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The Divine Struggle

November 26, 2012

What I like to call “Fast-Food Church” dominates the U.S. now. I went to a mega church today and it made me very sad. On the back of the pamphlet I saw the church (which they blithely advertised) makes 20,000,000 dollars a year, approximately. And what does the church spend it on? Jumbotrons, merchandise, instruments, more space, a giant auditorium, and a parking garage. As much as I do not like to call people Pharisees, it is hard not to point at these churches as organizations pastored by people who have become enamored by money and status. They even give to the poor for Christmas with strings attached. They must have the Gospel with their gifts, and if not, no gift. And Jesus? He gave to the needy and the poor, with no strings attached, except that people didn’t tell others about him, in most cases. Giving to the poor and “pleading the case of the widow” are pleasing God through and through. “Fast-Food” churches are too busy for relationship and healing. Jesus was not.

All of the mystery, the mysticism, the complexity, and fervor of the church has been drained by this new mindset. It used to be that we did not know or understand God or the things of God, and to think of them was the greatest endeavor, and never to be understood. When pastors at Fast-Food churches give a truncated, simplified version of what the truest mysteries of life and the universe – a true gift that we, sentient creatures, can indeed perceive them with numinous awe – I cringe. A fast-food sermon gives us the very bare bone basics of God and the things of God, making something that is truly incredible and beyond description, beyond measure and infinite – into something finite, refined, boxed, and narrow. Whereas in some churches we can get true meaning out of something truly amazing and miraculous, with choirs and doxologies and people being creative and true community, in Fast Food churches, we get a quickie, because we have no time for anything else. Instead of deep theological insight, we get reaffirmation of things that we need to contemplate and struggle with. That struggle was what the church was built on. Let us hasten not to forget that.

I feel as though this pall of simplistic, rudimentary worship has plagued the church since its conception, even still. I feel the true healing and relationship always happens on the sidelines. In the mainstream church, with your Calvinists and Reformers and your Puritans, you only get stagnate, mindless worship that has no fervor in it. Give me small parish churches where there is true community, built on the backs on people who truly want to help, with no strings attached. Give me a radical, yet refined, strong faith. Give me Saint Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa. Give me humility, not arrogance and stupidity. I feel as though these Fast Food churches were built as passageways to the wide open path that Jesus so warns about. Our idea of God and our thoughts of him come through meditation and surely things from the Bible, but I feel there are other ways of finding him, if we are truly interested. It seems the people who truly were seeking, found, and they were few and far between. There is truly a narrow way. Fast-Food churches are far away from it.

And then we get to the doctrine of hell. I must say, I hate the doctrine of hell, even though I have been implicitly suggesting that some people are bound there. And here I will say that we are all hell-bent, but heaven-bound. This is something I have harbored for a while, although I am not entirely sure what it means. Call me a universalist if you wish, but in the end, whatever you call me, I will always try to find some way to meander my way around hell. Why is that? One blogger said that Christians cannot call themselves humble and believe in hell at the same time. And he was right. If we are all hell-bent, and we are, then we have no right to say that everyone “not like us” are more or less deserving of eternal punishment. Therefore, to be someone who believes in Christ to send them to Heaven, one must only think of oneself as worthy of hell, or at least hell-bent (meaning, basically, sinful), and only talk of “them” as “going to hell.” And who is “them?” Well, never anyone specific. You cannot have a healthy relationship with an “unbeliever” (whatever that word actually means) with the thought looming in your mind that that person is going to hell unless you “do something about it.” I know this because of an actual experience. The relationship was healthy, but I was not in he end. It, in the end, is haughty and rude in the end.

