritable cultural tidal wave, with everybody from high-powered political pundits to soap opera screenwriters helping to create an environment where to be opposed to homosexuality is regarded as irrational, implausible bigotry. This can only be resisted in two ways: mindless anti-gay bigotry built on hatred, which is sinful and unbiblical; or a vigorous commitment to high biblical standards of morality. Such a commitment can only exist where there is a vigorous commitment to a high doctrine of scripture. There’s the rub for Christian colleges, seminaries, and denominations: the winds of cultural change on this issue are so strong that they will very quickly expose the strength of the commitment to scripture amongst these various groups. My view? When church leaders, faculty, and the movers and shakers of the evangelical world find themselves excluded from the reputable avenues of power and cultural and professional influence and preferment, then we will see what their doctrine of scripture is really like, whether it really is solid, whether it really shapes their lives, their actions, and their priorities. The question is: will those in positions of authority in the schools, colleges, denomination and seminaries have the backbone to do what is necessary? Will they be willing to consider the reproach of Christ greater than the treasures of Egypt? When the invitations to the Larry King Show dry up, to be replaced by those from Jerry Springer, will they hold the line? I wish I had seen more evidence that that was the case and could be more confident about the future. As Don Carson commented recently, American Christians have yet to wake up to the fact that the gospel really is despised by the world. And I would add: in a culture where everyone seems to need to be liked, affirmed and, above all, agreed with, that realization is going to be very hard and challenging for the evangelical establishment to take on board.

The second temptation is to become what the pro-gay left are saying we are already: hatemongers. It is vital we remember that nobody can be reduced simply to their sexuality. No heterosexual person is simply heterosexual; no gay person is simply gay. We are all complex human beings, defined by the basic category of image bearers of God, not sexual preference. As soon as we start thinking of people as a sexual preference, not as image bearers, we lose sight of them as individuals. They become mere labels or slogans, not persons. It is hard to love a slogan; indeed, it is very easy rather to hate such. Even as we are being labeled and turned into mere sound bites, we must not respond in kind. Let us stand firm on biblical ethics, but let us also reach out to gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals with the love of Christ. As Luther would remind us, our task is not done when we simply preach the law to the lost; we must then also preach the gospel to them and point them to Christ. For such, as Paul once said, were some of you; and, thankfully, somebody treated you as a lost person not an abstract moral category or a sexual preference.

This is where I have the biggest beef with the model of church we often see in our cites and towns in America. Often when we look under the surface we don’t seem very humble in how we spend money, and I believe it is directly linked to our view of how we should live the Christian life, and our view of discipleship.

 

 

Look across any town or city, and it will seem as if many churches are in a contest to see who can have the largest sanctuary, the newest “Christian Life Center”, or the nicest landscaping. Or compete in terms of technology and programs by outdoing each other with a ridiculously overdone vacation bible school, “youth programs” complete with video games and sports equipment, expensive outings, etc. Its the religious equivalent of our rampant American consumerism where we tend to judge the things of our world by their packaging and marketing, and not our needs or the product’s effectiveness.

 

To be fair, we see these things more often in larger mega churches and “seeker centered” churches, and not so much more traditional protestant churches. But even smaller churches, though humble in size, might spend money proportionately similar to their larger, more overblown counterparts.

 

So, when you tell someone “The bible instructs you to give at least 10% of everything you earn”, and then you in turn spend that money on incredibly self-focused and consumer-minded things- you lose your own credibility in my eyes and many others. The bible has plenty to say about growing your wealth to the exclusion of growing your reward in Heaven. So ideal church, here some things you could tell me to convince me that you are concerned with glorifying God more than maintaining a status quo……..

 

Tell me you brainstormed, and planned, and found a more economical way to build your meeting place, or that you found an existing space to use when new construction would indebt the church for decades to come, instead of just following what the other big churches did across town with their new facilities.

 

Tell me that you plan on using your facilities to serve the community in ways you can, like offering an affordable after school program if feasible, a recreation program for area youth, or opening up your building as a meeting place if needed.

 

Tell me that you considered hiring an additional minister, but decided against it because you thought it better to raise up more layperson leaders within the church to assist the pastor(s) you do have and see that money go towards more mission-minded goals.

 

Tell me there is a servant attitude within your church that sees that needs within are met, instead of constantly hiring out the smallest projects just because you can afford it.

 

Tell me a large percentage of the church’s budget will go towards seeing to it that children in third world countries will eat today, and then hear the Gospel with a fully belly, and equip native people to build a better future for themselves.

 

Tell me that your church helps support local crisis pregnancy centers, soup kitchens and shelters, bible translation ministries, foreign missionaries, and church plants…… before it thinks about redecorating.

 

Please tell me that if your church ever gets to the point that it struggles to meet budget, it will do more than just grit its teeth and try and do whatever it has to do to keep its doors open.

 

Tell me that your church is concerned with more than just surviving financially.

 

Tell me that the overall mission of Christ’s church is actually of the highest priority to you, and you would consider merging with another church, letting another church meet in your building to share the financial burden, or even selling your facility that is too large or expensive for you…….. even if it hurts people sentimentalities.

 

Do many of the things our churches cling to truly produce disciples by aiding us in maturing in our faith? Or do they cater to our sensibilities and keep us religiously pacified and entertained, all the while spending enormous amounts of money to keep the train rolling on its tracks?