Sunday, May 1, 2011

Camo Christian

Todd Brady, minister to the university at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, tells a story about driving around town with his two-year son, Jack, while Jack does the two-year old thing and “names” everything in sight. “Police car!” “Hospital!” “Water tower!” “Doggie!” “School bus!” Todd dutifully responds with the appropriate parental praise: “Yes, Jack. That’s right.” But things get a bit complicated when they pass a brick, ultra-modern, rectangular, nondescript office building, and Jack, thinking he recognizes it, shouts: “Church!”

While architecture is no fail-safe method of determining a church’s faithfulness to the Gospel, it can say a lot about who we think we are and what it is we believe we’re doing in there.
[Click here to read the recent USA Today story about the loss of the steeplejack profession because churches no longer have, or want, steeples on their buildings.] And that leads me to wonder why so many churches these days have gone out of their way not to look like a church or talk like a church or act like a church or behave like a church. In the interest of good customer relations disguised as “openness” and “relevance,” the mantra seems to be: “Come to our church! We don’t look Christian; we don’t sound Christian; we don’t talk Christian; we don’t think Christian; we don’t act Christian. You’ll feel right at home!” To reverse the old adage: “If it doesn’t look like a duck or walk like a duck or quack like a duck, maybe it isn’t a duck.” “Camo Christian” I could call it.

I know, I know: There’s more to being church than merely looking like church. And I too have been witness to the idolatry of building that masquerades as authentic Christianity. I’ll give you that. But that said, I can’t help but wonder why so many so-called contemporary churches go to such lengths to disconnect themselves from the two thousand year old stream of historic Christianity. Some chalk it up to the uninformed exuberance and missionary zeal of neophytes who confuse ignorance with innovation and think that because they’ve just discovered something for themselves it didn’t exist before they discovered it! You know, “How did the church survive until we got here?” Perhaps. But I sometimes suspect something less lofty – marketing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying, “Put a cross on it and it’ll be a church.” But it’s a good start. While the church must never be so “heavenly minded that it’s no earthly good,” in an increasingly postmodern, post-Christian, secular, consumer culture, the real challenge for the church is to be in the world while not being of it. You can't take the “odd” out of God.

I wonder: If Jack were to come to our place and watch us worship and listen to us talk and observe how we behave, would he say, “Look Daddy, Christians!” Just saying.

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