Monday, June 05, 2006

Epic Churches for Epic Times

E-P-I-C Thoughts

Observer-participant worship does not give up critical methods but rather places them within a larger matrix of reality of which they are only a part. In the paradoxical harmony of objective and subjective truth, there is opened up an intimate-distance way of knowing that is characterized by partnership in knowledge, not mastery of knowledge, and in which freedom and relationship do not cancel each other out but interpenetrate and help to create each other.

While a worship methodology that is more Experiential, Participative, Imaged-based, and Corrected (sic) will likely be classified as postmodern, its whole life and being inheres in the biblical tradition. In fact, this is one area where the ‘postmodern’ takes us ‘back to the future.’ For Jesus truth was not propositions or the property of sentences. Rather, truth was what was revealed through our participation and interaction with him, others, and the world.”

-Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 157.

A person raised with a postmodern worldview is looking for the same thing that a “builder” or “boomer” is looking for—they just don’t realize it. Participation and interaction with the risen Jesus is what the search is all about. Each generation searches for meaning in life—fulfillment. The challenge is that cultures morph and change. Learning styles shift over time. Populations shift. Scientific discoveries are pushing our knowledge base faster and faster. Yet, people are ultimately seeking the same thing generation after generation.

The challenge is that churches (and Christians) are resistant to change. As a pastor in the PCUSA I recognize the challenge before us. I recognize the challenge before me. But my heart breaks because the denomination of which I am a part seems unwilling to keep the essential beliefs of the faith while changing the ways that these great truths are communicated to new generations.

I just completed a sermons series called “Experience Jesus.” The series looked at several of the post-resurrection encounters of the disciples with Jesus. These encounters are what began the transformation process of the disciples. Jesus wants our hearts to “burn within us” like the two men on the way to Emmaus. Jesus wants us to know that he experienced a “bodily” resurrection—not just a spiritual resurrection. His inviting the disciples to put their hands in the nail holes and his eating fish with them would cement in their minds that the impossible had actually happened. Thomas experience Jesus and had his “doubts” challenged. The roots of Thomas’ doubts were his failure to be present on Easter morning and evening to experience the risen Jesus. He needed an experience with the risen Jesus to overcome his doubts. Peter had met the risen Lord but still needed a special encounter with Jesus. He needed to participate with Jesus in the building up of the Kingdom of God. Jesus forgave Peter and then gave him work to do (“feed my lambs,” “take care of my sheep” and “feed my sheep.” Jesus wanted Peter to participate with him in building up the New Testament church. And finally, Jesus gave all of the disciples the assignment of making disciples of all nations (ethnic groups). This would only be possible as the disciples participated and interacted with Jesus, through the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, in changing the world.

The PCUSA has done so wonderful things throughout its history. It has broken down the unbiblical barriers that held women and minorities down. It has provided health care around the world. We have helped people who have been traumatized by natural disasters. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” (Revelation 2:4 – NIV) We have forgotten that people need to have a personal interaction with the risen Jesus and participate with Jesus and his church in changing the world.

We “do” church instead of “living” Jesus. Study after study indicates that few, if any, worshippers in Presbyterian Churches “feel” as though they have had an “experience” with God or Jesus during worship. This causes me to weep. How many in my church would say the same thing? Do I really want to know? How can we expect to reach the postmodern person (who demands “experiences”) when we cannot even deliver experiences with God and Jesus during our worship services? We “do” church instead of “living” Jesus.

Tomorrow I will explore some of my thoughts on how we can shift from “doing” church to “living” Jesus.


At 7:23 PM , Anonymous tonyc said...

I don't want to appear overly whiny or critical, but does Sweet have the same version of the Bible that the rest of us do? I'm assuming it's only for the sake of simplifying his argument that he ignores the rich uses of language that Jesus gives us, from the Sermon on the Mount to the parables, just to mention the most obvious ones. Jesus also tells us not to stop with language, but move on to experience, but that doesn't mean that he lacked sentences or propositions entirely, as Sweet suggests.


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