The Idol God Is Breaking in the American Church

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Previously, I’d commented on an article that posited a slightly different idol that afflicts Americans:

Idol #1

But after recent political upheavals that left a lot of Christians wringing their hands, I read a different article a Christian friend posted:

How Cruz’s Dropout Exposes the Corruption of the American Soul

The sheer brazenness of the title was enough to suck me in, plus it’s CharismaNews, so it’s bound to have hyperbole galore.

I was not disappointed.

Or, actually, I was.

Like far too many articles in Christian sources today, the foundation rests on fear. Despite the fact the Bible tells us over and over NOT to fear, Christian media love to fan the fear.

And the fear this article fans is one I see rising everywhere: The fear of not having power.

I’d use the polysyllabic word powerlessness instead, but the “not having” carries a nuanced interpretation I think must be stressed. This is about control too.

Right now, American Christians of many stripes are scared to death that both they and the American Church are not in control of power.

Consider the following:

  1. Declining church attendance
  2. A string of losses in high-profile national, state, and local legal battles and protections
  3. A presidential race where no clear “Christian candidate” remains, in fact, the remaining candidates seem the polar opposite

Most interesting is the swiftness of this reversal of fortune. And it has been a dire and fast fall.

But here’s the thing…

We Christians look at patterns of events in the world and in the Church, and while we’re good at noticing them, we’re terrible at providing solutions because we misinterpret what is happening behind the scenes. Only later does it turn out that what we thought was A proves actually to be B.

So while gloom, doom, and The End get bandied about by Christian Chicken Littles driven by fear, I want to propose that our fear of judgment on America is wrong, and that the actual judgment is on the Church. I want us to consider that all these dark happenings are good because God may be breaking an idol in the Church.

Broken idolAnd what is that idol? Well, I mentioned it already: Power.

But not all power. Instead, I think that God is forcing the Church to stop investing so much time, effort, and devotion to man-made, secular power.

The #1 form of secular power obsession in the American Church for the past 40 years has been political power. Guess what? The previous couple elections punched in the face the idea of the power of the Christian voting bloc, and the 2016 presidential race shot it in the head.

To this I say, good. I also say that Roe v. Wade didn’t just turn America into a wicked charnel house, but it ingrained in the Church the wrongheaded idea that the godly response must come primarily through political maneuverings, which may have set the progress of the Christian Church back by 40 years. I know that’s not a popular opinion, but in the wake of recent events, it seems crystal clear.

Some of that failure in politics comes from a declining church attendance. With that has come the fall of the über-pastor, and with him/her, the importance of the über-churches they pastor. And what accompanies that fall? A loss of man-made power. The media stops focusing on the same old Christian faces, and instead shoves microphones in the faces of other 15-minutes-of-famers.

Where does this leave the American Church? Pretty busted. Heck, we can’t even keep pervs out of bathrooms.

All that man-made, secular power? Gone.

And I firmly believe God has purposefully taken it away. Good for God.

So Christian, stop blaming this on the devil. Stop blaming this on evil groups and people. Stop blaming, period.

You see, a Church that relies on man-made, secular power is no Church at all.

This is the Church:

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”

—Zechariah 4:6

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

—Acts 1:8

Where is real power, Christian? In the Spirit of God. And honestly, in a supposedly charismatic generation, the Spirit of God and the power He alone brings has been #2 for a long, long time. God’s not going to let that be the case anymore.

This is a good thing.

The reason all the man-made, secular power sources are now failing Christians is because God wants them to fail so Christians will start getting serious about living by the Spirit, and not by manmade, secular power.

Boom.

Feel a little naked right now? Honestly, that’s where we are as Church. Naked and exposed. Because we’ve been doing it wrong. And for a long time.

I hope a lot more starts to fail for us. Because perhaps then we’ll get serious about what it means to have no power in ourselves or in other men yet have all the power of the universe and beyond available to us.

We haven’t seen that in this generation. Heck, we haven’t seen that in a few generations.

Better start learning what it means to cultivate humble, Spirit-driven power, because that’s the only power that will get us through the days ahead.

