Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Post-Church Era?

Here is a quote from an official dispatch from my District (which is the LCMS's version of a "diocese"). This was written by one of the lay district officials.

"Many persons no longer come to the church to "join" the church. This is especially true for the younger generations. However, even the more mature will choose to support the ministries and participate with time and monetary support but reluctant about joining and what that means. For years, we have approached it with a mentality of believing like us, behaving like us, and then eventually belonging to the congregation. This was true in a church era. However, in this post-church era great significance in placed on belonging before they work on the instructional classes (catechesis)."

I find the words "Post-Church Era" to be disturbing. I think Scripture is clear: the Church is an eternal entity. And while the culture is increasingly hostile to the Bride of Christ - especially the more the Church clings to ecclesiastical traditions that the world finds repugnant - we have the Lord's promise: "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt 16:18).

The word "post-church" is an oxymoron to the believer. Such language is the prattle of secular sociologists. When the Church stops talking like the Church, when she uses the language of something else - like a business in need of a bailout, or a social club in need of a marketing strategy to attract new members - it is indicative that she no longer sees herself as the supenatural bride of a supernatural God - but rather just another organization that can be analyzed and manipulated using the world's methodologies.

Instead of speaking of Christianity in the argot of the atheist analyst (from the perspective of the world) as "post-church", we should be describing the fallen world (from the perspective of Christ and his church) as that which is passing away.

It's little wonder that so many church bureaucrats I run into are wearing phony, forced smiles that cannot hide the lines of worry and despair in their faces, reflecting a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit. And so these middle-aged men try to adopt the faddish lingo of the iPod generation and the secular "youth culture" in a desperate and pathetic bid for "relevance."

I can't help but think of this "lost generation" of "church leadership" when I hear the melancholic strains of Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days." There is nothing so sad and so tragic - especially when the Church's glory days are always in the "eternal present." The Church is around us, before us, behind us, extending back to the Old Testament and forward unto eternity. We are literally surrounded by "angels and archangels and glorious company of heaven" in the Divine Service - if we care to yield to the comfort of the liturgy and truly listen. And at the center of the liturgy and of the Christian life is Jesus Himself, in the flesh - not merely a message to talk about, a tally on a scorecard, but the Godhead made manifest in the flesh and in humble elements given for our consumption and communion.

People who talk the defeatist rhetoric of living in a "post-church" era have truly lost touch with the Gospel. Instead of a catholic and effecacious living faith to impart, they have an obsolete and uncompetitive product to vend - seeking to revive the carcass with marketing gimmicry.

They've traded in their compass for a shiny new GPS - but they're still lost.


Jeremy Clifton said...

Having come from the wonderful world of the Southern Baptist Convention, and specifically a church that spent most of its time trying to be trendy and cool, it is especially distressing to see the same sort of focus within the church body that first introduced me to the objective truths of the gospel and the timelessness of the liturgy.

I don't think it's a stretch at all to say that I went from drinking salt water to drinking pure, fresh water.

Come on, people, what is more relevant to a lost world than the objective truth of the gospel? No, y'all can keep your salt water rock and roll bands and "kinder, gentler" gospel. I'll stick with the good ol' "power of God unto salvation" gospel found within Scripture, thank you very much.

Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...

"Post-Church era" language is trendy language that hopes to use societal trends as the basis for influencing the direction of the Church. Such thinking is highly sensitive to culture and highly de-sensitized to the Scriptural understanding of Church as you describe and Scripture itself.

The emphasis on "belonging" and the marginalization of teaching and learning the Word is to build one's house on sand. "Post-Church era" advocates reveal that they are more comfortable with the culture and cultural trends.

This is a good follow-up to your last post. To put one's trust in a "post-Church era" may not be too distant from trusting in a financial system that is "built on sand" while the Bride of Christ remains with Christ as her Head (Matt. 16:18)

Mike Keith said...

