Tear it down and I will rebuild it in 3 days: Changing the Status Quo

Lately I have had the chance to review the aspects of the church I have problems with, in talking with friends and counter-parts. I have come to sincerely realize the church ‘doesn’t think it has a structural problem’ or it goes unrecognized. Which is hard to ignore when I read plenty of bloggers and their absolute dismay with the current affairs of the church. Some say ‘you shouldn’t care’ while others think ‘it is unchangeable’. But I find it hard to watch an institution that I both love and care about lose some of the original focus of the gospels, which are the greatest teachings I have ever read. So the real question I pose is ‘can the church be changed?‘.

1. The Structure of the Church

Here is the structure laid out: Power people (Pastors, teachers, church board, elders, musicians), the show (worship, offerings, testimonies, message from head guy, and possibly some prayer for you), and the audience (congregation). The role of the whole thing is draw you closer to God whether that be in a ‘sinner’s prayer’, some worship, learning from ideas of the speaker, or some ministering towards you (ex: praying over you + the laying on of hands). This is the daily service in a nutshell. The church also asks for your money (standard rule being 10%) for which they use for the ministries they have which might include missions, sunday school, local charities, bible college or a school, pastor’s salary, new equipment for the band, additions to the building, etc. This is basically how it looks to the people that are ‘in the know’. Can that be changed or better yet, should it?

2. The Problem with trying to change it (credibility)

You see it is okay to have questions about your faith (just don’t doubt) but to have questions about the affairs of the church may be as ‘taboo’ as asking if God is a ‘woman’ during a Sunday Service. The problem lies in the fact you have no credibility unless you are the ‘power people’, hang out with the ‘power people’, or have some pull with them (ex: a family member). So if you have no credibility with that crowd then you are ‘out of luck’ in trying to make any changes whatsoever. If you a simple ‘audience’ person well you count for very little in their midst since you have no ‘sway’ with the power people nor do you have an active place to voice concerns. There is no credible people outside the ‘power people’, since they carry the doctrines of God and apparently live them out better then the audience (thus they have the right to minister these ideals to you). If you do have questions and want to make a change then you best be approaching the ‘power people’ and relating your ideas…nothing might happen but this is the correct procedure. So even if you have, well let’s say, 2 degree’s (one a bachelor of theology) and a wealth of great ideas to use you still are sub-servient to the leaders and your ideas are not valid since they never came from the minds of the enlightened ‘power people’ of the church…maybe they feel slighted by the fact you have these ideas in the first place and they cannot be shown to be ‘behind the times’ (lest someone question their position of power).

3. The absurd reality: we are all equals

The really weird thing about this whole structure is that we are all equal and no one has more power than the next dude. Nowhere in the bible is someone ever deemed as more powerful than others nor is this structure taught as gospel truth (it’s actually not even mentioned in there so we have to find it on a blog). Music is never mentioned as part of the faith, although it is fun, nor is the importance of buildings as the place to meet God. But still the status quo will not be changed unless you know the ‘power people’ (who have no power except that they have from a denomination bestowed upon them – ex: accreditation). Then how do you personally change the structure, you go around their rules and do it yourself (a lone wolf so to speak).

4. Tear this building down

If you want to change the structure of the church you are in there are some easy steps to follow in the process. First, deny the right of the ‘power people’ to determine your faith – I know it’s absurd but this is where to start. The ‘power people’ are just as human as you and I and make mistakes and some are paid by the structure (with respect) to uphold it…so they are kind of compromised in that regards. Secondly, don’t doubt your ideas if the ideas are biblical. Just because some ‘power person’ says they are not, you already know they are trying to uphold their beautiful traditions and will not move to the left or right for you (you are a peon and have no power anyways so ‘it’s in one ear and out the other’). Thirdly, go about it for yourself and don’t let the church decide if it is ‘ministry worthy’. You won’t have access to the money they have, nor the resources they have, but that is half the battle and something you can do nothing to change. Best thing to do is ignore their ministry lines and do you own thing without their blessings. Fourthly, rally the people to support your endeavor (obviously from the audience) and offer them a way to do something meaningful besides watching the show. They will be your support group and where your resources will come from. Once they feel empowered the ‘power people’ will not be able to break you down (they like to single out lone wolves). Lastly, be prepared for the worst. You will be denied by the church, you will be called all ‘evil things’, your reputation will become useless, you will be judged harshly, and in the end you will be an ‘outcast’. But that’s what you get for trying to change the structure and have no ‘power’ to do so. These same ideals got Jesus killed in his day, so I say be prepared for the worst.

