Bernard Wolf is worried man. As Director of the SIR (Strategic Irony Reserve), he is tasked with making sure that the country has supplies of the substance in case of emergency. “We’ve haven’t seen levels like this since McCarthy,” he grumbles, pointing to a chart showing a distinct downward trend. “Our use of irony is not sustainable — just look at this sudden drop right here” — he says, pointing — “that is where the Obama Administration declared that the White House Office of Administration was not covered by the Freedom of Information Act after thirty years.” He ticks off points on his fingers, “During Sunshine Week. Confirming a Bush Administration policy. It’s a perfect storm!”
He also is concerned about the the low profile that irony has in the public mind. “Most people don’t even know what irony is,” he laments, “and that Alanis Morisette song certainly didn’t do us any favors.” And it isn’t just the government that is affected. The private sector also relies heavily on the SIR. “We’re still reeling from the Amazon 1984 incident of 2009, where digital copies of the book 1984 simply disappeared from people’s devices. It’s the largest single ICI (Irony Consumption Incident) in history.”
Still, he is optimistic about the future. “As more and more preposterous things become simply normal and expected, our need for irony is reduced. And election years certainly help — unrealistic promises and pandering aren’t ironic, they are just politics as usual.”
My family has been without a small group for a while. But at our phase of life we are looking for something different than before. We desire a small group based on these values:
- Doing life together
- Building deep relationships
- Being about God’s Kingdom work
- Addressing brokenness in order to find purpose
- Not sin management
- Engaging the culture
- Not intellectual pride
- Knowing God is more than theology
- Embracing emotion and mystery
- Not emotionalism
Syncretism is “the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion.”
We tend to think of syncretism as something that happens in Africa, where ignorant natives may combine Christian beliefs with local religions. Or perhaps a religion that accepts Jesus as another of many gods in a pantheon.
But the Religious Right in America has created a syncretism that is just as dangerous. It has combined Christianity with politics, social ideology and pseudo-science.
The resulting religion holds to precepts like these:
- Fox News broadcasts only the truth.
- Democrats are servants of Satan.
- The world is 6000 years old and scientists are covering up the truth.
- People choose to be gay.
- If you don’t believe in Jesus, God will send you to hell.
Instead of having a clear message of God’s love, this sincretism puts a number of barriers for people to stumble over. Before I can have faith in God, I have to become a Republican? I have to believe that the entire scientific community is nothing but a huge conspiracy to suppress the truth about the age of the earth and evolution?
By preaching this syncretism, we have played right into Satan’s hands. Long before they are confronted with the Cross, most people have already decided that this is a crackpot religion.
And they are right.
I have a lot of issues with the way we “do church” in America. I think we do a few things right, but I think we’ve done off the rails spectacularly in many other ways.
But the biggest problem is that we don’t seem to be able to talk about it constructively. It is difficult to be opinionated and yet gracious. Be non-judgmental and you’ll be accused of being “soft on sin.” Try to think deeply about topics and you’ll be accused of doing too much fancy thinking.
I am dedicated to learning the truth, and I believe that all truth is God’s truth. I also believe that truth is found in Scripture and in the cosmos that He created. When those come into apparent conflict, how can we resolve it productively — or at least disagree with respect?
Many people strong hold to an ideology without even realizing it. Or they insist it’s Just the Way Things Are. Most young-earth creationists are this way, and it makes any discourse very difficult.
What can we do to improve?
- Have respect for other points of view.
- Be aware that you hold to an interpretation of Scripture, and it may not be correct.
- Separate major issues from minor issues.
- Argue respectfully.
- Respond to an argument on its merits and don’t just dismiss it because “you clearly don’t know the Scripture well enough.”
This is a comparison of four churches we have attended. I want to stress that all four are specific churches (which I am not going to name) and are not intended to be archetypes. All four are truly seeking God’s path, but have very different ways of going about it.
The Startup church was wonderful; its distinctives and culture resonated with us. It stressed dynamic and semi-autonomous small groups. It stressed discipleship. It stressed growth by church planting. It put a lot of importance on child ministry. We enjoyed true fellowship and found people which whom we could do life together.
The MiniMegachurch has succumbed to the “businessification” of the American church. Its early distinctives and culture have been mostly swallowed up by a cult of personality. The senior pastor is now the CEO, and his vision and priorities are what set the culture and tone. He is the Authority. The sermon is now the pinnacle of every service. The services are very tech-heavy and performance-oriented. Worship is no longer an end in itself; it must now support the sermon, so it has turned into mere manipulation. Small groups, while encouraged, are important only in serving the overall agenda. The church has grown quickly, and there are many new or immature believers. Therefore, the sermon is generally about what the individual must to do improve. Guilt seems to be the prime motivator. Growing at any cost has replaced discipleship.
The Organic church is very small and seems to be made up mostly of people who have been injured elsewhere. They do things in a fairly non-traditional way; but they have not yet decided who they are. They don’t seem to have clear principles, distinctives or culture.
The Liturgical church is surprisingly warm and inviting. The service is fairly formal, yet has a balance of reverence and playfulness. At the end of the service, all of the children join in the final songs. Their dancing and simply joy brings a wonderful reminder that we all must approach God as children. The messages are clearly to the community as a whole. The priests are there to serve the community as we all do the liturgy together. At the end, one of the priests holds the Scriptures in the air, walking down the aisle — again, the image being that are all focused on God, our Savior, and the Scriptures; and not the priest himself.
As you can probably tell, I am finding myself consistently drawn to the Liturgical church. There are a few reasons: They have clear principles, distinctives and culture. They clearly delineate what are core Christian beliefs and what are their own traditions. The priests see themselves as servants of the community, and not as Authority. Therefore they are not threatened by differences. They do not feel the need to micromanage individuals or groups within the church. They know where they have been, and they know where they are going. The people there seem to be going somewhere deliberately rather than running from something else.