Great post! Though, there is perhaps some validity in recognizing that the culture in which we live is no longer centred around the Church as it was even 50 years ago. Somtime I think that is what many mean by "post church." Though - others mean we need to come up with a new gimmick etc. - and there is the problem as you rightly point out.

wmc said...

Keith gets it. It's a sociological term to describe a society in which few people feel obligated by social pressures to join a church. It has nothing to do with ecclesiology or middle-age.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear William:

I agree that it is a sociological term - which is exactly why it has everything to do with ecclesiology.

Those who see the church in sociological, organizational, secular terms use language like this that reflects their ecclesiology.

By contrast, those who see the church as an eschatological reality just don't talk like this.

And I don't mean that it is a "function" of being middle aged - but there can be little doubt that most of those in positions of power in the synod (at at the districts) pretty much come from a generation shaped by 1960s radicalism - and there is a generational subculture that is reflected in what they write.

They are reading the same books and attending the same conferences. That's why they use the same terms - and they are not the kinds of terms you would run across in Gottesdienst, the Bride of Christ, Luther, Walther, the Book of Concord, or the Scriptures.

When you're reading Dan Kimball (who says young people "like Jesus" and "hate the church") instead of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology (which of course dedicate two articles to the Church), it's going to show in your vocabulary.

Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...

The clarity of the changes in society and culture is 24/7 even to the non-professional observer. Still, it does not follow that sociology, or other sciences, define the essence of the Church. This really is an ecclesiological and eschatological question as this last comment by Fr. Beane puts so well.

In popular language one might say "I like Jesus but I do not like the Church." Still, the Church does not then respond saying, "I like Jesus too, can you tell me what we can do to change the Church so you can like the Church too?" It does not benefit us here to rehearse all that is lost by adopting this approach. Even the non-professional observer would question such a response.

Past Elder said...

The problem is, people are falling for this stuff right and left, and we, coveting their numbers, are offering our version of it.

Maybe I should join Gold's Gym or something, so that, when these 1960s synodocrats pass on to their eternal reward, such as it may be, and the church passes into younger hands, I, being 58, will not pass with them but have a few years to enjoy a church not run by the generation that made adolescence an adult life style.

Yes, it is quite true that "the church" is experiencing something similar to the political parties. Just as the old New Deal voting blocs are receding into history -- if you're blue collar, Jewish, Catholic or ethnic, you're a Democrat, if you're WASP or a WASP wannabe, you're a Republican -- so are the old church blocs, so to speak -- if you're Italian you're Catholic, if you're Norwegian you're Lutheran, etc.

However, the response ought not be that of a political party with voters to attract or a company with a product to sell. In one way or another, the world has always been "post-Church", in the sense that we have never had a "platform" or a "product" that the world wants to hear, even in times when social custom puts more butts in the pew. Social custom may change, the world's hostility to the church endures and morphs.

When I was a kid, everybody got up and went somewhere to church on Sunday, except the Jews who went the day before. These days, I don't see a single other vehicle go anywhere out of the driveway on Sunday. Judas on a raft, you don't even see anyone walking to synagogue (you don't drive to synagogue, as starting an internal combustion engine violates the command not to begin a fire during the Sabbath) the day before any more either!

Unfortunately, asking them, or asking ourselves, what we can do to change the church so they will like it is exactly what happens much of the time, not questioned or seen through at all but enthusiastically (pun here) embraced! On fire for souls, missional, seeker sensitive -- hand me the barf bag.

It's not your grandfather's synod. Hah. Remember the last time a line like that was used to sell something? Oldsmobiles, and it worked so well they don't even make them any more.

Maybe we should speak of the world as pre-church.

Anonymous said...

Yes, "the gates of hell will not prevail."

But I'm not sure that was guaranteed in every specific time and place. Look at what happened to North African Christianity post-Augustine, et al. Not to mention Europe, the continent where I was born. I also pray we are not headed in the direction of increasingly secularized Canada.

The Church will prevail. Some churches may not.