So I personally believe the church structure can be changed and the focus they have can be altered. I don’t think the church is beyond hope in this regard but it is quite the challenge. The ‘old dogs’ won’t let their guard down too quickly and there bark is worse than their bite. Still, if you see problems in your church and want a change, well here’s a model to use. At some point the ‘old dogs’ will fade away and their upheld traditions will fade with them, have some patience. If you are blessed enough the ‘old dogs’ might even support your idea, which feels great. Why do I say wait it out? Well, I don’t agree with church shopping and if you are in a congregation why should you leave to get what you need? That seems divisive to me and further supports their irresponsibility as change agents in society. The adamant question is ‘does it work’? Well I don’t know but it seems like someone else did this in His day.

Is God Green? Evangelicals Fight Over Genesis

How did conservative evangelicals, who tend to present a unified front on most matters of political significance, end up in such a public battle over how to approach environmental issues like global warming? What’s behind this difference of opinion? (Taken from http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/environment.html)

In most respects, the divide comes down not to a disregard for the world — which is, for evangelicals, the creation of God but on how exactly to care for that creation. Evangelicals part company on what God calls them to do about the environment: where to focus their attention, how to interpret scientific data, what the role of legislation and/or the free market should be in protecting the environment and human interests. Does God ask Christians, explicitly or implicitly, to make environmentalism, or “creation care,” part of their ministry and political platform? (Find out more about creation care, wise use and environmental stewardship)

Concern for the environment, and the current debate it has engendered, might be a hot topic in the evangelical community, but it is not a new one. Environmental policy debates emerged among evangelicals…in the 1960s and ’70s. There were some critics, like medieval scholar Lynn Townsend White Jr., who went so far as to blame organized religion itself for the world’s ecological ills, arguing that medieval Christian attitudes in particular, and the entire Judeo-Christian tradition in general, taught a disregard for nature and led to exploitation of the environment. That argument finds echoes today among certain evangelicals who insist that in Genesis, God gave man “dominion” over the earth and its creatures — essentially, carte blanche to do what he wants with his environment.

But for a number of religious Christians and evangelicals, this represents a dangerous misreading of the Bible. God, they contend, appointed man steward of the world, to protect it and sustain it as a way to honor to the divine work of the Creator. Caring for the environment, they say, isn’t a political issue — it’s a theological imperative.

In 1970, one such group, the National Association of Evangelicals (NEA), released a strongly worded policy resolution that called on Christians “to support every legitimate effort to maintain balance in ecology, preservation of our resources, and avoidance of the cluttering of our natural beauty with the waste of our society.” And they didn’t hedge at adding a bit of fire and brimstone: “Today those who thoughtlessly destroy a God-ordained balance of nature are guilty of sin against God’s creation.” (Read the documents)

In 1993 the Evangelical Environmental Network began to turn creation-care beliefs into action, publishing a declaration which began, “As followers of Jesus Christ, committed to the full authority of the Scriptures, and aware of the ways we have degraded creation, we believe that biblical faith is essential to the solution of our ecological problems.”

But another religious group, which later became known as the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship, wanted to take the environmental debate in a different direction. They made their opposing views known in the 1999 “Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship,” which warned that groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network’s presented “a romantic view of nature, a misguided distrust of science and technology, and an intense focus on problems that are highly speculative and largely irrelevant to meeting our obligations to the world’s poor.”

The Cornwall Declaration stressed a free-market environmental stewardship and emphasized that individuals and private organizations should be trusted to care for their own property without government intervention. It also claimed that environmental concerns like global warming, overpopulation, and the extinction of species were either unfounded or greatly exaggerated. In the words of Father Robert A. Sirico of the conservative Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and member of Interfaith Council, “Environmental ideology is increasingly being used, not to preserve nature’s beauty, but to restrict human enterprise that is essential to a more humane existence for people.”

The Evangelical Climate Initiative The rhetoric over the role of evangelical Christians in the global warming debate escalated significantly in February 2006 when 86 Evangelical leaders signed and publicly released a statement entitled Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.

Among the tenets of the statement:

(a) Human-induced climate change is real.
(b) The consequences of climate change will be significant and will hit the poor the hardest.
(c) Christian moral convictions demand our response to the climate change problem.
(d) The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change-starting now. (Read the document)

News that the call to action was in the works in January 2006 prompted the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, a group related to the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship and the Acton Institute, to attempt to forestall any global warming policy statement by the National Association of Evangelicals. They sent the group a missive warning them to “not adopt any official position on the issue of global climate change,” as “global warming is not a consensus issue, and our love for the Creator and respect for His creation does not require us to take a position.” Led by high-proflie evangelical leaders Charles Colson and James Dobson, (also included Pat Robertson/John Hagee/Calvin Beisner) Interfaith Stewardship Alliance called for the National Association of Evangelicals not to put their name to the document.

