Saturday, September 19, 2009

Every Jesus follower I know is to some degree dissatisfied with the state of the church in America. This isn't new, of course. We have been trying to tweak or reinvent the church for all of the fifty some years I've been a Jesus Freak. (See the most recent "Jesus Freak" music video by DC Talk on have gone through in that time the church growth movement, the megachurch movement, the Jesus Freak movement, the small group movement, the healthy church movement, and the Purpose Driven Church movement. At the moment we are a few years into the emerging church movement. All have been responses to the disappointment many of us feel about the church in America. It is not as we believe God intends it to be.

That is the driving conviction behind a not too recent book by Reggie McNeal, The Present Future. He believes we must change because the culture has changed - from modern to post-modern - and life is done differently in the post-modern era, so the church must change if it is to speak into our culture.

He is, of course, right. The church must change. It must be able to communicate with the culture in the language of that culture. And for the most part it is not. But there is another message. The church must become missional.

By missional McNeal means outward focused rather than inward focused, which is focused on maintaining the institutional church. And he is right. But that is not a new message. And it is not a message unheard in our churches. It is what Jesus intended his followers to be. It was what he was himself.

The book is worth a read. McNeal has some cogent insights and some creative solutions. One fundamental truth that needs to be reclaimed according to McNeal is an emphasis on a real relationship with Jesus. I heartily agree. But as I read it, I was just a little hesitant about his view of the present church. I don't think it is quite as far from Jesus' model as McNeal implies. I was also just a little cautious of some of his fixes. Do we really need to develop a paradigm that is founded on a human personal spiritual trainer (read "mentor" if you are not up to speed with the new terminology)?

That might be helpful for some. But as I read it seemed to replace the personal relationship with Jesus McNeal was earlier in the book so passionate about. That's no healthier, in my mind, than the modern institutional church culture McNeal derides. But you decide. I recommend the book, even if just to stir our thinking.

Constitution Day

I recently received an email from Randall Niles commenting on the biblical foundation of our nation at its founding. (September 17 was Constitution Day.) In the email he writes: "There are more than 4,500 recorded public quotes by our Founding Fathers about the Bible, God, and yes, the importance of ethics based on Christian principles. All of these statements were delivered while government leaders stood on government properties." Relate that to today. Quite a contrast, right?

If you have been listening at all to the conversation in America lately, there has been a growing rejection of the principle of freedom of religious and religious speech. Recently two school administrators in Florida were arrested for offering a prayer at a public meeting. (Benjamin Franklin called for prayer at the Constitutional Convention, if we remember. Shocking.) But that is only the most recent example of the anti-Christian sea change. We all know that in every local school district from the Bible Belt to Olympia, WA, where I now live the mention of God or a personal testimony of faith in God whether by teachers or students is now either illegal or seriously discouraged by the threat of lawsuits by the ACLU. As an example, the school district in a small eastern Oregon town where I served as pastor for a number of years, dropped every religious allusion in the "Winter Holiday Program" even though there had been no local objection. So what's ahead?

Probably we will see further restrictions on our rights of free speech and freedom of religion. Probably we will see something like what happened in this video of a school teacher standing on her constitutional rights. The issue here was not freedom of religion, but the example of the police and the law overextending their control in the name of "protecting us" is scary. It is the very thing that is happening to our constitutional right of freedom of religion. We do not need this kind of "protection." If anything we need to be protected from it. What can we do?

First, we can exercise the rights we still have. Write letters to the editors of your local newspapers. Comment on news stories online - most news sites have a provision for that. Blog. Write to your legislators. Use the media to extend your voice. Speak personally when you have the opportunity. Defend your rights (these rights are founded on the conviction that God has given them to us, not our government; read the Declaration of Independence) and your faith. But do so with the respect and humility that Peter advises in I Peter 3:5, 16.