Church Dichotomy ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, February 14, 2005

Church Dichotomy


A puzzling-but-definite parting of the ways.

There is a form of church I love, and there is a form of church I despise.

One is countercultural. The other is culturally obsequious. One is centuries old. The other changes every few decades. One is Christ’s chosen context for changing lives. The other is the chosen climate of the status quo. Both are generally marginalized by the culture at large. One with good reason.

The aforesaid reason often results in an atmosphere that many mistake for the “Christian faith”:

Sipping Starbucks,™
muttered petitions
hit the carpet.
Is this a dull fraternity
or a rusty fire escape?

The form of church I despise makes Christ look like a feature in Consumer Digest, a product worth testing whose features are constantly becoming more convenient. Church-gatherings in such a context may assume the form of uber-hip “performances” or insipid religious bingo clubs, but they share a fundamental triteness. Repetitious chat about Jesus—with all the substance of an Atkins™ diet chip. The resulting conglomerate, sappy and hard to swallow, is what I loathingly call “Churchianity.”

The form of church I love is something more like a base camp in war time. That it has backbone goes without saying. But it mixes polemics and love in a most bewildering way. It doesn’t pull punches or mince words, and would rather die than put Christ in a gift box. This church is willing to die for you, but it stomps enthusiastically on the toes of your pet delusions. It laughs at death, cries over evil and says “to hell with social posturing.” This church looks a little like Christ.

All good and well. Until the moment comes for making distinctions, for applying labels and separating the sheep from the goats. Then one realizes that Churchianity and Christianity are often mixed and mangled together, frequently in the same location. And then what?

Suddenly Christ’s words on the topic make glaring sense. As he told his disciples, who were consumed at the moment with this very problem: This is my concern, not yours. You’re not the sorters, the arbiters of church-that-has-arrived. For now, showing artificiality the door is not your worry; just do your best to serve the church, even knowing it’s a mixed lot. (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43 – my paraphrase/interpretation)

Today, this doesn’t mean I sign off on Churchianity, as though it’s some necessary evil, and therefore to be winked at. I realize, sadly, that in some sense, the Churchian “faith” will always be with us, inevitable as death and taxes. But that doesn’t mean I won’t skewer it when given the chance.

Seasoned Christianity, which so few see, takes a lot of hits from this saccharine imitation. All the more reason to critique it when possible, denigrating its triviality—which is, at any rate, readily apparent to anyone who takes a close look.

The goal, I think, is to snub the superficial Churchian subculture—which Jesus would have hated—while continuing to love the church, even those mired in clichéd, self-conscious mutations (Churchianity). As Tolkien wrote, "Not all who wander are lost," and this applies in the realm of true Christian spirituality no less than in the brutal Pelinor fields.


One perseveres in the mixed arena of "church," all the while hoping to find—and to sustain—ever increasing qualities of the real thing: That mysterious faith in Christ which is said to "overcome (not succumb to) the world"—and, surprisingly, with quiet steadiness, does.



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10 comments:

Oneway said...

The bride of Christ, from a bittersweet view. Good thoughts that affirmed why I've been wandering the earth like Kwai Chang Caine while reminding me to find a spiritual home to serve anyway.

beaming smiley said...

I agree... operative word would be bittersweet. Impactful illustration, and appropriate paraphrasing, functional in the sense that it helps in strengthening your point. Picking up where Eugene Peterson left off?
Hmm... would a more preferable stance be 'interpretation'?

A question though:
"One perseveres in the mixed arena of "church," all the while hoping to find—and to sustain—ever increasing qualities of the real thing: That mysterious faith in Christ which is said to "overcome (not succumb to) the world"—and, surprisingly, with quiet steadiness, does."

Why the adverb 'surprisingly'?

Good post.

daydreamer said...

I haven't been online too much lately. This post is really interesting, I miss my frequent visits to your blog. Hopefully I'll find myself venturing online more.

Thanks for the good read, and take care:)

Ariel said...

As "smiley" writes:

>>A question though:
"One perseveres...hoping to find...the real thing: That mysterious faith in Christ which is said to "overcome (not succumb to) the world"—and, surprisingly, with quiet steadiness, does."

Why the adverb 'surprisingly'?<<

Hey, I appreciate the direction of your question. Ultimately, this is not surprising. At least, no less surprising than Christ's invincible life, his ex-nihilo creation, his paradoxical love for us... which is to say it's shocking, but not (as you suggest) out of alignment with God's character.

tequilita said...

i love what you've said here. it's been an ongoing private truth with me about my faith (private, because i know many don't agree). i bend myself to these truths that in faith, i know were discovered in love long before i ever was. its truth doesn't bend. it stays the same, like a redwood with deep roots. i come running back to the tree, like "base" in a game of hide and seek. it's home, i know if i look, the answers are there. it's a constant journey. with my head and heart...it's never failed me. i don't know if that's exactly what you meant by this, but this is what i took away.

. : A : . said...

Did you take this picture at Borders? Looks very familiar.

Ariel said...

>>Did you take this picture at Borders?<<

Upon entering, the store looked very much like any other Borders one would hope to find, sports mags like the KU Hoops Weekly interspersed with lattes, Kafka and the Billboard Top Ten.

Only upon closer inspection of the "religion" section did one realize how dedicated the staff truly were. They had thoughtfully sorted all the religious literature into "Christianity" and "Churchianity" categories.

ninjanun said...

Okay, I'm linking to this.

This is absolute gold, and you say what's been in my heart much more eloquently than I can.

Skor Grimm said...

The goal, I think, is to snub the superficial Churchian subculture—which Jesus would have hated—while continuing to love the church, even those mired in clichéd, self-conscious mutations (Churchianity).

Spot on, chap. I think you and I quite agree.

LotharBot said...

You've hit on a timeless complaint about the church. Check out Spurgeon's article on Churchianity (1868). He expresses very similar sentiments...

 

Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife