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13 January 2009

I Want McDonald's and a Satellite!

Sometimes when we're talking about food, one of my kids will state, "I want McDonald's." It's rare that I reply, "Then you'd better start saving now for a franchise." Instead, I know that they want a Big Mac or more likely, fries.

How about that time period way back in the 1980's (or was it the 70's?!) when television signal piracy was all the rage: "You know that new guy in Mrs. Anglin's class? They have a satellite in their backyard." You know, to this day I've never met anyone who ever had a satellite in his backyard.

The "satellite" thing was just annoying. "I want McDonald's" really doesn't bother me much.

So if I'm not that picky when someone says they "want McDonald's," why am I now picky about them (and me, and other people) saying things like, "Let's go to church," or, "I love my church"?

Probably because it doesn't warp one's worldview and understanding of some hugely important Biblical principles to say, "I want McDonald's," but that does happen when we condition ourselves to say and to think that we're "going to church."

I've begun reading Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna (positive review here, negative review here -- I'm not necessarily touting the book), and this jump-started the issue for me again. For a while I've tried to say "my church fellowship" when I'm talking about the body of believers at Wall Highway, but until I started this week to call the Church the Church and call other stuff whatever it is, I didn't realize just how engrained in my mind and speech the word has become, nor how erroneously I've been using it. How entrenched in culture has this misuse become? Do a Google image search for "church" and see what you get.

Does it really matter? It's been said that calling a building or a particular fellowship a "church" is just a matter of semantics. That is, it really doesn't matter what we call the buildings and groups of Christ-followers. I mean hey, we all know that the people are the Church, right?

But I argue that this isn't a matter of semantics. For me it's not, anyway. It's actually detrimental to the body of Christ and pushes us into accepting concepts that aren't Scriptural and taking them for granted. The way we think of ourselves and the work and ministry and fellowship of the body of Christ greatly affects us.

When we say "my church," I believe we have immediately begun to consider "church" to be a thing that we can somehow possess. When we say we're "going to church," we're understanding and confirming that the building we're headed to is somehow more holy and sacred than that which the Bible calls "the temple of the Holy Spirit" -- our own bodies.

When something is our possession, we have an unfortunate natural tendency to feel slighted when something doesn't go according to our preference. It also encourages pride and boastfulness. When we consider a place to be "God's house," we are fostering the mindset that God's work is conducted pretty much only from that place (which is typically in full operation two days a week in most protestant fellowships) and should generally not be expected to happen in every moment of our regular ol' everyday lives. "The church" is the place set aside for us to study the Word of God, fellowship with other believers, get "fed" in general, and sing worship songs.

What are your thoughts? Does it matter if we call a non-church thing a "church"? If so, then what should we call the capital-C Church? I'm not mad about anything, and I'm not pointing fingers at anyone who says "go to church" or saying anything negative about them (I've belonged in that group my whole life). I just want to start picturing the Church the same way God pictures the Church.

I'll make a deal with you. I'll bet that it will be next to impossible for you to purge incorrect usages of the word "church" from your vocabulary. Although I've done the "church fellowship" thing for a while, I went "cold turkey" on Sunday, and it's proven to be be very difficult. I'll guarantee you that if you undertake this, it will immediately begin making you deliberately consider what the Church truly is. The perspective will be surprising.

Whoever successfully does this for a week and posts a comment letting me know week will receive my copy of the fictional book House of Dark Shadows, which I reviewed on December 17, 2008. Which reminds me... I have Tribes waiting for Julie to pick up!

7 comments:

Preston N said...

The thing is words have meanings, ideas DO have consequences. A good example is how often do you hear someone say "I am going to the Lord's house this morning" or "Kids this is the Lords house so be quiet". I even hear people say "Let's expect the Lord to show up in our worship today". If someone didnt know any better they would think that God has somehow re-established his presence back in a temple or physical structure again. Doesn't God dwell within us? Didn't Christ die so he could be "with us always"? What's up with this Old Covenant language - since when did God start living back in a "house" again?? Yet, how many people who don't know Christ would begin to get the idea that one is required to go to a physical structure to meet or speak to God? Think this isn't the case? Just tell someone who goes to a conventional church setting that you "home church" and watch the looks and opinions you get. Most will say "well then whose your pastor?" or "how many members do you have?" (as if that really mattered). You see most of us have a box we place God in as a result of our ideas and concepts WE think are right or relevant. The truth is we need to find out what God intended the church to truly be - if we use his model or idea of church then I think we personally can and will be effective not only in our own lives, but the lives of others.

The ideas we have about God and his church do have consequences.

Anonymous said...

Earth to Dean! Come in Dean, are you there?

You really went off the deep end on this one. Or did you?

I am not big on playing word games, but you bring up an interesting point.

I believe that the reason it is so hard to witness here in America is because people (myself included) tend to believe without question what is repeated over and over. Those that outwardly critize the Church (in this case the body of believers) have some valid reasons for their complaint; most of what we claim to believe is hearsay because most Christians do not meditate on God's word and decipher truth from fiction; so in short we contridict what is said in the Bible.

So my question is: Do I attend WallHighway Baptist Church or WallHighway Baptist Chuch? Or maybe it should be WallHighway Baptist Believers?

keo

Jeff said...

