In a Bible study a few weeks ago, we talked about how people react to change. Specifically, that many people don't react well. Their status quo is threatened, so they push back. They fight. They belittle the other. Rather than receive the possibility of something new, they prefer to stay in their comfortable little world, and thus become bullies toward anybody who threatens their world. This goes a long way in explaining the Taliban and Muslim terrorists. It explains the passion and vitriol of certain young Calvinists who post on internet message boards. It explains so-called Christian extremists who go on shooting rampages. It explains kids on the schoolyard.
note: I know in some of those cases, it goes beyond simple self-protection. Some form of mental illness is often necessary before people go on shooting rampages. But that's beside the point for now.
I pointed out that this is more true of the rest of us than we'd like to admit. It's true of Christians in America, and it's true of people here in our own church. The root of the decades-old worship war isn't really about what kind of music is best-suited to praise God, it's really more a territorial battle over who gets their preference when it comes to music. Many in the church today are nervous, worried, and angst-ridden at all the 'change' in the church; they do their best to push back and return us to a more traditional Christianity in the name of restoring something good and holy; in reality, they just don't like it that some emerging trends in the church threaten their worldview, their sense of well-being (Brannon Howse over at Worldview Weekend is a great example). Change in practice, or questions to traditional theological (or social, or political) positions is taken as a threat (after all, if those people are right, it would force me to change my belief system, which would cause me to change my lifestyle, which would just make me uncomfortable).
So the question was asked, why are people grieving this change? What have we lost that is causing us to fight back, to feel all this tension and anger and worry?
Two articles came to mind.
First, there was the church in Olympia that was told by the state they couldn't hold their baptism at a local state park. A picnic and barbecue was okay, but not a baptism, because, according to the state's General Administration office, a baptism is a religious activity, and the state constitution doesn't allow for state property to be used for religious activities. (Side point A: actually, a picnic is a religious activity, too, since fellowship is a central core of Christian practice.) (Side point B: this article stuck out to me, since we do a baptism service at our local state park every year, we just don't get a permit).
The church, after looking at all their options, decided being good neighbors was important, so has chosen not to sue, even though it would seem they have a good case.
Then there was the article my friend Stan wrote for the Covenant News website, which talked about a recent court decision in New York forbidding schools from renting their facilities to churches during non-school seasons. The court decision said it is "reasonable for the board to fear that allowing schools to be converted into churches might foster an excessive government entanglement with religion that advances religion."
It's those words "fear" and "entanglement" that jumped out.
So this is what I pointed out in our Bible Study. The wind has shifted. Back in the day, being a Christian was respectable. Sometimes it was necessary, if you wanted to be part of the social and business societies in town (one could argue that that was unhealthy in its own way). Being a minister was respectable. The church held pride of place in society. And some of us still remember those days.
But things have changed. The church is being shoved aside. Christians are to be feared (just go read the comments section in this recent article about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. But put on your flak jacket first).
I know this isn't news to many of you. But for some who've been in the Church for a long time, who don't really pay attention to popular culture, all they sense is that something has changed, and it doesn't feel good. So some fight back, be it politically (see Dobson, James) or theologically (see MacArthur, John). Many others fight back in their local churches whenever and wherever the younger people try to make adjustments befitting the times (and no, I'm not saying every change those youngsters make is good). The landscape is littered with pastors who have made missional moves to better reach the world, only to be attacked by people more interested in maintaining a comfortable status quo.
It's a complicated situation, but we have to face the reality that, while the Church is eternal, the age of respect for the Church in the U.S. has passed us by. And we need to name it and grieve it, but then move on. God still has a work to be done in and through us. The playing field may have changed, but the Spirit is as powerful as ever.
Oh, and this. The discussion we were having was around the church in the 1st Century, the church in Jerusalem. God was doing an amazing new thing, but it was happening within the world of Judaism and synagogue. Most chose to reject this new movement, kicking these upstart Jesus-followers out of their world. And the church split from its historic Jewish roots, and the two have been uneasy with each other ever since. And, at the risk of sounding a little offensive, Judaism lost the chance to experience this amazing new Messianic wind. Imagine if rather than rejecting God's work, they had embraced it with open arms? History would be different.
God is still at work around us, but it looks different than before. Are we going to shut ourselves off to it, and lose the chance to be part of this Spirit Work? Or are we willing to be a little uncomfortable, to try some new things, to accept a different landscape, and to carry forth with God's mission? Are we going to keep fighting to keep things as they are, or, in fact, to push things back to 'the good old days'? Or are we willing to be like Peter, and realize the landscape has changed, and all that's left is to trust the Spirit and ride this train wherever it goes?
I'm no fan of those who ridicule the church; I'm not happy with court decisions marginalizing the church and Christianity. But it is what it is. At some point, we just have to stop worrying about all that, and instead look around to see what God is doing anyway, climbing on board and being part of his work. Because he's not going to be held up by court decisions or public opinion. He's just going to keep at his work of saving this world, whether we want to join him or not.