Sometimes I get really angry at the Western-Protestant church for our consumerism in Christianity and how we base our worship services on emotional highs and raise our hands to the bridges and hooks of songs, out of emotion, and neglect the God they are being sung to.
Hey dear friend, I get mad about that, too. There’s a lot of strange fakery out there and I think people are catching on.
Here’s one thing I’d gently like to suggest, and as I have no pastoral authority with you and I’m just a stranger online, you may please feel free to dismiss what I’m saying and to disagree. I hope you will hear me with a pure heart of grace and love for you.
I absolutely believe you’re coming from a genuine place of desiring authenticity. The only thing is, I wouldn’t want that to make you run the opposite way against a certain subculture or a group of people, as if “I’m not gonna be like those Christians” is going to help. I can promise you with guaranteed certainty that it will not.
Consumerist Christianity is bad; emotionalism is bad; legalism and fundamentalism is bad; those are true sentiments. But at times these sincere convictions can filter the way we see all of church, so that by slow degrees we begin to think buildings are bad, programs are bad, techniques are bad, schedules are bad, and let’s not do it like those guys with big speakers and jumbotrons, and we’ll show them what it really looks like, and I’m so anti-institutional and counter-cultural, and I’m so over the plastic manufactured Sunday machine, and let’s be organic and “get back to our roots.” This is such a common temptation to every Christian that I’m sure it’s Satan’s favorite game-plan.
An over-desire to be “purist” is still idolatry. It’s exactly how Satan fractures the church so that Christians will bicker and grumble at each other instead of looking past the box and getting into the battlefield.
How would Satan divide the churches? By making us hate the packaging of the church. By making us hate materialism so much that we’d rather burn down the house than strengthen its structure. And I can tell you, many of these emotional songs and hand-raising moments and jumbo screens are not going away. In fact, they can still be used in a righteous way that would bring Christians closer and not further from the truth: because God redeems culture as much as He redeems crack addicts and criminals. There’s no extra glory for trying to worship in a garage (though I would love that, too).
We can’t get mad at the people in the church, either. There will always be hypocritical Christians who are actually infants learning how to walk, who will shop for churches based on professionalism and will act differently on Monday-Saturday: but we were like that too, and God still worked through us, and He had no contempt for the consumerism that we were still wrestling with inside, and He was there on the first lap of our faith just as much as He’s here now in our animosity.
And can I also say: there’s nothing more boring and bland than a Christian who acts like the modern church is the enemy, instead of seeing her as a friend who has lost her way. There’s nothing worse than a person who sees problems instead of a way through them. And we need grace for that guy, too.
In the end, we will either see these things with contempt or compassion. We will either look at a Westernized church with disgust and reactionary backlash, or we will see her and ask, “What can I do to help?”
Trying to fix the church with our criticism is still part of the problem and only perpetuates a Western hero-savior mentality, in which bad Christians are making bad churches and only the “True Christian Elite” can bring restoration.
I don’t buy into that narrative for a second. It’s the devil’s script. It’s too easy to be dissatisfied and discontent. It’s a false binary war where we pit cultures against each other for no other reason than pride and superiority. I’m not saying you’re doing that: but it’s worth exploring if we’re doing that. If I’m to call myself a Christian, that means I’m part of the ugly parts of the church that I dislike as well as the parts that I like, and I have to do something with both.
Jesus died for all of her and for all of you and me. And it takes a day at a time to dismantle the lies and hypocrisy and sin inside each of us: and that starts where I’m sitting before I look at anyone else.
I’m sorry that it sounds like I’m taking it hard on you. There are certainly terrible things in the church that must be stopped, immediately. But the question remains: What then? And what now? I believe your passion will be a huge element to restoring the church to her true beauty. I hope we can join each other in that good fight, with weapons of love and grace and truth, gentle as a scalpel with the force of a death-breaking power.
Jesus never commanded his people to go out into the world and judge others because we think we’re better than they are. Instead, he told us to go out into the world and show grace, love, acceptance, and fellowship to everyone, not just the people like us. If you have any doubt, look who he spent his time with while he was here on earth.
At times I feel like the preacher in the pulpit is telling me all his hero-stories, and he seems to be his own marketing guy saying “This is what Jesus does, so do what I’m doing and you’ll make it.”
But I always lean in when the pastor tells me about his failures. When he’s really for real. That time he blew up on someone in traffic. When he really lost it with his wife and kids. When he quietly refused to help a homeless guy. His sudden shopping spree. Those seasons when he stopped praying and reading the Bible because he was so jaded and burnt out. When he shares his frustrations with the church culture, not in a mean way that points out any one person, but really grieving over our collective lack of passion. The times when he doubted himself, when he doubted God.
I don’t want the act. I’d love it for a pastor to just straight up rip the mic and tell us how much he’s hurting right now and how much he still trusts Jesus to get him through all this and even tell us he’s barely holding on by a thread of his beat-up faith. Hero-stories are okay, but I want to know we’re in this fight together.
I can realize then that the pastor is a human being, and it makes me a little more human too, and this points to our need for Jesus and for grace. I want to meet inside our mess-ups, because God is there. With Him, we’ll make it.