Thursday, May 28, 2009


I Just Like Keeping The Church

Todd Rhoades links to the Dallas Morning News blog, quoting an Arizona pastor:
"I'm a fan of keeping the church small. We're a relationship-based church, and I like to commune by name."
In both cases they are looking for comment. The DMN got none and Todd got quite a few. I don't know many people that would argue that church does not have to be "relationship based" in some form, the real question is whether large or small has a direct relationship to that.

In all honesty, I think the language needs some adjustment here. It is not about relationship, it is about intimacy. If you cannot do intimacy, can you call yourself a "Christian?" I have to answer that with an emphatic "NO!" I wrote about this a long time ago in a primitive blogging attempt.
Think about sexual intimacy for a moment. I don’t have a lot of experience with that with anyone but my wife, but in this day and age it is not hard to find those that have a certain breadth of experience and it is not very hard to read about it at all. From the information I have been able to gather, the greatest reluctance in those situations is not the sex, it’s the nudity. Why do you think that would be the case? Why is nudity a barrier to sex? Nudity is pretty necessary to sex; I don’t know about you but the wife and I find that clothes usually get in the way.

I think the answer is straightforward. Clothing creates an illusion. We can make ourselves look better than we really do look when we are clothed. But when we get naked we find that the object of our lust may not be quite as spectacular as the wonder bra (or sock in the pants) led us to believe. Sexual intimacy requires that we reveal ourselves, including our imperfections, to our partner. Nudity puts at risk our image of perfection, and more importantly puts at risk the desire that image has created in our partner, and thus we risk rejection.

Relational intimacy is the same. The more intimate we become with someone socially, the more we risk their discovery that we are not quite all that we are cracked up to be. The reason that intimacy is in short supply today is not because technology is in the way; it is because people are no longer willing to risk the exposure that intimacy requires.

Why is that? Everybody is imperfect; we all have foibles and problems, why should it be so hard to let others see them? I think it is because when we expose those imperfections to others we expose them to ourselves. The image that is REALLY at risk inintimacy is not the image the other has of us, but the image we have of ourselves. The risk is not that they will reject us, but that we will reject ourselves, or more aptly, we will be forced to confront the issue and try to fix it.

Let me say that again -- THE RISK OF INTIMACY IS NOT THE RISK OF REJECTION BY THE OTHER, IT IS THE RISK OF US HAVING TO CONFRONT AND WORK ON OUR OWN IMPERFECTIONS. Anyone in the psychology business is probably reading this right now and going, "No, Duh!" But I really need to establish that point to get to the real point I want to make.

That confrontation of our own imperfections is what I have called brokenness. Brokenness is the self-revelation that I am a wretch. Repentance, as discussed last week is the acknowledgment of the self-revelation. Now this has massive implications for pop-psychology the church.

Let's start with pop-psychology. I think this aversion to the confrontation of one's own limitations started when the whole self-image movement started in the 70's. That movement has taken hold in our American ethos with an extreme vigor. Most people in an effort "to feel good about themselves" have simply rejected self-analysis. They don’t confront their imperfections; they deny their existence. I have heard one clinical psychiatrist on the radio say that in the last 30 years the greatest psychological problem facing most people today has shifted from guilt to narcissism. Pop-psychology may have done a good thing when they labeled "self-image" as a problem, but they have done one hell of a bad job helping people fix it.

Now, on to the church. The church's message should be very opposite that popular version of maintaining a self-image. The message of the church is not "You're OK." To the contrary, the message of the church is "You're a wretch. You're a wicked, warped, sinful individual. -- BUT YOU ARE LOVED." As I understand Christianity, it is the only thing that gives me a method to overcome my deficiencies. Denying my shortcomings does not make them cease to exist. If I accept "self-image" as the big psychological bug-a-boo, then Christianity gives me a way to fix it. You see Christianity teaches me that despite my problems, I am loved. I can feel good about myself, not because I don't have problems, but because the God of the universe died for me. In other words, it's impossible to have a good self-image; it is only possible to have a good image reflected through the mirror of my relationship with the Lord. Not only that, the more I discover my own wretchedness, the better that reflection (as opposed to direct image) gets because the more love is required to clean that reflection up.
I truly believe that the mega-church trend has caught on in large part because it allows for anonymity at church. It permits one to ever become intimate with the church or the people in it. Under such circumstances it becomes church without repentance. And then is it "the church" at all?

Large or small, we have to be the church.

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