Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Golden Apple of Relevancy

Two years ago everyone was eager to preach on the Da Vinci Code, and I suppose there might be a sermon here or there this summer on Harry Potter, the last book of the seven appearing as it is. The need to address what is current is ever with a preacher, and those preachers who ignore what is happening in the world soon pay the price, for their sermons not only seem to be irrelevant, they actually become irrelevant.

Ahh relevancy. The golden apple of communication, or Snow White’s stepmother’s apple, filled with poison. Add to this the need to be relevant to those who do not believe. The Jim and Casper go to church project reminds me of the project of the Anglican Church in Canada which a number of years ago contracted with one of Canada’s foremost atheists, Pierre Berton, to ask his opinion on what the church should do to be more relevant. The result was Berton’s book The Comfortable Pew in which he said many of the things we hear from Casper: forget religion, go out and do good.

When Erwin McManus tells Casper that he won’t understand much of what is going on during the Mosaic worship service, Casper is offended. But actually McManus is in principle correct, for our eyes are blinded to the meaning and relevancy of the Word of God until illuminated by the Holy Spirit. This would also hold true for the worship service to the extent that the worship service is a proclamation of the Word. That is, what is truly understood, in the sense of gaining knowledge of God, is understood because of a gracious act of the Holy Spirit.
I think in our preaching and in our church services we need to return to deep dependence on the Spirit. In saying this I do cringe, because it has been such a cliché. And, wow, aren’t we all dependent? So, I don’t mean to say it as an accusation, but as a way of saying, we have done this, but we need to revisit what we are doing in seeking the Spirit and revitalize the very act of seeking. Or, become seekers before we can preach to seekers. Otherwise, everything is irrelevant by definition.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Jim, Casper and St. Benedict Go to Church

Benedict left the life of Roman society, where he had been born to wealth and privilege, to please the Lord. He tried to live a solitary life, but as others came to be taught by him, we might say “discipled by him” he established thirteen monasteries over which he became abbot. He gave to these a book of rules, now called Benedict’s Rule, which established a routine of prayer and the reading of the Psalms. Benedict’s Rule is became the guiding rule for monasteries across Europe. It is believed that Benedict died in 547. No one has ever found fog machines mentioned in Benedict’s rule.

Randall Holm is a professor of Biblical studies at Providence College in Winnipeg. He writes in a recent issue of TESTIMONY, the magazine of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, that he went to visit an Anglican Church in Winnipeg called St. Benedict’s Table. He notes, from their website, that they describe themselves as “first and foremost a Eucharistic worshipping community that is rooted in the ancient future.” Holm describes the service, rooted in audible reading of Scripture, minimal instrumentation for singing, singing songs that seem “calm and quiet the soul,” silence, and of course the Eucharist. He says: “I confess, I walked away from St. Benedict’s table refreshed. I experienced what the Taize community describes as a “holy stop, a sabbatical rest, a truce of worries.”

One of the things lost in the current discussion about church, seekers, worship, is that from the beginning Willow Creek drew a distinction between the worship service and the seeker service. The concept was that Christians would surrender their “right” to worship on Sunday and instead worship mid-week, so that seekers could come on Sunday for a meeting geared to share the gospel with them, but which was not a worship service.

Willow faithfully followed this philosophy and reaped great results. But, few other churches truly followed them in a pure way. So, the Sunday service in most churches became “seeker” which meant a worship service that is not really a worship service, but which is, on the other hand, still a worship service. The results have been mixed. Mixed because what happened too often was that the elements of worship went out the window so that seekers might find a comfort zone.

Is this part of the problem that is creating Barna’s Revolution? That is really hard for me to make a comment on. But, in reading Jim & Casper go to Church I think that it has contributed to the problem. Christians who have grown up in the stripped down worship service find that, in spite of music that is on the edge, and technology that has a wow factor, their souls have not come to a holy stop.

To be honest, I have to say, I don’t think they came to a holy stop in the average evangelical service in the sixties or early seventies either. That is why the Boomers jumped at contemporary music with its streams from African-American worship, Pentecostalism, rock, and folk and probably some other streams as well. And, it has and remains good.

But I hear from Jim and Casper and many others that something is missing, and so missing that they are just simply quitting church.

So, we had better figure out what is missing, and get it back.