For others in the evangelical community, taking a public stand on issues like global warming just isn’t part of the religious plan. Christian broadcaster Jan Markell believes that evangelicals are called by God to win souls for Jesus, not to take up social issues, and that environmentalism distracts from the real mission of the evangelical church.

I personally like the fact the NEA took a stand for something to do with the environment, which caused the split in the first place within evangelicialism. I have been fairly big on social issues and this one fell into my lap while watching Moyers TV show. What do you think? Is environmentalism a Christian ideal or just a bunch of hog-wash?

Losing My Religion: That’s Me in the Corner

I was asked by another blogger (Jim Jordan) to comment on the ‘Losing My Religion’ lyrics and I thought that was a great idea. I am a fan of REM and this song’s title really meant something to me when I began to write this blog, so here’s my take on the song.

Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)

(a) Life is bigger, It’s bigger than you, And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to, The distance in your eyes
Oh no I’ve said too much, I set it up

(b) That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion

(c) Trying to keep up with you, And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much, I haven’t said enough

(d) I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

(e) Every whisper, Of every waking hour, I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you, Like a hurt lost and blinded fool
Oh no I’ve said too much, I set it up

(f) Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me to my knees failed
What if all these fantasies come flailing around
Now…I’ve said too much

(g) I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try
But that was just a dream
That was just a dream…just a dream

(a) Life is bigger than any of us and this is what causes our search for something outside, greater than us (Ex: God). The person admits they are not you and their search is their’s. The lengths to get to know God are numerous for anyone but they are met with ‘distance’ by people within religion (can’t relate to them and their rules). They feel they can’t reveal too much about themselves to the religious (fear of judgment or being told all the answers) but they still wonder.

(b) My take on the chorus is 2-fold. Firstly, the person who ‘hears’ us has their doubts justified by those in the ‘corner’ (the congregation) and those in the ‘spotlight’ (the preacher) – it’s all ‘mere words’ in a structured system. Secondly, I used the title because I empathize but also because I am ‘losing my religion’ – (1) casting off old religious structurism’s and (2) the faith I love has become something useless in society (a lot of talk) with little action (I challenge it).

(c) The hopelessness of the individual to meet our high expectations (ex: perfectly sinless or rules based system) and they become unsure of their own faith. Leaving them with no recourse for action or any voice within the church, ‘they say too much, they never say enough’. They see the problem but cannot handle being left voiceless in a ‘don’t question God’ system.

(d) The people can see us trying or ‘putting on the show’ but they cannot relate with it. We laugh we sing and we seem so damn happy…what about those who come to the church not that way? I can see their problems with relating to a bunch of ‘happy all the time’ clones (almost fake to them?).

(e) Again the person is trying to live up to the rules set for them by religion (ex: prayer and repentance) and they are trying to obey (as hard as they can). They are watching you to see if they can find the little bit of answers they cannot seem to find in religion (since you have been there longer and may know more about the system). In all their mis-connections within religion they feel ‘hurt, lost, blind and foolish’…like they missed a mark or something. Again saying too much can work against you in the system and in these doubts ‘the religious’ feel they have to somehow correct you.

(f) In the final part the person feels they have gained nothing from religion. They ask us to consider this religion as failed, even a fantasy…due to the fact they only got the hint this was all ‘faked and contrived’ (a systemic way of viewing God failed this individual). At this point the individual admits ‘they’ve said too much’ and this will not be tolerated within that system.

(g) It was all just a dream, a dream they feel has no validity in their personal life. The system failed them and they feel it’s more ‘a dream’ than a reality.

I am not saying I agree (by no stretch) but I empathize with the views being expressed. A lot of people lose their trust for a rules-based system that tells them who/what/where/when/and why about God (like there is no mystery). The religion that is so sure isn’t at all, they can’t relate to someone struggling (system vs. personal touch). I don’t think my faith is ‘a dream’ but I can see how someone can get there, in pure dis-illusionment with the church and it’s ‘do’s and dont’s’.

It seems like anyone that says ‘God said this…’ or ‘God taught this…’ or ‘God told me…’ can pretty much put anything after those sentences and how can you dispute it? God said it! A lot of people are using God’s name in ‘vain’ and feel they have the right to invoke His name when they feel questioned (a total cop-out). They use God as someone who backs their idea’s and to provide them with a ‘self-righteouness’. That’s the essence of this song. The right to question someone’e beliefs as possibly, not quite what it seems. I am in this role with mainstream church at the moment, wanting this ideal but seeing ideals so clamoured in the system that questioning the doctrines/dogma’s is questioning God also. Basically, how do you get around that? Easy. Leave altogether and forget you questioned. But that’s also irresponsible and changes nothing in the system that will forget you just as easy. Quite the conundrum. I’ll err on the side of questioning.