Monday, October 24, 2011

America's Past-time

As I understand it, there is currently a series of Baseball games being played between two athletic squadrons from St. Louis and Texas.  I'm told it has been quite the spectacle, and that once or twice, some fellow has even managed to hit the ball over the fence that surrounds the field that houses said sporting event.  Apparently, the team that wins the most games will be given pie and ice cream, as well as some sort of trophy.

OK, so maybe I'm being a bit over the top here, but I am a ginormous sports fan, and I have honestly watched less than 10 minutes of the World Series this year.  It really hit me over the weekend just how far I am from my days of Little League, when I could quote stats from the back of every single baseball card.  I used to spend hours banging balls off the brick wall in my back yard and fielding them to practice getting down for ground balls.  I even measured off a pitching mound and drew a strike zone on that same wall to try my hand at pitching.  In short, I loved baseball.  Loved playing it, loved watching it, and loved talking about it.

Then, as I got older, I found this thing called a basketball.  My friends seemed to have found it too.  It seems that, instead of needing a whole bunch of friends, you could play basketball with just one other friend, or 3 others, or as many as would stand around claiming "rides" for the next game.  I lived in the country, and it was much easier to find somebody to play one-on-one with than it was to find enough kids to play baseball.  Plus, a hoop is easier to find than enough space to safely whack baseballs around.

As I got a little older, it was backyard football.  We would go up to the church or to Gardner Webb's practice field and play backyard football.  It was fun, you ran the whole time on every play, and you got to do cool end zone celebrations when you scored.

Baseball drifted further and further from my mind, because it wasn't relevant to my situation, my culture, or my friends.

Sound familiar?  Many churches are awakening to the reality that the Church in America has far too much in common with baseball.  Sure, we still call ourselves a "Christian Nation," (whatever that means) just like we still call Baseball "America's Pastime," but both are just slogans now.  Empty words separated from the reality of a country dominated by secular humanism and the NFL.

So what can we do?  Well, I could fill up the whole internet with the many suggestions that have been given for what ails the church - some say "get back to that old time religion," while others say, "you have to make everything hip and cool and young."  Some say we have to get "back to the Bible," while others say, "we have to reinterpret the Bible in our modern context."

There is a little grain of truth in most of the suggestions you hear, but the truth of the matter they all address the symptoms of, not the cause of, the decline of the church.  I contend that the root cause is simple - here in the U.S., the church became so comfortable when it was the dominant social force, over time we allowed Americanism to replace the Gospel at the center of our worship.  We redefined the hard words of Jesus about self-sacrifice and justice and mercy, deciding that nobody could really be expected to give up that second coat.  I mean, won't that just make that guy dependent on me for coats every winter?!  And nobody can be expected to have an infinite capacity for forgiveness, I'll get taken advantage of!  You can't climb the corporate ladder and buy that new car if you are putting others above yourself!  Others decided that we should just get the government to do all that stuff for us.

So the church didn't become something that didn't fit our culture, like Baseball, instead it became one with the culture, and in doing so lost its voice and its power.

I don't pretend to know where to go from here.  Hope you weren't waiting for me to spell out a simple 3-point-plan for making everything better.  I have some ideas though

I think we have to start with the life and words of Jesus.  I think we have to start taking them seriously again.

I think we have to reach back into those prophets we call "minor" who spoke to a country with a
national religion and great wealth to see what God thinks about the situation.

I think we have to "go" rather than tell people "ya'll come."  (thanks Eddie Hammett)

I think we need churches to band together rather than spend all our time tearing each other apart.

Finally, I think we have to learn a new posture, one where we listen more and speak less.

What do you think?

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