Jesus Killed My Church–My Meditation on Guidance, Destiny, and The Big Lebowski

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Jesus Killed My Church by Randy BohlenderSteve Bremner at The Fire on Your Head podcast pointed out that Randy Bohlender‘s book Jesus Killed My Church was free for Kindle on Amazon, so I bit. Hey, provocative title–and I’d met Randy years before when our paths crossed at Vineyard Community Church in the Springdale area of Cincinnati.

The gist of Randy’s book: God leads. Put yourself in a place to hear His Spirit and then go with the flow.

Autobiographical and an apologetic for why you need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, Jesus Killed My Church documents Randy’s and his wife’s first encounter with the Holy Spirit, learning to listen and trust the hearing, and following God along unexpected pathways. They end up at a home for wayward teens in the hinterlands of North Dakota, an old-fashioned Tennessee church, the Brownsville Revival, Burning Man, The Call, and the defunct College Football Hall of Fame in Mason, Ohio, all the while keeping their spiritual eyes and ears attuned to what God had next. In between stops, the Bohlenders get input from folks I’ve broken bread with, Steve Sjogren and Rusty Geverdt namely, and they reject some voices that attempt to steer them away from their God-directed courses. I mean, who hasn’t received a phone call out of the blue from some “prophetic” caller pronouncing words that clash with someone else’s prophetic leading? Been there, done that.

All the words, dreams, infillings, and circumstances that seem too good to be circumstance land the Bohlenders at Kansas City’s International House of Prayer and their eventual founding of a Christian adoption organization.

Oh, and the church they planted back in Cincinnati withered and died, hence the title.

Now, I’m going to tie this story with The Big Lebowski. Because it’s obvious, right?

Probably the most beloved film in the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-filled arsenal is The Big Lebowski. Aging stoner and White Russian-quaffer Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski finds two thugs in his home who, in the aftermath of a shakedown for cash, promptly take a leak on his rug, a favorite household item that “really ties the room together.” Seems the thugs confused this Lebowski for another Jeffrey Lebowski, a wealthy one, who has a pornstar wife gone missing, presumably kidnapped.

While trying unsuccessfully to get recompense for his ruined rug, The Dude encounters a panoply of weirdos consisting of anarchists, pretentious artists, criminals, and denizens of a bowling alley, that sport serving as a metaphor for life. The slacker Dude stumbles from one bizarre scene to another, hoping against hope that something positive might go his way regarding his rug. In between, he sires a child, buries a friend, and tries to make sense of this nonsense as he’s swept from one odd happening to the next. Helping him to cope is a cowboy who drops in now and then to comment on the proceedings, because, hey, every mythic story needs its oracle.

I know it may seem strange, but I see Bohlender’s story and The Dude’s as linked.

Recently, I had lunch with a friend, and as we discussed the vicissitudes of life as 50-something white guys in America, he stated that the world we live in now may be God’s best possible outcome. I wondered then if it was best for the whole of the world at the expense of being the best for any one of us in it, and I still wonder that.

God may very well sovereignly make the best that can be made of this sin-sick world, but what does that mean in the lives of you and me? To fill the gaps and to make that “best world” happen, does it come at the expense (as God may require) of individuals who may or may not live their “best life now”–as Joel Osteen calls it?

We have this tendency to think that God is always working His best in our lives, but are we the focus? Or is the world the focus?

When we attempt to look at another’s life and draw conclusions from it, what can we really know? And does being a Spirit-filled Christian mean that we can make any greater sense of the direction of our lives compared with someone who isn’t Spirit-filled?

As a Christian, I believe God leads. But what happens when He leads and the outcome is not only unexpected but downright bad–or at least bad on the surface? And what if it’s not just bad on the surface but terrible no matter which layer you examine?

Bohlender paints a picture of guidance by the Spirit that seems wonderful and freeing in close-up, but when you stand back and look at the big picture, it seems no better than the random vicissitudes of life.

Is that how God works? Is this His “mysterious ways” we always hear about?

And how is this any different than the story of The Dude, who somehow ends up okay in the end, if not exactly in the outcome he expects? What separates the drifting pothead seeking nothing more than to get through another day from the ardent Christian seeking guidance to change the world?

