Cockroaches and Cathedrals
The folks at “Faith and Leadership” keep us up to date with daily news of trends and changes in the world of religion. A recent issue shared two contrasting articles that capture the tension around Christian worship in the 21st Century.
First, was the story of the transformation of Robert Schuller’s “Crystal Cathedral” into Christ Cathedral for the Roman Catholic diocese of Orange County, California. The same building that was once on the cutting edge of connecting with the 20th Century culture, failed in the next generation and is being retro-fitted as a place for worship that reaches back into the ancient traditions of the Christian faith.
Second, was the story of Rich Wilkerson, described as the “hipster pastor” of Miami, who is willing to do anything — including eating a cockroach – to get people to come to his church in order to introduce them to Jesus. (I’ll confess that I had never heard of this guy before reading this article.)
What can we learn from contrasting stories like that?
For folks who think that tradition is dead, it may be the reminder that any church that marries itself to the present culture is likely to be forgotten by the next. What is cool, hip and effective in one generation may be irrelevant for their children. The Crystal Cathedral had its day, but was unable to sustain itself over the long haul, while the ancient traditions of Catholic worship have an amazing way of weathering the changes of the world around them.
After a couple decades of “seeker” worship that attempts to reach people by doing away with all of the trappings of traditional worship, some of those “hip” congregations are already looking out-of-date, while there are signs that younger generations are rediscovering the power of some of the most ancient practices of the faith. After all, how many times can you eat a cockroach?
On the other hand, it’s also the reminder that folks who are unable or unwilling to change their methods “to serve the present age” (a powerful phrase written by Charles Wesley in the 18th Century) often end in the Hospice of religious tradition with no one to care for them at the end.
When it comes down to it, it’s always the tension between “mission” and “method.” If our mission is to share the love of God in Christ with people who have never experienced it, then we must be willing to use any method – old or new, traditional or hipster – to do it.
Becoming More Vile
John Wesley faced this challenge in 1739 when George Whitfield invited him to come to Bristol where Whitefield was preaching to people in the fields and on street corners. Wesley didn’t want to go. He wrote in his Journal:
“I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields…I had been all my life…so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.”
He was teaching on the Sermon on the Mount when he realized that it was “one pretty remarkable precedent field-preaching.” He experienced the way Whitfield was reaching people who would not have felt welcome in the church. Finally, he wrote:
“I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation…to about three thousand people.” (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.vi.iii.i.html)
He decided that reaching people for Christ took priority over protecting tradition. He was willing to change his methods to fulfill God’s mission. And because he “submitted to become more vile,” Methodism swept across England and we are here today.
Leaving “Left Behind” Behind
Some might say that the movie version of the “Left Behind” novels is an attempt to use a new method to fulfill the mission, but what we communicate is really more important than how we communicate it.
The most disturbing about the whole “Left Behind” business is that some people actually believe it represents something the Bible actually says. Many of the things that the movie reviews reviews say about the film could also be said about the theology behind it. Roger Scholtz simply called it “malarkey.”
An article in “Ministry Matters”offered a concise analysis of the historical roots and biblically inaccuracy of the “Left Behind” version of eschatology. For a more biblically responsible view of “end times,” I recommend N. T. Wright’s book, “Surprised by Hope”.
I believe it’s time for biblically-rooted Christians to leave the “Left Behind” malarkey behind and grab onto a biblical vision of hope!
Grace and peace,