Log in

No account? Create an account

A Red State Mystic.

On the Church (and Rev. Rick Warren)

On the Church (and Rev. Rick Warren)

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
The Swoop

NOW, IT IS true that I do not like Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Mega-Church fame. I have not liked him since I read his Purpose-Driven Church several years ago. Now, the book has some fantastic ideas but the over-ridding thesis is disturbing: take a survey of your Church's area and tailor everything (and I mean EVERYTHING from music, to sermons, to how long services last) to that demographic. Fortunately for Pastor Warren, their demographic was all upper-class, suburbanite Yuppies and they called him "Saddle Back Sam" (see above photo). Funny how there were no uneducated or anyone who hated their job around Saddleback; you know, the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn and those who thirst after justice! You would never want to build a Church around that!

WHEN I HEAR positive reviews of his Purpose-Driven Life, his leading of Evangelicals towards being more Environmentally friendly or even his invocation at the most recent Presidential Inauguration, I can't help but be skeptical. Did he do these things because he felt called to do them? Did he do these things because they fit into his Christian worldview? Or, did he do these things because he took a survey of his beeper-wearing Bourgeoisie and thought, "Hm, so they think this is important, perhaps I should, too." We may never know, but I will be suspicious of anything he does.

SO, WHEN I read that his Pentecost sermon was all about "Real Christianity", I couldn't help but to deaf to his cries for authenticity! He is quoted here as saying,

"There are a lot of things done in the name of Christianity in the church that Jesus Christ would disavow . . .There's fake Christianity, there's phony Christianity, there's pseudo-Christianity . . . I want us to look at the real deal. What does it mean to really be a follower of Jesus Christ?"

Well, yes, Pastor Rick, what does it mean to really be a follower of Christ? Does it mean book deals or a huge Church all built around adulterating your message to be non-offensive to your well-groomed yuppie-ocracy with pleated pants? Please, tell me, Pastor Rick what does it mean to be a follower of Christ? Does it mean having the Jonas Brothers play their secular music for your Easter services just so you can get more souls "saved", more butts in the pew and more dollars in the offering plate? Please, teach me the difference between the "fake", the "phony" and the "pseudo", because I would like to know!

PASTOR RICK "DIRECTED congregation to adopt and strengthen eight characteristics of real Christianity as found in the book of Acts." Of course! How could I forget that the Church in its most miraculous (and infantile) stage was the most perfect? Has he not read the Book of Acts or the letters of Paul to see how the first century Church was riddled with numerous problems -- just like the Church in our day? Or what about the non-canonical Epistles (St Clement in particular) or various testimonies of the martyrs (Ss. Justin and Polycarp)? Or read works of liturgical scholarship -- like Dom Gregory Dix's The Shape of the Liturgy -- to see how the early Church really worshiped?! In fact, Pastor Rick, along with telling me the difference between fake/phony/pseudo Christianities, please also let me know the minute you've reincarnated the Church of the Book of Acts, as the Holy Spirit and I would love to see it!

IF I AM understanding this correctly, Pastor Rick Warren is encouraging his homogeneous congregation to "real" Christianity based on his understanding of the Church in Acts by tailoring it to fit that dastardly Saddleback Sam. He even goes so far to list this savvy marketing as a sign of the Church in Acts, as he thinks they were "using everybody's language and every communication channel for mission." I have no doubts of this, but do you think the Apostles rented out stadiums for concerts or hosted political figures for a forum? Sounds to me that this "real" Christianity based on the Acts of the Americans and is really an golden idol of themselves and their own interests (ala Saddleback Sam).

BUT, WHAT DO I know? Have I done as much as Rick Warren in charity? Certainly not. Have I propagated my ideas like him? Land's sake, no! But, this I do know: my Church was founded by Jesus Christ in 33 AD; was nurtured through the ministry of the Apostles; kept alive through thousands of martyrs who died for their faith; taught by the Fathers, theologians and Doctors; She has been defended by Bishops who guarded the Faith since the Apostolic Days; She has weathered well the vagaries of the Papacy and helped spread the Gospel throughout the earth. She has been filled Saints (both recognized and unrecognized) with every level of intelligence and from all walks of life who testified to the Good News of God in Christ Jesus.

