October 24, 2011
Part 3: Language of the Communitarian Church
As social tools go, language is by far the most important. Certainly, it’s the most influential. The Proverbs makes this abundantly clear: To guard one’s tongue is to preserve life itself, for death and life are in the power of the tongue.
Because each field of study garnishes its own exclusive vocabulary, a trade word oftentimes connotes something altogether different from what the layman might presume. To the tourist, for instance, a Bombay duck is just that; but to the native chef of India, it is more accurately an indigenous fish—dried, salted, and served with curry. Religious speak is all the more confusing—and telling.
In recent years, Christianese increasingly signals the church’s dramatic paradigm shift away from biblical fundamentalism. But too few discern error inherent in transformative, seeker-friendly language. The faithful well versed in it freely characterize progressive, prosperous, and/or positive Christianity as purpose-driven, clarified, and subject to laws of change, transcendence, and biomimicry.
In meeting its call to renewal, the emerging church (of man’s own making) freely expands core biblical values to accommodate “red-letter,” freestyle Christian thought. Indeed, studies reveal that the lion’s share of sermons heard by American churchgoers marginalize the Bible and focus instead on mundane survival issues—i.e., nurturing personal relationships, developing human potential, and healing the inner child—that is to say, “privatization of the Gospel.”
Self-described advocates of planetary citizenship, creation care, and social justice, nouveau evangelicals participate as enlightened community organizers within the context of God’s politics. This takes form in public-private partnerships and faith-based initiatives, requiring process- and/or possibilities- thinking, coupled with the conciliatory language of consensus.
Now, continuous evolutionary change bypasses natural law in favor of social disciplines. But at a price—that of welfare state capitalism. It’s reasoned that this, after all, is an age of new images, in search of common ground and for the common good. Moreover, new age appeal to the church’s global responsibility presumes need for a new world ethic, language for which is more broadly inclusive than its Judeo-Christian counterpart.
Today’s benign-sounding, albeit cutting-edge buzzwords elicit knowing nods from those immersed in it; but then Bible-honoring Christians hold themselves to a higher standard. The book of James makes it abundantly clear that Christians are accountable for the words they use to inspire action and, therefore, they best choose their language wisely in deference to God almighty, not to “tickle the ears” of customers.
Church Government or Corporate Managers?
Charles Colson rightly warns that, all too often, the Gospel has been transformed into a commodity with the local church acting like a retail outlet and church members, its customers. Together, corporate management (church government) and its workforce (customer-members) work in tandem to attract converts and/or new members (noncustomer newcomers). Tithes, offerings, and manpower of newbies promise to better the corporate church’s bottom line.
Toward this end goal, Dr. Robert E. Klenck, M.D. (TruthRadio.com) discloses methods and practices of church growth ministers—those of Dr. Warren, for example. In his business plan, Pastor Warren first considers the felt needs, hurts, and interests of outsiders (noncustomers). Then he examines the Bible in light of these needs in order to determine the most practical, positive, encouraging, simple, personal, interesting ways to meet them.
Warren’s message and presentation are strategically designed to make it easier for a nonbeliever to come in, submit to spiritual gifts assessments (personality profiles), sign on to the program, and then be “discipled” in accordance with his strengths. Managers influenced by Drucker-Deming business model, progressive pastors as Dr. Warren view church members (customers) as human capital to be equipped for service in the productive whole, otherwise known as the body of Christ. Ostensibly in the best interest of customers, management gathers employment information leading to formulation of databases based on profiling practices.
Flock of Believers or Customers?
While functioning as worker bees under management, customers require ongoing in-service training (i.e., lifelong learning). This is accomplished by means of small groups that practice the dialectic process. Group leaders serve as facilitators or change agents who, in Warren’s words, administer “the most effective way of closing the back doors” of their churches.
Through “Bible study” groups, guided dialogue among committed customers and targeted noncustomers leads to consensus; team building is solidified through social ministries that encourage bonding among group members. Pragmatism distinguishes communitarian ministries. While social relationships and fun activities keep folks coming back, so-called accountability groups keep them in line.
What’s the Beef?
The question arises, “So, what’s the beef?” when the better question is, “Where’s the beef?” Blatantly absent from the communitarian agenda is deep study of the Bible.