OK, Dean, I've already done what you asked. Only I started around the second week of December (sometime after our chat at Books-A-Million) and I've managed to maintain what I feel to be the integrity of the word, "church," as you suggested. However, I don't read fiction, and given your convictions in this post, you'll probably consider my comment a bit watered-down, anyway; therefore, unworthy of a free book, but possibly worthy of another long conversation over Joe Muggs. So, keep the book for the next guy, and I'll share what I found for those who are warped enough to actually want to know my thoughts:

- I found that the phrase, "The Church," is not merely "the people" as we were once instructed in Sunday School. Turns out, after the last several weeks of semantic nightmares for me, it's a living breathing organism that comprises the organization of the body, the acts and services of the body and the growth, development and Spiritual maturity of the body, as well as the actual people in that body.

- I learned that simply not referring to the church as a building or a Sunday morning event was easy, but avoiding phrases like "effectiveness as a church" or "what's beneficial for our church" actually made my view of that living, breathing organism far more shallow than it had ever been before. It was as if I was dumbing-down a holistic, thorough understanding of what the church actually was. I found greater meaning in referring to the church as a being rather than just a collection of individual people, and a greater acknowledgment of who Christ was as I more completely defined His body.

- Lastly, when referring to a destructive or divisive person's attempts to "hurt the church" I found myself without the appropriate linguistic representation in the English language. I couldn't verbally describe what simultaneously happens to both the local congregation and the ecumenical church universal when someone fails to respect that which I now see as an "institution of people," and not merely people. Or, when said individuals fail to assess the consequences of such actions as they affect the members of the body and the body as a whole. I think it is the "institution" part (instituted by Christ), that sets us apart from any other local organization. We are individuals, but the collective body of individuals more aptly describes "the church."

OK, so this comment posting was little more than a book full of my own personal rantings and presumably not what you were looking for...Sorry 'bout that.

On an unrelated note, I'm headed to the mountains of North Carolina this weekend ... anybody know a great church I can go visit? :-p
-jeff

Dean Lusk said...

Thanks, each of you.

Preston made this excellent observation: "how many people who don't know Christ would begin to get the idea that one is required to go to a physical structure to meet or speak to God?"

However, it's great that people do know that they can find an answer there when they're at the end of their rope and aren't surrounded by friends or anyone who'd otherwise point them to Christ.

Keo, I didn't mean this as a sort of a word game. I'm suggesting this as a serious exercise that may have some eye-opening results. I don't know if most of what we believe would be hearsay, but I believe some of it is. Maybe more like tradition that pollutes in some cases.

Which brings me to Jeff's comments. Interesting that the results didn't come out like I suggest that they will. But you did delve a whole lot deeper into the subject than I did in the post, which is awesome.

I didn't mean to suggest that, for instance, Dean is the Church, Preston is, Keo is, and Jeff is. The Church the community of believers (an organism, even), as you said. I spent more time railing on the incorrect use of the word than the correct use, which you very eloquently pointed out. Bad habit. A bit of my negativity showing through, I'm afraid.

So Jeff, you do essentially feel that it's a matter of semantics? (Nightmarish ones, at that?) Or did I misread the conclusion?

Thanks to each of you for chiming in!

Preston N said...

Dean - you said: "However, it's great that people do know that they can find an answer there when they're at the end of their rope and aren't surrounded by friends or anyone who'd otherwise point them to Christ."

I guess how does one reconcile this with Romans 1:19-21? In my opinion its not a matter of logistics, but a matter of influence. The same could be said of Jehovah's Witness and Mormon temples. Who's to say that same person who is at the end of their rope doesn't go to one one of these locations. In my opinion if the church was indeed "more" organic then would we really need to be identified with a location or would we be identified with being more bold Christ followers? For me the reason people have HAD to identify Christianity with a location or "church" is because we as Christ followers have forced them to make that association. Maybe if we didn't have a building that allows Christ followers to hide behind, then maybe Christianity would be more radical or influential. This seems to be the current case with the church in China and other areas of the world where Christ followers can not establish a physical structure - China has seen unbelievable growth and revival - all without one single "structure" (at least in the western sense). Just something to ponder.

Dean Lusk said...

Great point, Preston. Hopefully I didn't come across as the attraction of a building being some valuable asset or goal. I merely hoped to communicate that it was a side-effect of those outside the Church viewing "church" as a building.

I'd initially wanted to point to the story in Acts 8 about Philip and the eunuch in my response. I had in mind these verses: "Philip asked, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' The man replied, 'How can I, unless someone instructs me?'" But that really doesn't work as a parallel here. Note that God directed Philip AWAY from where he was to get Philip to the Ethiopian. Out and about...

Jilliefl1 said...

I've also read "Pagan" and thought it was insightful and right on target. It is controversial, but sometimes it's necessary to shake things up a bit when the Body of Christ has veered off course. (Think Martin Luther).

Although there is certainly nothing inherently wrong with believers gathering in a building set aside for that purpose, it’s not the ideal setting for the church, based on the nature of the church. The church is a family, not an organization. Families typically gather in cozier settings that are more conducive to the life they live together. The New Testament stresses that we have become God’s building, His dwelling place. Having a building associated with the church obscures this picture. Consider how the world defines the church, and even many believers: it’s a place you go, not what you are. Call it semantics, but there’s a huge difference between attending something and being that something.

Thought you might be interested to know that the sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at
http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org .
It’s also available on Amazon.com. Frank is also blogging now at http://www.frankviola.wordpress.com .

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