Four Lies of the Church Today
It has been said so many times and in so many places it is nearly old news. The Church is lying to itself. I can think of a dozen ways it is lying to itself, but for the moment let us just choose four lies.
1. We must defend what we believe. On the surface this seems true and, practically speaking, it is true. Orthodoxy is important to the church and the loss of orthodoxy can be fatal (check out Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion). Without a definite theological center the church becomes adrift in the latest whims and fancies.
The lie of it is the way the church does lazy theology. Lazy theology bores people and chases people away. Men and women under the age of 30 are beating a path away from the church as fast as they can go and this lie is the one chasing them out the sanctuary door.
Difficult social issues like homosexuality and abortion are not easily settled by appeals to authority and scriptural proof-texting. The church needs to work to define a way of understanding how it will relate to issues like these and it is not enough to say we believe this way because it is what we have been taught. The Church has survived two millennia because it has found ways to rethink its understanding of the universe and slavery, to name two examples.
“We must defend what we believe” is the same as saying, “Because we said so.” That will not fly, it will not work, and it is lazy theology. The Church should do better. It has in the past.
2. We will always be here. Again, it looks true, but it is a lie told to comfort dying churches and shrinking congregations and denominations. Scattered around outlying neighborhoods of Nashville are dozens of churches that are only shells of their former selves. They told themselves this lie. As people left they found excuses for their leaving and pretended everything would be okay.
In another dozen years, some of these churches will be community centers, or they will be chopped up into condos, or, perhaps, even remade into mosques. The people sitting in the pews need to do the creative and imaginative work of seeing into the future into the church that will be and not remembering the church that was. If they fail to look into their future, and believe their lie that they will always be there, then their church will die.
3. We do not need to change everything. This may be my favorite lie. It is subtle because it allows churches to lean on all the changes they have made but cling to “what we believe is important” and not change the things they may really, really need to change to connect with their communities.
It is relatively easy to change the times and kinds of services offered. It is harder to cancel Sunday evening services or reimagine Wednesday nights, but it can be done. Changing the music is such a volatile experience it has coined its own term, “Worship Wars”, but it can be done. In the end, though, changing the way we relate to people can be the most devastating and difficult change of all. It is the reason we tell this lie.
4. We are a loving church. Okay, THIS is my favorite lie. What this lie really means is we love people like us or we acted lovingly to people as we understand we should act lovingly to people. We use lie #1 to keep us from loving people we think have bad theology, we use lie #2 to keep us from loving people who leave us because we say it is always about them. We use lie #3 to keep us from loving people who want to change us in ways we do not believe we should change. We love people on our terms. We believe they should accept that about us.It is, of course, a lie. The Bible calls the Church to love without condition. A loving church always confronts its need to change, always imagines the future the church will become and does anything to achieve it, and a loving church realizes love overcomes all wrongs and finds a way to accept others. Always.
There are more lies, but that is a start. We will look at some others later. I am curious, though, as I make my list, what are some lies the church has told you?