At the last Seattle area pastors powwow something occurred to me during a discussion about criticism coming from the outside. In the end it was agreed that we as CCs don’t want to be known for what we are against, but for what we are pro – teaching the word and grace. That wasn’t the first time I had heard that. In fact I think that sentiment is close to Chuck’s heart. But I have a problem with it.
Understand that I’m not saying we should have a detailed published list of stuff we are against. “Calvary Chapel: we hate others.” Not at all. But here’s the thing. More, and more, and more of Christianity is moving away from the Bible. Grace is being twisted into tolerance. In fact, the words “Christianity” and “Christian” are being poo pooed by the modern hip church. The more that we as CC pastors stand up for the word, teach it seriously, and keep the fact that sin is the reason for grace in the first place, the more we are going to be seen as against others within Christianity. Just quoting Jesus and saying that He is the only way is seen as being against others, as being divisive, and could very well be considered hate speech if certain lawmakers get their way here in America. And that’s what people in churches say.
A thought just occurred to me that could come across as “shocking”. But seen in context I think it will make sense. I think we have had our heads buried in the Bible and in churchianity so much that we have missed the erosion that has been happening and we could easily feel the effects in our own churches unless we do something about it. Now lemme splain. In the 60s and 70s the Jesus movement took off. (Yes I understand that it began 2,000 years ago but I also understand that it ebbs and flows over the years.) Chuck taught the living word and focused on grace as opposed to the legalism of most denominations, including the one he came out of. CC grew. CC spread and multiplied.
Then the initial “bang” sort of wore off. The 80s saw the arrival of the church growth movement and seeker sensitive churches. Because the initial bang of the Spirit wore off (which is a whole other discussion, but it’s true) guys needed something to keep their churches going, especially those who wanted to plant new ones. Many adopted the seeker model. Just ask Ken Ortiz. With the seeker model comes the need to keep those one attracts. The focus becomes inward, on being a draw. The word gets less and less emphasized.
Some in CC recognized that this was a bad path to follow and either never got on board or bailed on it once they were in. They followed Chuck’s example of just teaching the word, teaching grace, and loving the sheep. Nothing wrong with that. That’s great. That’s what we should be doing. This is where it kind of comes full circle. Chuck did that then as a response to the negative elements of mainstream denominations. They were legalistic and dead. Chuck taught grace and life. He was seen as being against all kinds of stuff whether he wanted to be or not.
What are the negative elements of mainstream churches today? For the most part they can all be summed up in one statement: an abandonment of absolute truth. We have bible colleges and seminaries that teach emergent and contemplative spirituality. They crank out pastors who take this to their churches. Churches today aren’t legalistic and dead. They are liberated and dead.
In the words of Bill Nye the Science Guy, consider the following.
“The June 17th headline in the Seattle Times newspaper reads, “I Am Both Muslim and Christian.” Janet Tu, religion reporter for the Times has written the piece on an Episcopal priest named Ann Holmes Redding. Redding has been a priest for more than 20 years, and she became Muslim 15 months ago. The article is her coming-out-of-the-closet debut. Redding explains: “I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I’m both an American of African descent and a woman. I’m 100 percent both.”” From http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/newsletter061907.htm
Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz says, “the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity” (p. 115) (While I can see how that can be taken as a good thing, Miller throws the baby out with the bath water.)
Baker Books’ new release, “An Emergent Manifesto of Hope” has these quotes. “Christianity’s idea that other religions cannot be God’s carriers of grace and truth casts a large shadow over our Christian experience” (p. 191). “To believe that God is limited to it [Christianity] would be an attempt to manage God. If one holds that Christ is confined to Christianity, one has chosen a god that is not sovereign. Soren Kierkegaard argued that the moment one decides to become a Christian, one is liable to idolatry” (p. 193). “Is our religion the only one that understands the true meaning of life? Or does God place his truth in others too? … The gospel is not our gospel, but the gospel of the kingdom of God, and what belongs to the kingdom of God cannot be hijacked by Christianity” (p. 194).
As solid believers from denominational backgrounds see this erosion happening they begin to shop for churches that are grounded in God’s word. They show up and ask questions like, “Are you guys young or old earth creationists?” “Are you guys into the emergent thing?” “Do you take the Bible literally?” If we answer, “We just teach the word and love the sheep.” that isn’t going to be enough. We have to be ready, willing, and able to say what we are for and against because those are the things God’s word are for and against. Am I saying that every sermon needs to be about the bad stuff going on out there? Of course not. I am saying that, when appropriate, we need to take the opportunities to address the contrast between truth and lie, between counterfeit and real, based on God’s word and out of love for the sheep.
I don’t know about you, but I hope to be known by those liberated dead as the guy in town who is the intolerant fundie that takes the Bible literally, and by those who are hurting and lost as the guy who extends grace and brings comfort from the truth of God’s word.