This is a followup post to my previous post on why I’m working through America’s civic religion to something more meaningful. This is the more polemic of the three posts, and I hope it does not bother you too much. I’ve merely stated what I find to be true.
Thanks for reading. -Eli
1B. I dislike many American churches because
1. they miss the point entirely by turning the gospel into a social function of america
In many American churches the gospel is another word for the american dream. There is no call to live according to the story of Jesus, his Church and the One whom He called Father, but merely to sentimentalize this into a happy story you believe in order to go to some heavenly paradise when you are dead. The good news in these churches becomes another way to make our society work. The churches encourage census participation, voting and endorse certain laws or views, working closely with government in order to lead the faithful to a beatific vision that more closely resembles the final triumph of america rather than the final triumph of the kingdom of God. In these churches the god which is worshiped is firstly the chief american, the greatest proponent of liberty and social justice and only after this a foreign power who desires our allegiance in his war against sin and death, through liturgy, sacraments, and word.
2. their liturgy is not distinguishable from a nationalist rally
As a pastor, I visit lots of churches. I remember as a convert a few years ago, I attended a megachurch. One day I noticed that we were celebrating everything but Jesus. I looked around, saw no crosses, sought out the source of our celebration, and discovered something hideous. We were celebrating promotions, money and success. It is not that these things are bad to celebrate, but they certainly do not belong at the center of Christian worship.
Another time, as a young Christian i was disturbed, because my first exposure to a creed in a church was a money creed. This creed went almost exactly like this:
Father, I HONOR you as I present to You, Your tithes and my offerings.
I recognize You as the Authority over all I have.
I put You in remembrance of Your Word.
You said that if I would honor You with my substance, You would honor me.
Therefore, I call in the harvest of
-jobs and better jobs
-raises and bonuses
-checks in the mail
-promotions and advancements
-rebates and returns
-the return of all that is lost and stolen
-scholarships and grants
-increased sales and commissions
-the miracle of debt cancellation
-supernatural wealth transfer
-favorable financial surprises
-every bill paid
-every debt paid; short term and long term
-sales and comissions
-interest and income
-gifts and surprises
Thank you Lord, for meeting all of me needs, that I might have more than enough. You said you would honor me with a harvest, and I trust you to meet all my needs in the Name of Jesus, Amen.
If you don’t find this ridiculous or at least bothersome, you are in my prayers. Mind you, this was my first exposure to creeds, and it was a financial creed, it was the most important part of the service, the whole offering was. And instead of talking about Jesus, we talked about finding money. Needless to say, i didn’t attend more than maybe once more. In a church whose creed is money, how are you supposed to preach or hear the gospel?
3. Their Christian-ness has fallen under the purvey of consumerism and other social forces in our culture.
I will let this quote speak for itself: “If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and to offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem-solving, whatever…a consumer church is antichrist.” -Eugene Peterson
4. These churches often inadvertently and sometimes intentionally perpetuate the myth that America is God’s chosen nation and that Christian life is compatible with the American Dream.
Some facets of the American Dream to keep in mind: Privacy, Liberty, Autonomy, Democracy
As I previously mentioned and as Hauerwas states rather precisely:
“Christians do not believe we get to choose our story, but rather we discover that God has called us to participate in a story not of our own making. That is why we are called into the church, as well as why we are called “Christian.” A church so formed cannot help but be a challenge to a social order built on the contrary presumption that I get to make my life up.”
House churches like many protestant projects are based in the assumption that we get to make up our churches and our lives. That we get to decide what we like and what we don’t and see to it that what we like and agree with ends up sustaining our democratic life. The very notion of church either undoes this, or it is not a church.
As Hauerwas also says:
“More Americans may go to church than their counterparts in Europe, but the churches to which they go do little to challenge the secular presumptions that form their lives or the lives of the churches to which they go. For the church is assumed to exist to reinforce the presumption that those who come to church have done so freely. The church’s primary function, therefore, is to legitimate and sustain the presumption that America represents what all people would want to be if they had the benefit of American education and money.” -Stanley Hauerwas cited in (The Living Church)