THIS IS THE real Church of the twenty-first century: built on the blood of the martyrs and striving to live out faithfully the mission of Christ in the world. We pray, speak and give cups-of-water in Christ's name not because of a survey, but because we are commanded to do so by the Captain of our salvation. We are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn and those who thirst after justice. And God be praised for that!
  • I have decided to take you on :). Reply will be soon :) :)
  • I love a good debate :-)

    And I already know that this will take more that one reply too, but more because you have several topics under one umbrella that any verbosity on my part :).

    I should explain my perspective first. How I approach theological topics is as important as the topic itself. One of the unexpected gifts of my degree in theology is not only detecting logical flaws in pagan philosophies and theologies - very handy at some of the parties I have been at. It also lets me detect "spin" an author has put into an article.

    I come at theological and ecclesiastic issues far different from most people I know, I am sure you can tell that lot of that difference comes from doing my degree in theology so soon after coming back to church after a lengthy absence - I started less than a year after coming back. And I had been absent since I was 12? Maybe younger? Doing that degree created a huge radical paradigm shift in my Christianity and put my own "spin" on my opinions and knowledge (and History) of the Bible, and of the Church up until modern day times. You already know some of my "in between" Christian period.

    By the time I graduated with my degree, I had become firmly non-denominational. Today I still say that I am Christian but denomination X for the purpose of worship. That has not changed amd neither have my views of denominations. Simply put, I had been convinced that not one theologian or denomination had it completely "right". _All_ have problems and flaws from minor to major as the case may be.

    Some of my viewpoint was also affected by the number of different churches I have attended as well as Christian praise and worship services. I enjoyed the Salvation Army brass band at one of their Churches. I attend an Orthodox church once in a while, usually every summer. I landed in an Anglican church when I came back, and have attended a number of differnt parishes. The variability in them surprised me in some cases, and saddened me a couple of times too. Pentecostal, Jewish Messianic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and even a house church, have shaped my opinion of church and ecclesiology.

    I have also been to a couple of "alternative" services that have shaped my view of praise, worship and prayer. A number of years ago there was a youth oriented praise service featuring a rock band that played both old hymns, ramped up :), and newer praise songs - sometimes ramped up as well :). There was always a message. I also went to youth oriented service at am Anglican church that had rock videos for their praise music, and a service that was on a CD and had been inspired by the good old BCP.

    That variety of church experiences and praise and worship services and my degree have all contributed to an interesting view of church and worship.

  • When it comes to "Church" I am of the view that Jesus did not found the church. That verse with Peter, "On you I will build my church" came up in my studies. It is viewed by enough scholars, including RC scholars, as a redaction or insertion. After much thought (and prayer) I have to agree with that assessment of that particular verse.

    Side Note: I became impressed with many RC Scholars. Of all the academic reading I did, I would have to say that the RC's topped the list for being honest and impartial scholars. I could not say the same for many other denominations. Though I recall that there were an Anglican or two that went against the grain of heir own denominations, it was not a wide spread of common ocurrance.

    The other thing that I often find hard to pin down is the definition of the word "church" as used in many discussions, such as the one we are having. "Church comes from ecclesia with ecclesia meaning "a gathering of people". That is how it is used the Bible, at least to me. But when we hear things like "The Authority of the Church", the meaning has shifted from how it was originally used, moving more towards Church as an institution and away from Church as people who form the "Body of Christ". Those two meanings often get intertwined to the point that they are virtually inseparable, such as in the RC church that places significance in God as being revealed in His Church. we can always debate that at another time. I work with the "people as body of Christ" definition for the most part. When I want to talk about the institution of the church, I try to make myself clear about it.