Yet the Bible is so central to Christianity that early converts, who were not subjected to spiritual gifts assessments and training, nonetheless became passionately, even miraculously eloquent. Starting in an upper room in Jerusalem, they preached the Gospel and virtually exploded across the Greco-Roman world. Theirs was no social justice message. Still, their oratory spread with such ardor that, in the very generation in which Jesus lived, the good news took firm root in all the leading cities of the region.
No ordinary book, the Bible is uniquely “God-breathed” (inspired) and is, therefore, profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Modern marketing techniques may indeed draw and hold large numbers of people. But strategically meeting felt needs of potential agents of social change does not fulfill the Great Commission, nor can it.
What distinguishes mature believers from the herd is their success at the greatest enterprise of all, life itself. For them, life has ceased to be a problem to be solved. It’s instead a glory to be discerned. While it’s true that Christians are genuinely “incorporated” into the body of Christ, the ekklesia of God is not best described as a corporation. Coupling consultants, denominational leaders, tool builders and suppliers with customized forums and workshops may bring to light the best practices known by man, but they overlook the infinitely more essential matter of spirit.
Be sure: Failure to read the Bible publicly and study it diligently signals error. Inspired scripture, when hidden in the heart, keeps one from sin, the very thing that distances God from mankind. Not only is it a source of comfort, delight, and hope, the Bible also lights man’s path. The humanistic construct of a quest for the good life/death offers no such promise.
As infants’ food, the Bible nurtures growth; and, as a life-giving force, it’s a believer’s sustenance. It’s worthy of being reverenced and esteemed even more than necessary food. After all, the Bible is a probing instrument, a defensive weapon, and a saving power—one that’s settled in heaven and forever standing.
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Protestantism came about within context of political economy, nationalism, Renaissance individualism, and a rising concern over ecclesiastical abuses, yes. But the church’s basic mission today remains that of reconciliation through preaching of the Gospel—this, with administration of Gospel sacraments.
Upon being nourished and sanctified through the Word of God, the church’s destiny is to realize full conformity to the Lord and His likeness. In no way is the church primarily a human structure like a political, social, or economic entity. It’s the church of the living God, Jesus Christ. Because its function goes beyond man’s salvation to the praise of God’s glory, neither the church nor its function ceases with completion of its earthly task.
More to come in Part 4.
2. Proverbs 18:21.
3. Debra Rae. “Hijacking Educationese,” Part 2, 6 November 2004.
4. Contrary to 2 Peter 1:20.
5. Revelation 22:18-19.
6. 2 Timothy 4:3.
7. David Bryant. Christ Is All: A Joyful Manifesto on the Supremacy of God’s Son, Second Edition. New Providence, NJ: New Providence Publishers, Inc., 2005, p. 255.
9. Methodology matters to God. When Moses smote the rock a second time, rather than speaking to it as God commanded, he was refused entrance into the Promised Land. Against the command of God, Uzzah steadied the Ark of the Covenant with his hand. For that disobedience, he was struck dead (2 Samuel 6: 6-7).
10. Taken from The Purpose-Driven Church by RICK WARREN. 1995 by Rick Warren. Used by Permission of Zondervan Publishing House., p. 190.
11. Huston Smith. The Religions of Man. (New York: Perennial Library Harper & Row, Publishers, 1958), 301ff.
12. 2 Timothy 3:16.
13. Deuteronomy 31:11; Joshua 8:35; 2 Kings 23:2; Nehemiah 8:3,18; 13:1; and Jeremiah 36:6.
14. Deuteronomy 17:19; Isaiah 34:16; John 5:39; and Acts 17:11.
15. Jesus Himself warned: “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures,” Matthew 22:29.
16. Psalm 119:11.
17. Psalm 119: 47, 82, 105; Romans15:4.
18. 1 Peter 2:2.
19. Ezekiel 37:7; Acts 19:20; Deuteronomy 8:3.
20. Isaiah 66:2-66:2; Job 23:12.
21. Hebrews 4:12.
22. Ephesians 6:17.
23. Romans 1:16.
24. Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8.
25, 2 Corinthians 5:19; Mark 16:15.
26, James 1:18; Ephesians 5:26; 1 Peter 2:2.
27, 1 John 3:2.
28, Matthew 16:18; 1 Timothy 3:15.
29, Ephesians 1:6; 2:7.