People are prophesying that these are the end times. They say the America will burn because of gay marriage and abortion and everything else. But the people who need to hear the message of fire and brimstone are never the oppressed such as raped women or homosexuals. Christians are missing the boat completely if they think this. The people who need the fire and brimstone message are the Christians themselves. I fancy the God is a protector of the weak. That is the God that I believe in. The Christians of America are not the weak, no matter how disenfranchised they would like us to think they are. They are using their power and money to do hypocritical and evil things. The Christians conservative capitalists feign their devotion to God in favor in order to sustain political sway. At least, most of them do. Again, I am grouping people together and over-generalizing in order to not point to anyone specifically. But by and large, this is the norm. And it has to stop. God works in secret. Though his gospel is “shouted from the rooftops,” the work that happens by the Holy Spirit, I am convinced, is always on a personal, relational level. Some people need the fire and brimstone message in order to be given the chance to wake up. And it is not hell that is flouted, necessarily. It is only to let them know Who the oppressors are up against.

“People are leaving the church and coming back to God,” a certain comedian said. And I think that is healthy. When I first wanted to truly have God in my heart, to be “Christian,” I felt a feeling of complete joy, a promise that everything was okay; and yet I had to reconcile that with how complex it was. I had to reconcile with it with how complex our world, and ultimately, how God is. And it has been a constant struggle. I don’t like stories about how men went to other countries and “won people over” and they numbered them. I want people to know this Joy, and one person who truly knows it as I have, struggle and all, is worth a hundred times more than ten thousand people who do not know God at all, but only come to him for things like eternal life and a comfortable lifestyle. If that means abandoning the church, then so be it. I want to make a difference. I want people to be happy, and to know infinite Joy as I have known. That is the true meaning of the gospel. Eternal life is a consolation prize. What is an eternal life of jumotrons and empty worship? Nothing.

If this is what happens when the church thrives, this “fast-food” worship, then I am greatly disappointed. I want there to be a church who serves God by protecting the weak and truly extending this Joy through word and deed. I want something truly “Christ-centered.” If this can only be attained through persecution, then so be it. It is sad to be sure, but sweet in its own way. I suppose if one’s life is threatened, then one will truly cling to what is most important. But again, God works on the personal level, I am convinced. Maybe some people are experiencing true Joy in mega churches and not just in small churches. But I doubt it. Many are hurting in the large churches, and have to leave because of the way they are treated. I want a faith that is strong and robust, not grounded on weak, simple ideas, but complex yet infinitely joyous ones. To keep such a faith in its ideal state is definitely a challenge when Christians do awful things. But ultimately, in the end, I know that God is good, and things will turn out for the best. And I know with whom I stand.

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From → Religion

4 Comments
  1. I was a member of a large church that became a mega church in the 10 years I was there. I honestly believed the congregation grew so rapidly because the Pastor was an amazing minister. I cannot deny all I had learned from him in that period of time. Was I happy there? Yes, for the first 5-6 years I was very happy but as the congregation grew by leaps and bounds, I became very dissatisfied. I have still have friends there that seem very happy with the large congregation. They have the opportunity to touch and bless many people with their gifts, but it just isn’t for me. I am now a very happy member of a small congregation. Thank you for you awesome post!

    • Thanks for your thoughts and insights! I had a church in the south called “Fort God.” I think it’s crazy how people used to meet in basements and houses in secret, and now we have places that take up several blocks to worship! To be sure, it’s harder for a minister to live a life of character with all that wealth, as well. I don’t say I can’t feel for ministers of mega churches. I just think spending money on all that equipment for enhanced worship is extraneous. Anyway, I’m happy you found a smaller church that suited you better.

  2. I have to tell you, I love this soo much!. This is why I find it so hard to find a church. I have been attending church since I was five and I never hear anything new or challenging. That’s a shame because when I studied Christianity in college I felt like I knew nothing and had everything to learn, still do. Churches aren’t the place to learn it anymore, sadly.
    And about the spending of money, uh it makes me so sad. We have the christian right telling us that the government shouldn’t be making people dependent by feeding them and that it needs to stop. They say that they are doing what the church should be and they’re right on that fact. But, how about we, as churches, make the government obsolete by doing things that we are supposed to do any way and doing it better.

  3. Reblogged this on Sacred Struggler and commented:
    Fantastic article on the Fast Food Style theology of the Church today!!

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