    But back to the verse with Peter=Cephas=rock. One of the reasons I don't accept that verse is it that it is out of place in the context of Jesus' life. He certainly advocated changes in behaviour and attitude, lifestyle changes that would make one a better person and bring the "good news" to those who need it, I don't see Him as advocating a new structure within Judaism. He was critical enough of the institution (pharisaic) of the time, pointing out their adherence to the letter of the law having forgotten the spirit of the law.

    The concept of Church as Body of Christ, combined with Jesus advocating a new of living/behaving folds into my view of the shape of the earliest church as outlined in Acts.

    You probably have a thought or two so I will post my view of the Acts church in a couple of days to give you time to think about this part.
    • Thanks for your thoughts, InQ.

      If I may clarify, my problem with Saddleback and Rev. Warren is not that they are contemporary or even a mega-Church, but how they arrived at deciding to be contemporary. If you have gifts for contemporary music and exercise them to the glory of God -- I say, fantastic! Use them to the best of your abilities! But, if you come to this decision because you took a poll and did some clever marketing, then I automatically am suspicious of anything you do. Regardless of the end, I do not think that is the beginning of where the Church should do ministry.

      In the Purpose-Driven Church, he spends a chapter arguing that you can change the way the message is presented, but should not change the message itself. Of course, meaning that the way the Gospel is presented in the African Bush and at a Russian Orthodox Cathedral will be different, but the message is the same. The "packaging" is different, but the gift inside the box is the same. I think this is only true up to a point.

      The problem with divorcing the message and how we present the message is that how we present the message often reveals more about what we think about it than we'd like to admit. Choosing to enter the Church in silence and kneel for private prayer says something about what we believe about the message. Choosing to walk into a Church, greet your friends and new people also says something about what we believe about the message. The fact that you have a movable Altar says something, as does having an Altar fixed to a wall.

      Please hear me that I'm not making judgments about the "packaging", but that the packaging reveals what we think about the message as a group more than the actual message itself. How easy can it be for someone in a pew to hear the message that they need to be separate from the world (be sanctified, so to speak), but the music, technology and sermon are all married to the trends of the day? Some might say this is meeting people where they are. Some might say that the command to be separate from the world, should also mean that we are weary of it.

      Again, I'm not making judgments, but just saying that the "packaging" reveals more than we'd like to think that it does. I think that HOW we say things is almost as important than WHAT we say, for both testify to what we think is the truth, however unknowingly.

      (More to come tomorrow on the nature of the Church, if you don't mind.)
    • I still have part 3 in the works :-)
    • And no, I don't mind more :)
  • speaking of more :) :)

    My view of the early church comes from a combined paper that I wrote for two subjects (Patristics and Early Church History) that were taught by the same professor, a Franciscan. Andy, you would have loved this guy's lectures. I only once made the mistake of sitting at the back of the class. I was aways up front after that. He was British, with a very British sense of humour that combined a brilliant wit which seemed to meld Monty Python with the Goon show. He often punctuated points in his lectures with quips in a lowered voice - hence the need to sit up front :). It was that paper that formed for me my current opinion of the shape of the early church. I studied the role of house churches in the early church, and explored their origins. By the time I finished writing the paper, I had become firmly non-denominational. I still read with an open eye in order to pick up on the [denominational] spin that many authors put into their papers.

    The absolute earliest "Christian" church was basically the house church with people still going to the synagogues. The "house church" was the only place to be with others who believed in Jesus. That model changed after the early Christians were kicked out of the synagogues and the increasing gentile influx became significant. Paul was involved in correcting some of the "misunderstandings" and point them all in the right direction. The problem with trying to model the church in Acts, is that it was changing and developing - from beginning to end of Acts. Things never really settled down until Nicea. And it might even be said that things have never settled down if one includes 1054 schism and the reformation.

    I found that that the house church had foundations that I hadn't expected. Pagans often had alters in their homes. That meant that Pagans were not unfamiliar with worshipping in their own homes. And there were house synagogues at the time. The concept of house churches was a logical extension of an already existing practice of both Jewish and gentile populations.

