The problem with the church
The past couple of days, there’s been some reaction to a Brian McLaren’s Christmas letter. Bene titled a post “Brian McLaren sells out?” based on a post at Today At the Mission. LT also has a good post, as does Bill Kinnon, titled “Consumerism Sucks, Please Buy My Book…and Come to My Conference.”
What’s the problem? Today at the Mission says:
Brian McLaren’s Christmas message begins with four bullet points, the first two of which are a pitch for his new book, and the CD that accompanies it with helpful links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the CD project website.
He then goes on to say this:
Consumerism is the notion that the more we consume the better off we will be. As I explain in the book…
In order to reach Brian’s Christmas themed informercial, one must pass through the storefront for the book that is entitled, um… ah… oh yes – “Everything Must Change”. On that page one can also access the site for the conference series (tickets $109 a pop) complete with links to the corporate sponsors.
I don’t want to comment on this particular issue, because the posts I mentioned above do a pretty good job. But this whole thing has got me thinking about a much bigger issue.
The emerging church began out of a desire to do better. Understandably wary of the blind spots of pragmatic, consumer-oriented, modernistic approaches to Christian faith, some aimed to do and be better.
As McLaren’s letter shows, along with many other examples one could point out, they may not have succeeded. (Some of you will see this last sentence as a massive understatement, which is fine. Read on.)
Church history should teach us that every movement is a mixed bag and at its best full of weaknesses and contradictions. We should strive to do better, but we also need a good dose of humility because our best efforts consistently fall short. We can never really point the finger in a judgmental way when we ourselves are such a mess. This doesn’t mean that we should ignore the shortcomings of other movements; it does mean that we should always do so with humility because we know ourselves all too well.
As George Whitefield said:
I cannot pray but I sin. I cannot preach to you or any others but I sin. I can do nothing without sin; and, as one expresses it, my repentance wants to be repented of, and my tears to be washed in the precious blood of my dear Redeemer. Our best duties are as so many splendid sins.
Even our best efforts fall far short. Therefore we can never think that we’re doing better than “those people” over there. We are a mess just like anyone else. This makes it hard to point the finger in judgment at others, even when their flaws are plain to see as they often are.
I am in a church that has a traditional structure and some history, and people would occasionally ask me why I hadn’t abandoned these in frustration. I always had to answer that I firmly believe that the greatest problem within my church is me. I could leave all that is bad around me, but I would still be stuck with me at the end. I would still be dealing with the biggest problem of all.
I’ve been studying Judges this year. Judges is one of those depressing books that emphasizes how badly God’s people get off track. One commentator says that it’s one of the most relevant books for the church today, because we are just like the people we read about in this dark book.
When I thought about a theme or title for the series I’ve been preaching on Judges, I was reminded of the time that the Times in London invited several eminent authors to write essays on the theme “What’s Wrong with the World?” Chesterton’s contribution took the form of a letter, and was probably the shortest and most accurate reply they received. What’s wrong with the world?
G. K. Chesterton
What would happen if we had the humility, no matter what camp we’re in, to answer the question, “What’s wrong with the church?” not with names like Brian McLaren, John MacArthur, D.A. Carson, or whoever else we’re angry with. What if we answered, as Chesterton did, “I am.” The problem with the church is not others. The real problem with the church is me.