Bashing the Christian Church is en vogue these days.
Books like They Like Jesus but Not the Church, unChristian, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians, all share a simple, yet popular premise: organized Christianity is corrupt, out of touch, and/or in decline. Postmodern and emergent Christians are often highly critical of the American evangelical church, characterizing today’s spiritual seekers by their rejection of traditional religion and institutional affiliation. And, at the heart of this rejection — at least according to these detractors — is the American Church’s disconnect from Jesus and the real world.
Whether or not these individuals intend to bash the Church, it has that feel — especially within our Changing Religious Landscape where so much seems up for grabs. It’s bad enough that Christians must face a growing aggression from secularists, academic elites, and a biased media. Now, apparently, she must face a burgeoning mutiny from within her own hold.
As one who’s been actively involved in the Christian Church for 30 years (including being a full-time staff pastor for 11 of them), you won’t find me pretending that the Church is always relevant, Christlike, and spiritually healthy. Christianity, like any large family, has its share of black sheep and wolves in sheep’s clothing; there are bastard children, money-grubbers, hypocrites, hedonists and snobs. So finding flaws in the American Church is like shooting fish in a barrel.
But is the organized Christian Church really as bad as she’s being made out to be? Have we drifted so far out of touch, become so defiled by a love for money and power, become so detached from the real Gospel, that scrapping the old clunker is the only way to move forward?
I personally don’t think so, and would like to set forth some reasons why I believe that.
For one, Jesus proclaimed that “the gates of hell” would not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18) — and I’m assuming that “prevailing against” includes withstanding institutional calcification, raging right-wingers, political hijackers, stuffy prudes, mad prophets, and massive cultural shifts. If the Church is to prevail against the gates of hell, then surely she can brave the Baptists.
Besides, painting the Christian culture with such bleak, definitive, brushstrokes creates a canvas for potential apostasy. No, I’m not suggesting that all post-modern Christians are apostate. But by making such broad, absolute claims about the state of the Church, we create an apologetic for complete, radical, overhaul. Like it or not, this is often how cults begin. Both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that, at some point in history, the Gospel was lost and needed to be “recovered.” However, this “recovery” resulted in heterodoxy, a complete re-imagining of Christianity. Once we sever our ties with the Church — even the malformed one that exists in America — we potentially become unaccountable, a law unto ourselves. Making the Christian Church out to be irrelevant and obsolete gives one the license for making the Christian Church into virtually anything they want it to be.