An Open Letter to the Church Universal

Dear Church,

I know. I promised both of us I would never do this, that I’d never write to you in public like a public service announcement. And while I hate to break my word to you about this — you know how that always hurts my soul — and while I wish there were another way to say this, there simply isn’t one this time. Too much is going on, and you won’t answer your phone. We need to talk, even if you really don’t want to. So . . . here goes.

I miss you. I miss you so very, very much. You used to be different. Simpler. More focused. I’m not saying you’re too busy or too complex or whatnot, but it just feels like you’ve lost sight of who you are. You don’t keep the Main Thing the main thing anymore, as the saying goes. You’re the Church. The Bride of Christ. The Body of Christ. Baptized believers. The followers of the Way. “Little Christs.” Our Mother, even as God is Our Father. Jesus told you that the very gates of hell itself would not triumph over you. You’re built on the rock, secure in the confession that Jesus is Lord. You’re a hospital for sick souls. A teacher for those who need knowledge of God. Among other things.

Church, do you notice the theme? The single recurring element in everything you used to be — and were supposed to be? Jesus. God. The Holy Spirit. The salvation of souls from hellfire, the regenerate Christian life of the new creation. That’s you! That’s who you are! That’s what you’re supposed to do! That’s the Main Thing! The gospel of Jesus Christ is the Main Thing! Remember how incredible the good news is the first time someone hears it? That the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, that the Son of God emptied himself of all but love, came to earth, taught, bled, died, and rose again all for us? That we receive salvation, forgiveness, and freedom because of that, if only we believe? It’s the Main Thing.

So why did you leave it behind?

Don’t give me that look, Church. We both know it’s true, and it won’t do either of us any good if you feign righteous indignation like that. I know you’re just acting scandalized so you can get me to apologize and ignore the problem again. I can’t do that this time. This is just too serious to drop. Because I love you. I love you, Church, with all my heart. I love the way you help the poor, clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. I love how you go into prisons and offer redemption to those who think themselves beyond it. I love how you tend to the sick and elderly, how you befriend the friendless, extend hope to the hopeless. I’m head-over-heels for how much you love the dying and minister to the grieving and heartbroken. And the way you sing? All of your rites and rituals? Your worship makes me weak in the knees, so much so that I can’t even stand up sometimes and have no choice but to kneel down with you. You’re my favorite. I love you.

I love you so much I can’t let you go on like this.

I get it. You’re part of — no, a pillar of your community. You want to serve it and honor it. And that’s great! We’re servants, you and I. We paint homes and wash feet. It’s who we are. But lately you’ve been crossing the line quite a bit — and blurring it even more than that. You trade worship services for community events that may or may not try to masquerade as praise of God. You let politicians into your pulpits to advance their agendas instead of preaching the gospel. I mean, you’re overly politicized in general, really. You know I enjoy politics, and you know I think you, Church, should spread the gospel even in political ways at times, but . . . really? You’re more worried about maintaining political power than producing genuine disciples of Jesus Christ. Church, the Bible only commands us and commissions us for one of those things; guess which?

You’re not you when the Main Thing isn’t the main thing.

While we’re talking about being active in culture, let me reverse that and discuss how culture is too active in you. I’m not against contemporary music (you’ve seen my iTunes), but the stuff you’re trying to pass off as Christian just . . . isn’t. Yeah, I know; you’re being trendy, appealing to the younger crowd. Great! Fantastic! Do it! Get them in here! But give them the Main Thing when you do. Sing songs with biblical lyrics, not empty appeals to emotions. I mean, yeah, give us Jesus with a beat, but please make sure you’re giving us Jesus. All these programs you have going on? Which do you really need to do? It’s grand to have things for every age group, but if we don’t let all ages worship together, aren’t we really just contributing to the demise of the family we keep saying we’re protecting? Relax a little bit. Don’t try to do so much, Church. You’ll only wear yourself out. And all these trends and fads . . . please stop. Jesus threw the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple, so please stop trying to sell me brown water impersonating coffee before the service starts. If you love me, truly love me, you’ll permanently ban anyone on the platform from wearing skinny jeans ever again. Right now. And cool t-shirts, cool tattoos, cool glasses, cool bar stools for preachers, cool music stands filling in for pulpits . . . just anything cool that has no function besides being trendy. Those trends change too fast and have too little substance.

You want to be cool; I understand. You want all the cool kids to like you; it’s only natural. But Church, you and I, well, you and I will never be cool. Remember our Main Thing? Telling people about a guy bleeding out on a cross will never win popularity contests. A mixed choir of kindergarteners and octogenarians will never win any talent shows, either. We will never be the cool kids on the block. And you know what? We were never meant to be. Remember when you were young and had to hide in the catacombs or be killed? Or how about all those times people called you “an alternative community” because it was up to you to offer the world something different than what was popular? It is literally in your job description to be uncool. You’re asking people to die to themselves, take up their crosses daily, and follow Jesus. You invite people to come just as they are but to leave new creations in the Holy Spirit, changing — repenting of their ways.

Total reorientation of one’s life generally isn’t popular.

Please, Church. Let it go. Let go of the idea you have to somehow make relevant the timeless word of God. It’s always relevant. Make it appealing, make it knowable, but don’t sacrifice bits of it on the altar of the false gods Relevancy, Popularity, and Cultural Clout. You do you. Be the weird kid who gets picked last at recess. That’s us, Church. The weird ones. The ones who put faith in a God we’ve never seen face to face. Who believe words written two and three thousand years ago are still absolutely true for absolutely everyone. Who sacrificially love everyone, even the ones who hate us. That’s the real you. That’s the Church I fell in love with and was called to shepherd.

Come home, Church. Come back to being you. Come back to the gospel. Let’s make the Main Thing the main thing again. Let’s go hug the homeless, give them a bed, and tell them about Jesus. Let’s hold hands and walk in faith, hope, and love one more time.

Because I love you. And I always will.

Love,

Chris

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2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Church Universal

  1. This is an interesting post, Chris, but I wonder if your concerns aren’t really with particular forms of Protestantism rather than with the universal church as a whole. For instance, it seems that your comments about the state of contemporary Christian worship don’t really take into account the practices maintained by the more explicitly liturgical traditions which exist within the global church.

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    1. Hi, David, and thanks for your comment! You do bring up a good point. The gist of my post is aimed at American evangelicalism (my own context). There are fewer “problems” with these things in the liturgical traditions, but even then, I would argue some of what I address appears there as well. Contemporary worship may not have affected the form of worship for Roman Catholics/Anglicans/Lutherans/”High Church” Methodists/etc., but the influence of culture can still be felt there in different ways. I’ll admit my knowledge of Orthodox liturgies is limited, but they seem to be the most resistant to the whimsy of culture based on what I’ve seen.

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