Now true, one is fictional and the other not, but when we survey the lives of people, Christian or heathen, fact and fiction converge.

I believe my friend is right about this world being the best possible world God can make given mankind’s fallenness. What that means for what you and I experience of it individually–well, that’s much harder to grok. Some seem destined for greatness, while others get ground up in the gears, and it’s not always clear which camp they belong to.

All I know is a Christian knows that somehow it’s all in preparation for when this life is done, and sometimes the when, how, and why won’t make any sense this side of heaven.

Words that Hang, Haunt, or Heal

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Colorful microphoneWords matter. As we enter an election cycle, we’ll hear a plethora of words. Christians must make sense of those words and also ensure our own replies bear the marks of Jesus.

Politics is a nasty business in general, but like all professions, people can be good or bad at it. We should celebrate those who show a measure of political skill and astuteness. We must also be careful that our own political speech respects not only words in the present, but also those in the past and future.

Case in point…

Christians in 2008 lambasted a senator who made little effort to complete his first term (his first national office of any kind) before running for president. They deemed this “opportunist” “irresponsible” and too callow for the highest office in the land, with scant national leadership experience and next to none internationally. The vitriol leveled at this senator reached a fever pitch, with people wringing their hands over his rush to the Oval Office.

Today, we have three GOP presidential candidates, each with enthusiastic evangelical Christian support, who are first-term senators that have yet to complete their terms, yet no one in evangelical ranks is calling them “irresponsible” or “opportunists” or is criticizing their inexperience or their rush to be president.

I call shenanigans.

Really, the double standard here is not worthy of the Body of Christ. Problem is, it’s the kind of selective forgetfulness that makes Christians look foolish in the eyes of lost people. We use words to express ourselves, but then they hang us later.

It’s not just in politics where this happens, either.

In charismatic Christian circles, we have self-named, nationally known “prophets” who supposedly speak for all charismatics, making eschatological claims or calling this person “the antichrist” or prophesying some oddly worded thing that supposedly comes from the mouth of God yet never comes to pass. Later, the world stage changes, and the old antichrist is forgotten, replaced by the latest bad boy in the news.

Or, we have regional or local area seers who go around speaking to individuals and prophesying over them, always something wonderful and amazing, yet that wonderful, amazing word never happens, haunting some poor recipient who now wonders how God could fail. That is, until the next wandering prophet minstrel show blows through town and those burned replace the failed word with a new one sure to forecast something even more amazing just for them.

Shenanigans again.

Or in noncharismatic circles, we get church leaders who announce some new program that promises to revitalize the congregation, and it’s sold, sold, sold until the people in the seats relent mentally to this greatest initiative ever—until it fails a year or two later and the leadership moves on to the next new whizbang thing, leaving everyone else to wonder what the heck happened.

In all these cases, the word pronouncers and announcers hope we have the memory of a fruit fly. And sadly, we tend to.

Christians can’t live this way, though.

We can’t be people who forget what was said. We can’t be people who say things we don’t practice or don’t stick with.

And while we can’t NOT hold others responsible when they attempt to backtrack or whitewash, neither can we withhold forgiveness for careless speech when it’s sought with a contrite heart.

The Kingdom of God does not rest on halfhearted words, retractable “truths,” and broken promises. It doesn’t apply truth selectively. And while it does hope for the best, it acknowledges we are dust and failure lingers as our human condition.

I confess that I’m not a perfect person, not even close. Sometimes, my memory isn’t tack-sharp, but this is not to say I don’t try to be consistent. I’ve been writing Cerulean Sanctum a long time, and even my perspective has changed. Some old posts don’t perfectly reflect everything I believe now, or nuances crept in over time, yielding a tangential view that trumps an older, once-primary perspective.

But growing in Christ means acknowledging shifts and failures in words and views. It means saying, “I was wrong” or “My view on that has changed, and here’s why.” It means not forgetting what we say, because words have power, and the wounding words of yesterday, though forgotten by us, may still linger in another person’s life, wreaking damage day after day.

Maturity isn’t about never changing a perspective or never making a mistake. It’s about owning up to our tainted speech, our human frailty, and helping others own up to theirs too.

Perhaps when we do, true healing will come, and with it a fruitful life.