There seems to be a movement that is growing among the younger generations (my generation included) that is anti-formalized religion (their name). I haven’t had a chance to sit down with leaders in this movement so my comments are based on hearing them talk publicly and through reading their literature. If I could boil down what I think it is they are about it would be this: Religion created by man is bad, Relationship created by God is good. Of course when you make the argument of one between God vs Man, we know who will win. “But are they framing the picture correctly or are they tilting at windmills,” I ask my self. Perhaps they are a little confused or unclear about their definitions of religion and what “religion” they are pushing, but if they are overall doing more good than harm should we complain? I don’t know the answers to all these questions but I have a few thoughts that come to mind.
I want to begin my comments with the statement that I believe the preaching of the Gospel (rightly understood – but that is a subject for another time) will offend many, and yet God will work through the Spirit to draw people to Salvation in spite of the “walls” we think that will prevent them. God has sent missionaries to preach the Gospel to people, and then teliport them away (Philip comes to mind in Acts). No person is too far away or walled off for God to not reach. Often I believe we have a God who is too small, who needs our help in removing some “walls” so people can get to Him or He to people (depending on your soteriology). Therefore, even if I do not 100% agree with the philosophy of ministry or even the methods of evangelism that someone may use, I will (like Paul) be happy that Christ is preached (if He is truly preached). However, this also means that I (like Paul – see Galatians) will not tolerate a false Gospel being preached by anyone, anywhere, for any reason. Of course I have no authority like Paul to respond like he could, but I can at least challenge my friends, family, and anyone else who will listen. That is what this Blog is for by the way.
I do not wish to comment on the ministries going after “formalized religion” in terms of speaking on the “Gospel” message they have. I do wish to comment on their view of religion and if it actually is helping the church or not helping the church. I understand that many of these ministries and movements are trying to reach a “lost” generation of people who, unless the “Gospel” is framed like they frame it (with their conferences and skate parks and concerts etc), will not set foot in a church or hear the “Gospel” other wise (their arguments not mine). At this point I will refrain from commenting on the use of concerts and other such methods in evangelism, and just accept that they are used and successfully if one looks at the initial numbers of conversions.
These movements, like the “Occupy” movements, do rightly see many wrong things in this world. It is true that many churches do not “reach out” to many of these sub-groups of our culture, and some churches even purposefully keep them out (have you ever felt the unspoken or spoken culture of “change before Christ will accept you”?) Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel rightly opened his doors to the “hippies” of the 60’s and 70’s and God wonderfully blessed his ministry (I think in part for that and some other good things he did). When most churches wouldn’t let people come filthy, and barefoot, Chuck invited them in and made them feel at home, rightly following Jesus’ example in Scripture in how to outreach and who He came to save. So, if I disagree in anyway with these contemporary movements who are trying to reach a segment of our culture like Chuck did in the 70’s, it isn’t because their hearts are not in the right place.
My first thought about these movements wonders if they are rightly defining the word “religion” and rightly prescribing what Scripture calls the church to be. I could be wrong, but they seem to be advocating in their movement a “religious free” Christianity which boils down to salvation and a personal one to one relationship with Jesus. If I had one of their leaders with me right now I would ask him: “so once a person is saved and in a one to one relationship with God, what do they do now? Do they go to a church? Do they start their own? What do they do, just go to your conferences? What is your view of the Great Commission in how do you make these people disciples?” The point I am getting at in these questions is simple: God has commanded us to belong to a body of believers (called the church) who are committed to meeting regularly for prayer, worship, preaching, and communion through which the Great Commission is fulfilled as people are added to the church (both local and spiritual) and they are then discipled by this body. This church, by the way, is run by men called elders who have the authority to discipline members and teach the Word and create a structure in which to do this work. So, if these contemporary movements are trying to get people out of that type of Church and claiming it is “formalized” religion, they are dead wrong and are going against God in their disobedience to His Word and Will. I do not think they take it that far, however, I do think they might be throwing the baby out with the bath water in how they approach their message.
When you do not “fence” your message properly, you run the risk of people wrongly interpreting it. One thing I learned in Management School is that: it is the communicators job to make sure his message is heard, not the listeners job to hear it. Meaning, the communicator needs to do the work to make sure his listener rightly understands what he is trying to communicate. This means he may need to change how he communicates, or where he communicates, or through what he communicates (of course it is possible this blog is failing many of your right now, but remember a blog is only one tool for communication and not meant for everyone). For example: a great boss will give a memo to one employee in writing because that employee always uses paper for everything, but for another employee he will email the memo to because that employee always uses email, while for a third employee he will directly talk to him face to face because that employee greatly values personal communication. A great boss does not just post the memo in the break room and then criticize his employees for not knowing it and ranting that he is the boss and they must tailor their personalities to his preferences (of course I’m only talking about one side of the coin here and not what a great employee looks like). I do not think these movements are rightly communicating their message (or at least I’m not hearing it correctly). It seems more bashing of religion then it seems promoting right religion (maybe they don’t believe in a right religion and wrongly think Christianity isn’t a religion at all – I have other post dealing with that subject). I think it is wrong headed to have the message: “all formalized religion is bad (implicitly historic Christianity falls into this category), and yes I know you think Christianity is a formalized religion, but TRUE Christianity isn’t: it is a relationship between you and God, not a man made system of works like every other religion out there. So, reject all other “religions” and accept our version of Christianity”. The reason why this is not a good approach is because it would take an highly educated person a long time to rightly define all this to prevent an over reaction against the many good churches out there (not to mention creating more hate then love in these people), and these movements don’t usually take the time to define all aspects of what they are taking about. Therefore, it is possible they might drive people from a healthy fellowship where they can be discipled and grow, and into the “I don’t need Church just Jesus” crowd. Of course I might be over reacting but the negative is a possibility non-the-less.
No doubt we need to reach out to those “out-casts” in our society, they need the Gospel too. My only question is: do these movements help in that regard with their “religion” bashing and flashy conferences? They claim (I think) that the church has become a bubble, a cliquey club with selective membership and these people are not on the list (I’m not arguing against this point), but in their reaction to that are they then creating their own bubble, cliquey club with a selective list? The people who attend their functions are mostly those with tattoos, rough childhoods, loud music preferences, and prefer dangerous flashy sports like skateboarding. If one doesn’t encourage such people to move into a “bubble” church (and encourage the “bubble” church to accept them), then I fear harm comes to both groups. The people who these ministries and movements reach out to are typically immature, rebellious, and troubled people, who would be helped greatly by some stability and maturity in their lives (which often defines many of the people in the so called “bubble” churches), and the people in the “bubble” churches who tend to be people who fear any mess, or unpredictable situation (much like the pharisees of Jesus’ time), would be greatly stretched (a good thing) by these unpredictable and messy people.
Just like a church is very unhealthy when it separates its children from its adults, so too a church is unhealthy when it separates its mature from immature, rich from poor, and clean from unclean. The best soil in which to grow plants is the one with the right balance of crap, acid, base, nutrients and expertise cultivating, so it is with our churches as well. The biblical church is the one where the loud-mouth fisherman Peter worships along side the wealthy Joseph and Rahab the ex-prostitute, as the murderer Paul preaches the Gospel and serves communion.