    After getting the boot from the synagogues, their was a need for a central location for worship. This incipient church, as it were, was still meal, aka last supper, centric. People would bring their bread and wine from home where it was blessed, and then they took it back home where they would use it for their daily meal. Extra bread and wine was sent to communities that were too far away to make the trip. The concept of a once a week on the sabbath eucharist came later. We forget that while it was Jesus' last supper, it was still a daily meal albeit this one passover oriented.

    These central churches also served as repository of donations that were then distributed to those in need. They were the first food and clothing banks :). To go further in church development means going beyond Acts and Paul's time. The institutional structure, while present by the end of the New Testament, was still rather embryonic and only developing. In some ways, as noted above, that is still happening even today..

    If I had to describe my view of the early church in modern day terms, I would describe it as "small groups" that gather Sundays for a "communal" service. The building then functions as a place to worship and as a central clearing house for the collection and re-distribution of funds, donations of food and clothing, and services offered by the community - much as it did in the early church. When it comes right down to it, it really isn't that different from my understanding of the Saddleback model.

    But that is enough for now. I decided to give the background to my (eventual) reply because when it comes right down to it, that is my "spin" much in the same way that a literal interpretation of the Bible is still an interpretation. I will get to Rick in the next reply :)
  • Another part is coming soon. Stay tuned :)
  • It finally dawned on me that the I am coming at this from a perspective that is totally foreign to you - and that is because of demarcation lines I have placed between three things, Christianity, Church as in the body of Christ, and Church as in the institution or denomination.

    I placed lines between them quite on purpose.

    Christianity means [to me] trying to live as Christ would, given your own circumstances, callings, and of course weaknesses - and living in accordance with Laws as Christ did - ultimately, love the sinner, hate the sin. When I come across a new theology I run it by Christ. Jesus loved man, but had no tolerance for sin, otherwise. why would He repeatedly say, "... go and sin no more ..."

    Church as in Body of Christ, includes, well, I will only say most of those who profess a faith in Christ as Saviour - who it actually includes only God knows.

    Church as defined by the denomination or institution is the one thing that can cause more theological problems than you could ever imagine. Many of these problems come from two related aspects, tradition, and reaction to tradition.

    At some point in the history of the church, the institution began incorporating its practices into its ecclesiology and thus into its theology. The RC church is a prime example of this (transubstantiation), as is the Anglican church. Reaction to this is easily found in many reformation churches and even newer newer denominations today. Todays movement attempting to recover the "New Testament Church" is a prime example to get away from the "pollution" of tradition and recovering the values of the early church.

    When it comes right down to it, I have drawn a line between how we worship and what we worship. Denomination vs theology. How we worship matter diddly squat, and I have no problem saying that also includes the Eucharist. It is but a pale shadow of its origins. I would be willing to bet that most priests have no idea why they symbolically break the large wafer other than to suggest that it was what Christ did. That is a whole other story and topic for another discussion.

    You need to work out for yourself where you want to put those lines. If you haven't done so, there will no doubt come a time when you will have to. In some people it may come disguised as a crisis of faith. It almost did in me during my first year.

    This is a long way of saying that "tradition" is not necessarily theologically correct - and in many cases, it isn't. It is simply tradition. What Warren has done is to expose the packaging to reveal the message itself. He is not throwing out the saints or the martyrs, but stripping away the layers that tradition has imposed on the packaging over the centuries. Some people call that heresy. I call it smart thinking. This does not mean I think that the Anglican or RC or Orthodox services are useless, rather that the Rick Warren idea has just as much merit.

    And what Rick W did by polling the neighbourhood was to develop the best (as in most effective) package given the location he picked and the people he was destined to serve. I would not want to put a "High" church next to a tattoo parlour as the package would turn many off before they even got to the message. A goth church would be more appropriate :).

    Anyways, some thoughts. I probably have another three or four replies that I tried to finish, but this one is a kind of summary :)

Powered by LiveJournal.com