The year has ended and, up until this point, the Parousia has not occurred. Better start planning for next year then, I suppose. There’s a bunch of stuff I want to do, and a bunch of stuff I want to do better, and a whole bunch of stuff I want to do less of and some not at all.
So what would be on my wish list for the church – not my church in particular, but the Western world church in general – in 2015? There are a few “wish-that-hadn’t-happeneds” from 2014, and these will definitely colour what I am wishing for in 2015. Here are five things that I want to see more of and less of in the next 12 months.
1. Less Style More Substance
When Paul tells the Corinthians that “we preach Christ crucified” it was a slap in the face to the Corinthians’ love of all things hip and cool in their city. Can you actually believe that they thought sinful people would be persuaded by the gospel if it was packaged in such a way that rendered it more impressive and acceptable to their culture? Course you can. So how about we commit ourselves to the public reading of the Word, the prayers, the sacraments and joyful song together, and let the fluff and giggles go for a year. How about we stop coming up with a marketing plan and go and be disciples who make disciples? A little secret for ya for free: Nothing we do – nothing – is more impressive, or can be more impressive, than even the most average music gig in a middle-sized Australian town on a Wednesday night.
2. Less Self-Help More Salvation
Now that Rob Bell has his own show, the curiously titled The Rob Bell Show on the self-help queen’s channel, Oprah Winfrey Network, (See point 1 above) I think we can safely say that self-help is here to stay and it’s hipper than ever. We have an amazing gospel of grace and salvation available to all who do not believe and continuously available to all who do. But, hey, if “six steps towards financial freedom” or “your best life now” enable you to bypass the costly grace available through the cross, with the added bonus of keeping your pride intact, then so much the better. Or not.
3. Less Gifting More Character
No sooner was Mark Driscoll’s ministry grave patted down, than we’d moved on to the next great white hope. Nothing agains the likes of Matt Chandler, but unless you know him, go to his church, are on his board of elders, see him life-on-life, then the only thing you actually know about him is that he is a great public speaker of the gospel. So can we please stop eulogising celebrities as if we know them? The cult of celebrity in the culture draws us in to thinking we are on familiar terms with celebs, which is why we are so devastated when someone we have never met, who has nothing in common with us, and who would walk past us in the street with nary a glance, dies. The same is true of Christian celebrity. There is no causal link between gifting and character. I have written enough this year on spiritual abuse in churches (my most popular blog posts in 2014 by a country mile) to know that it’s completely possible to be a brilliant speaker and a bad person at one and the same time. When Paul says to the Thessalonians “you are witnesses and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct towards you believers” he drew a line in the sand, a line we have been fudging ever since. Oh, and by the way, every time you eulogise the preaching of a pastor you don’t know, to a pastor you do know; one who loves you and prays for you, and preaches with you in mind, and who gets up on a Sunday morning after a sleepless night with sick kids to announce the gospel to you, the more you drive the knife in.
4. Less Porn More Purity
Ok, blokes (and it is usually blokes), NetNanny can only restrain your desires; the goal of the gospel is to retrain your desires. The next generation of Christian leaders is in danger of being hollowed out by porn and the porn culture, and that’s a worry. By the porn culture I don’t just mean the internet stuff, I also mean the almost casual manner in which full frontal nudity has become de-rigeour in the most popular TV series these days (and I am looking at you HBO). My confession: two seasons into Game of Thrones I said “enough is enough”, stopped watching it and deleted the series I owned from my Macbook, cos it was becoming too laissez-faire in my own mind. The great thing about that, is that the power of the gospel can re-sensitise you if you let it. Whatever your schtick – sex or violence -, putting it aside and pursuing purity can and will change your desires. Sorry lads, despite all of the media articles that would tell you otherwise, we are just not that sophisticated that we can nibble at the edges of these things and not be poisoned.
5. Less Public More Private
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt6:1)
Humph, Jesus had obviously never had a Facebook account. Ok, Christians If you’ve done something amazing for someone else, if you run a program that challenges the status quo and even if you get arrested for it, lampooned for it, laughed about because of it, and especially if you get praised by the surrounded culture for it, can you please stop Facebooking it – or at least ease off a bit? Sorry, there’s just way too much self-promotion on Facebook that is self-serving and ideologically driven, and Christians seem to be the worst offenders. And given that we, among the vast throngs on Facebook, know the words of Jesus in Matthew 6, how do we not see the problem? How could we possibly trust our own motives for publicly declaring our righteousness this way? It’s sad and ironic at the same time. You can bet your bottom dollar the religious people of Jesus day did not go outside into the public places thinking “I am going to impress people with how good I am in order to feel justified.” No, sin is far more subtle than that. So how about when you do something great, something amazing, something that makes your expression of Christianity trump other expressions of Christianity, how about NOT sounding the trumpet of Facebook about it? Just for 2015? Just for Jesus? As John Lennon famously said of something else, “it’s easy if you try.” So try.
Anyway, there are another 15 hours of this year to go by the time I post this: The Parousia could still happen today, and we won’t have to worry about this stuff tomorrow.