“Success exposes a man to the pressures of people and thus tempts him to hold on to his gains by means of fleshly methods and practices, and to let himself be ruled wholly by the dictatorial demands of incessant expansion.
Success can go to my head and will unless I remember that it is God who accomplishes the work, that he can continue to do so without my help, and that he will be able to make out with other means whenever he wants to cut me out.”
“The Incarnation is the very heart of God manifested on the plane of chaos and wrath; what Jesus Christ went through in a time phase is indicated in such words as these: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus Christ came right straight down into the very depths of wrath, He clothes Himself with the humanity of the race that had fallen and could not lift itself, and in His own person He annihilated the wrath until there is no condemnation, no touch of the wrath of God, on shore who are in Christ Jesus.”
Oswald Chambers, Conformed to His image
The Christian faith at different times during its history has had to confront differing concepts of individuality, each of which deeply shapes how we do ministry and which presents the Church with unique challenges. The Church of the early medieval period ministered in a culture with a very different understanding of self. Our modern day sense of radical individuality would have seemed strange to medieval individuals. The early medieval individual saw themselves as part of a great chain of being.
Europe was Christianized not soul by soul, but rather by decree as rulers declared their kingdom’s Christian. This sounds unusual to us, but not so to a culture with a weak idea of personal freedom and individuality. The entire shape, structure and apparatus of the medieval Church was built around this collective idea of culture and faith.
Gen Y/Millenials are now officially old. Well maybe not old, but old enough to no longer be the new kids on the block. Definitions of when Gen Y/Millenials were born vary widely, but sometime around 1980 seems to be the general consensus. Which means that most members of the generational cohort have turned thirty or are in their mid to late twenties. Many Gen Y’s tell me that they do not feel ‘grown up’ but the raw data of their lived years tells a different story. Despite our culture having a liquid idea of maturity, Gen Y’s are well into adulthood.
Richard Sennett notes in his book the Fall of Public Man that as our culture secularised, instead of looking for meaning in the transcendent realm, we looked to the immanent and the immediate. Relationships became one the main arenas to which we looked for a sense of purpose. In contemporary culture the world of relationships, of sex, friendship, family, and marriage must now provide the solace and transcendence that God and religion did in the past. Sennett writes
‘When the relations cannot bear these burdens, we conclude there is something wrong with the relationship, rather than with the unspoken expectations.’
This is one of the factors behind the contemporary high divorce rate. A spouse must be intimate best friend, provide the emotional support of a therapist, be a supplier of constant sexual fulfilment, posses the economic security of a banker, and the moral guidance of a priest, whilst allowing enough relational distance so as not to impinge on their lovers personal autonomy.
As I read Sennett I began to wonder if we had done the same thing to the Church. Do we now attend Church with unrealistic expectations? Today there is a set of expectations that float around in which Church is meant to be mind blowing, to offer us incredible worship, life changing preaching, transforming community, intimate relationships, and awe inspiring opportunities for service. Ministers and Pastors feel this pressure, and increasingly their time is taken shaping Churches which promise us the world if we only will attend. This dynamic does not fulfil the great commission to make disciples, instead it only creates fickle consumers of religious goods and services and insecure, anxious and exhausted Pastors.
Sunday just past I preached on the Shock of the Christ.
The world has always struggled with Jesus. Sure it likes guru Jesus, revolutionary Jesus, and wise Jesus; but it has little stomach for God entering in to the world and incarnating amongst us.
I showed the above video (what from 5.00 in) in which Oprah Winfrey tried to convince her viewing audience that they cannot understand Jesus as god who came to earth to die for our sins. Instead the worlds most powerful woman insisted that we see Jesus as someone who embodied what it is to be human, who taught us ‘christ consciousness’. As Oprah spoke you could almost feel her trying to turn Jesus in to simply an intellectual concept to aid us in our quest to be happy modern consumers. When Jesus is simply a concept, when we perceive him as ‘christ consciousness’, we stay in control. We can mold the idea to suit our styles and lifestyle.
However when we open the Bible and experience the shock of the incarnated God, we struggle to twist Christ to suit our agenda. Instead we are confronted with a God who reduced himself to come and serve, to suffer how we suffer, to be tempted as we are tempted, to walk in our shoes. We follow a God who is holy and just but who also understands our brokenness, our rejection, and our hurt. He is not a God who is distant, He is a God whose path to glory followed the road of suffering. This is the shock of the Christ.
For the last ten to fifteen years a great fallacy has clouded debate around the future of the Church in the West. The fallacy goes something like this. At some stage (depending on who you talk to), but most likely in the nineteen nineties the post modern era began. All of a sudden everything changed and a line was drawn in history. On one side were the postmodernists and on the other the modernists. The modernists were enslaved to a highly cerebral, hegemonic view of the world. They were obsessed with progress and holding the world at a cold calculated distance. They were beholden to technology, and if they were religious were either dogmatic fundamentalists or materialist liberals. They hated anything non-Western or from the past, and lived in Le Corbusier designed buildings where they almost suffocated on their own sense of hubris.
Then there was the postmodernists and apparently they were coming so we had to be ready, or had to become postmodern ourselves. The young were postmodern and the future was postmodern. The postmodernists were everything that the modernists were not, they loved spirituality instead of religion, were embracing of the non-West, the past, and anything experiential. They had piercings and hated objective truth. The implications were clear, soon Western culture would morph into a giant rave where we would find ourselves dancing to tribal techno with an dreadlocked Austrian backpacker/Yoga practitioner named Helga.