The Everyman, The Church
Late last night it occurred to me that the great machine of culture was killing my faith ever so softly. Can anyone help me with all the metal in my head—their welds burning into my soul?
You see it wasn’t long ago that I possessed a power, uncommon and unpredictable. This power was the Holy Spirit, and it used to move through my art, my song and my prayers—setting me apart; but slowly something began to eat it. I can still taste the residue of this power on my lips, my lips that are rusting shut.
This power of beauty and mystery moved through much more than my sphere of life. It lingered throughout nature. But superhero powers like this are always under assault from anti-hero seductions, and suddenly the magic of this mysterious Spirit was interrupted, gagged and eaten alive.
The monster—the machine of modern western culture—the great anti-hero of created beauty, turned on anything it could consume, anything I painted with my soul. Grace and nature became labeled as intolerance and were quickly replaced by the order of machines. The conquest was all but complete.
Are we machines? Our culture proves …
That when you tell men long enough that they are machines, it soon begins to show in their actions. You see it in our whole culture—in the theatre of cruelty, in the violence in the streets, in the death of man in art and life … When nature is made autonomous, it soon ends up by devouring God, grace, freedom and eventually man (Francis A. Schaeffer – Escape From Reason)
For some reason the beauty of our faith does not penetrate the iron statues imprisoned by our relentless culture because, like them, Christians have moved in and taken up residence in this hell. According to Schaeffer, culture replaces God’s fingerprint on man and nature with brutality and idolatry. The things—books, films, music, etc—that we thought contained beauty begin to be mistaken for beauty and end up turning “into dumb idols … they are not the ‘thing’ itself—they are only the scent of a flower we have not found” (C.S. Lewis – The Weight of Glory).
God created this world for His glory, but our culture disrupts the reflected beauty and tells man to look within (humanism) and glory in himself. Has culture duped us (the Church) with its smoke and mirrors as well? Quite possibly the Church stands in the glare of culture looking like a blindfolded child swinging a bat at a paper donkey.
The Ailing Bride
This biting cultural progression of consumerism, capitalism and narcissism has infected much of the Church, so much so that she pales—her beauty fading. The “seeker”-driven mentality has corrupted the modern and postmodern church paradigms with a watered down gospel. In a recent discussion with friends who lead community groups in their megachurches, they told me that they basically facilitate “spiritual discussion groups.” This is alarming since most churches that promote community groups do so because Sunday is supposed to be the time when people can test the waters without feeling pressured, and the community groups are designed to “go deeper.” Let’s face it, we are bent on compartmentalizing God—He ceases to consume our lives because we are consumed with our precious “cool” culture and ourselves.
We’ve become comfortable with inviting people to our churches to hear a sermon or experience “the show” instead of inviting people into our lives. The difference in the approach is a difference in philosophy. Inviting people to a church experience is a good thing, but when the experience becomes more important than equipping the saints, then culture begins to influence the church negatively. If I want the full consumer experience I will go to Starbucks; should I be getting the same experience on Sunday mornings? And so our popular culture dictates the type of evangelizing we do and when. We turn on Christianity like a fire-hose—we get massive amounts of nothing once a week.
In his book, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, Brennan Manning sheds light on the disparity between Christians who like the comfort of a “settled faith” and Christians who prefer the “frontiers of faith.”
In Settler Theology the Church is the courthouse. It is the center of town life. The old stone structure dominates the town square. Its windows are small, and this makes things dark inside. The courthouse is the settler’s symbol of law, order, stability and—most important—security.
In Pioneer Theology the Church is the covered wagon. It’s always on the move. The covered wagon is where the pioneers eat, sleep, fight, love and die. It bears the marks of life and movement—it creaks, is scarred with arrows, bandaged with bailing wire. The covered wagon moves toward the future and doesn’t bother to glorify its own ruts. They are more into adventure than comfort.
If we are to revive the ailing bride that is the Universal Church, then perhaps we should take our cues from what Brennan Manning refers to in the Pioneer Theology as the Buffalo Hunter or The Holy Spirit. The Buffalo Hunter is a wild man who provides meat for the settlers, who never know what He will do next. He “scares the hell out of them.”
Struggle in The Dark
Man stands on the brink of extinction—eaten alive by culture; and the Church thinks the best way to reach man is by becoming like the thing that forms him. You see, it isn’t the little things we buy and sell; it is the mindset that is gnawing at our flesh. The “I” centered mentality of this world strangles the Buffalo Hunter within us all.
Like Jacob, we (Christians) struggle with an enemy we cannot identify. We do not want to be overcome by this enemy, but we can’t seem to find victory. We think culture has blindsided us with its guile and affluence, and so we take on the guise of our attacker in order to match its strength; but the dawn reveals our true enemy. We do not strive at all with the machine of culture, we strive with God—a cosmic test to see how His “called out ones” will react.
God transcends the culture machine, yet we clunk around like we are confined to it. We don’t know what tactics will bring victory—the redemption of man. And so with great strength the Church rolls around in the mud of culture trying to wrestle the machines into submission.
See now as the Church limps into the burning dawn, hobbled by a Buffalo Hunter who reminds us, with fierce love, that we are not to infiltrate to conquer—we are to die, serving our enemy.