Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Any Hope for Mainline Churches? From Bill Easum

80-85% of all mainline and established churches are either on a plateau or in decline. This trend has been going on for thirty years (2000). Unless their is a miracle intervention from God little hope is seen.

Online Conversations

"I had an interesting exchange with a Lutheran lay person last night. He approached me and expressed some anger over the way his church just "sprang" some of that contemporary music on "them" in church on Sunday. I asked what his real concern about the music was and he stated that church is supposed to be "quiet." He spoke of tradition and the need to safeguard it at all costs. He gave the massacre at Columbine High School as an illustration of the consequences of failing to follow tradition. It was a very powerful conversation, which was amplified when I shared my own thoughts about church music and the need to test all tradition for its continued value to the church and the culture.

I had this picture in my mind of Jesus standing before the Pharisees and the Sadducees having a similar discussion. Luke tells us that Jesus was very regular in his attendance at the Synagogue. We know that He participated in the ritualistic reading of the scripture and the prayer life of the synagogue. We also know that there was something different about the way He read the scripture, as well as with the way He prayed. He followed the tradition in as far as it was helpful, but was not above adapting the old ways in new and more meaningful ways.

The synagogue was a place where religious people gathered every Sabbath to do religious things. They came in and sat down (probably in the same place every Sabbath), participated in the recitation of the Shema (a confession of faith in the one God), prayed, listened to readings from the Law and the Prophets, heard a sermon, and a benediction. And all of this went off like clockwork. There was no room for a young upstart carpenter to come in and throw a wrench into the works. The Pharisees made sure they were there to police it. Sound familiar?

Jesus was frequently in trouble with the gatekeepers in the synagogue. Does that sound familiar? He warned against the hypocrisy of those who paraded their righteousness in the synagogue. He warned against giving and praying in order to be seen and praised. He also rebuked those who sought the chief seats. As opposition increased, He warned His disciples of a future time when they would be persecuted in the synagogues; and as persecution developed, the believers were forced out of the synagogues. Sound familiar?

This is where my problem with the redevelopment effort begins. Don't get me wrong. I am one hundred percent behind the efforts of church redevelopment, but I am growing more and more skeptical that anything short of a total reinvention of the Church will have any long-term effect. When it came right down to it, Jesus never changed the synagogue. He never redeveloped it, but simply created something new with which to replace it.

Jesus was not satisfied with the model of the synagogue. He was not content to sit within its four walls waiting for people to come and make themselves welcome. He was not content with the idea that anyone who wanted to participate in the synagogue must first conform to look, dress and behave like all the other members of the synagogue community. Jesus did not limit his understanding of that community to the "contributing" members. Jesus went out to the people. I think He dressed like them. I think sometimes He smelled fishy like them. In short, Jesus went out and messed it up with them. In fact, Jesus was probably the most unreligious religious leader of all times.
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