Monday, April 14, 2008

Observations from a Day in Church – by a Post-Evangelical




I this juncture, I am know that I am taking great risks . . . making observations about people and things around me that may not always be flattering and I’m using my real name. My intentions are good and I know that I may easily be misunderstood.

My perspective, as a Post-Evangelical, is not that I’m on some higher theological or moral ground than those I will comment about. I comment as an observer, a pilgrim or correspondent (maybe even as Alice in the Land of Wonder), trying to describe the crazy world that we Evangelicals have created around us.

I also do not mean to be critical for the sake of criticism, as if were a hobby of mine. One of the paradoxes of Evangelicalism is that there are strong mores within that subculture not to be critical “having a critical spirit” or not to “judge lest you be judged.” With these social configurations in place, it is no wonder that Evangelism can be stuck in unchallenged, dogmatic positions.

The reason I go to church is that I do not have a good alternative. Being a free-lance Christian is not a Biblical option. We really do need each other and one of the things that frustrates me most with the Evangelical church is how badly I need other Christians, but the church is only set up for dishonest, superficial relationships. The second reason is because I really do like the people that I go to church with. I think they are great people. I am not a critic of them nor of the true Church but of the American Evangelical Subculture.

My first observation came as I sought out the wife of a friend, the friend recently being diagnosed with cancer. I had an honest reason, because I cared for him and I love the family and I really wanted to know what was going on with him and maybe how we can help. In the context of the Church vestibule, and with more than one other Christian around to listen, his wife, like the normal, typical evangelical, began to give a theological discourse on the “why” of the disease. Smiling, God did this for a reason to teach x, y and z. I don’t know why we Evangelicals feel like we have to justify all bad things this way, I guess to show people that we have a “spiritual” perspective.

When I interact with non-believers, it is much better. They tell me what I really want to know . . . how the sick person is feeling, needing etc. They don’t mind saying their family member feels like crap, is depressed and confused.

I know, when I’ve been through bad things, it is very, very difficult to tell the truth at church. If I run into a fellow church member at the grocery store, there may be an opening to share with them (in private) that I’m having a hard time. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could go to church with the guard down? Something like the following;

Fellow church member; “How’s your week?”
Me; “It’s not been a very good week. My wife, Denise, and I had a fight, now I feel guilty. My car broke down and that makes me very frustrated because I don’t have the money to fix it right now.”

If I did have the above dialog (and it was in the vestibule of the church), then several things would happen. The person would then assume that I am being “very unspiritual” and then they would feel like they need to teach me out to “trust the Lord.” Or, they may think that the situations that I shared about are very serious, otherwise I would not have shared about them.

So they would walk away thinking that my wife and I are having serious problems, maybe near divorce. They may have fought with their wives even more that week . . .but they would never have told anyone.

If I mentioned the car, they might think I was asking for financial help. Evangelicals are use to having deceitful ways of asking for money. I know because I use to be a missionary that had to raise their financial support. We would say, “Please pray for God to supply our needs,” when down deep, we knew that we wanted that person to give to our needs.

Then I sat through a relatively good sermon.

There was a comment during a sharing time from, I would say, our most Evangelical elder. There was a sewing of guilt on the men for not volunteering to be an elder as . . . implied . . . a turning of our backs on what God expects of us.

It would be tempting for me to succumb to the false feelings of guilt and volunteer again. I've been an elder in several Evangelical churches, including this one. My stint as an elder here was most un-rewarding. But I know that the purpose of being an elder is not to feel rewarded, but to help Shepard the church.

My experience though was one who would sit through long meetings, not where we made exciting decisions about the life of the Church, but where we listen to lectures and sermons until the point that I could feel my head caving in.

Then we were to rubber stamp decisions that had already been made for us, well before the meeting had been held. I could bare it no longer . . . not with a good attitude, and I allowed my term to expire. If a secular meeting was held this way, like hospital board meetings, there would be a quick outrage. But I shed the feelings of guilt as I come back to the reality that I can not, with a clear consciences, put my name in the hat again . I assume that's why none of the other men would step forward. It is not because of our lack of spiritual fortitude but in some ways the opposite. I assume, like me, many other men know that the only way they could serve would be to wrap themselves with an even deeper facade.

During the Sunday school time, the same dear (and I honestly do consider him dear) Evangelical elder shared his example of being persecuted as a Christian. It happened when he forbade the drinking of alcohol or saying bad words in his presence and these non-Christian fellow workers tricked him by putting alcohol in his punch.

The thought came to me as he spoke, a sad thought, that the non-Christian world is virtually out of reach of this, or any, Evangelical church.

My last observation was a conversation I over heard about Israel being God's future and continued chosen people. That the taking of the Palestine, in the 1940s, was kind and just. That the Israelites had paid the Palestinians well for their land (and they had agreed to sell it) but then changed their minds.

This belief is so far out of touch of eye-witnessed history, that it is nothing less than ignorant dogma, with a small d. As a previous missionary to the Muslims, I felt a deep grief. As long as the American church holds these politically motivated, but historically inaccurate, views, we have little chance of reaching the lost Muslims. How sad. Don't the American Evangelicals know that for 1850 years of Church history, that Israel was not looked on in this manner, which was concocted by the dispensationalist of the nineteenth century? Don't they know that they are alone in this deep love for Israel among world Churches? Don't we serve a loving and just God? A God who wants justice for all people, for the Jews of Nazi Europe as well as the Palestinians? Jimmy Carter is correct in his understanding of the present problem . . . and he is a staunch Baptist.

So I leave the church sad again. I desire God. I desire fellowship and being a part of something. I deeply, deeply desire accountability from brother, with whom I can speak honestly. I desire to throw all my energy behind a local people who have not been bewitched by the American Evangelical subculture, who hold scripture as higher than culture, but my desires once again are thwarted.

4 comments:

Brian said...

Mike,

I really enjoyed this post as well as the one from 4/2. You remind me of a friend of mine who no longer attends church with us. In fact, he doesn't go anywhere at the moment. And a lot of it has to do with the lack of real honesty in our churches today. He tried to get beyond that and experienced some real frustration when he did. In fact when time came to add some more elders he was excluded because he had the temerity to admit that he and his were having some marriage problems. What a crock. The only difference between him and the other men is that he brought out in public what the others kept in private.

This concept of "Gnostic dualism" is one I want to able to better recognize in my life. But it's hard because my brain has been trained in another direction for so long. But, maybe I'll get there.

Ken Myers has some good stuff on this and how the incarnation of Christ relates to how we live in the physical world. (if you haven't heard of him)

I'll definitely need to add you to my RSS feeds.

Hope you have a good weekend!

MJ said...

Thanks for your comments.

One of our most faithful church families abruptly divorced and disappeared (no one saw it coming).

I tried to lead a couples Bible study last year. I picked "marriage" because I knew several of the coupls were in trouble (the wives had spoken to my wife in private) Since no one would share anything except that they have a perfect marriage, I did most of the candid sharing.

Then, two of the men approached me and were upset at the "unspiriutal" way the study was going . . . where I was just trying to "dig up dirt." Strange.

Thanks for your comments.

MJ said...

Yes, I've listen to Ken Myers and I like his audio broadcast a lot. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

Don't the American Evangelicals know that for 1850 years of Church history, that Israel was not looked on in this manner, which was concocted by the dispensationalist of the nineteenth century?

Who don't even look on the Jews/Israelis as people, but only pieces to move about on the End Time Prophecy gameboard whose only purpose is to trigger Armageddon then be cast into Hell for "Not Accepting Christ".

Before I knew this was actually called "Christian Zionism", I called it "Anti-Semitic Zionism".