June 9, 2007
Not sure where or how I want to start this post to our group but having been on the east coast for a couple years now, being originally from California and having lived in London, my experiences of churches in these places has been really… eye opening…
I never realized till I left California (2 years ago) how different the traditional church there, is to my experience of church in other parts. A traditional church in California tends to have a group of people coming together in a strip mall shopping center where the church is renting some office space / store and has a number of chairs lined up side by side to look like pews. The people show up in anything from the really casual attire such as jeans and a t-shirt to slightly more dressy attire such as “business casual”. Or I think you call it “smart casual” if my memory serves. The traditional church in this part of the world tends to sing songs to a “rock band” in some form of contemporary worship and then the pastor will speak. This is such a contrast to “traditional” church in NY and England where there are pews and big gothic looking churches which remind you in their splendor how big God is in comparision with us. This form of traditional church has an actual priest in most cases who dresses in the traditional robes and communion is taken with real wine instead of grape juice. Having grown up in the first and not in the later, my concept of church tends to be more modern and contemporary in comparision with my later counterparts. In a church much like the second type that I speak of, I tend to get very uncomfortable and uneasy. It is hard for me to relate to and understand the ritual and liturgy of that style. I try to connect with it but I don’t know how. The thing for me here is that this style is not something I am accustomed to so I don’t understand why we need to go through each step of the liturgy to reach out and touch God because to me God is reachable whether or not we make those steps. If I want to speak to God right here and now I do not need to walk through each of those steps, I just simply call out. If I want to understand God’s thoughts and mind, I read the word. I don’t need an experience of God or have a ritual to tell me God is here with me, right here, right now.
Therefore, the reason I write this here and now is because I am a part of the emerging church movement here in NYC and having become a part of this I have started down a very different path of exploration in my walk with Christ than at any other time in my life. A time when I feel like I may be truly discovering for myself what it means to be a Christian. A time of vulnerability and openess which allows me to really take apart the teachings of the past and reconstruct them. I feel this time will teach me more about Christ than I have ever known before and through it more about myself.
The Emerging Church seems to stem out of that second type of church that I mentioned earlier but there are a lot of things about it that interest me and a lot of things about it that I question. You see my journey in this direction started more than 10 years ago when I met a few guys at an alternative christian concert. They were wearing a Tourniquet T-shirt. Some of you may have been around long enough in that scene to know of whom I speak of, others, may not. For those that weren’t Tourniquet was your average everyday metal band with a twist. They were Christians. The music was really good and certainly not that cheesy 80′s type stuff most of us know all too well (like Amy Grant and Michael W Smith). You could almost say this started my descent into my dark side but really as I look back on it now it was a spiritual journey I was led on. By this time I had only been a christian for about 3 years; I barely knew or understood all the tenements of being a Christian. But much like the Steve Taylor song, “I just want to be a clone”, the church was doing a fine job of making sure I understood “their” idea of Jesus. My idea of Jesus was being formed at that ripe young age of 17. That meeting eventually led me into the gothic scene and into the alternative church… Interestingly enough I had many a member of that conservative church (way back in high school) tell me that they were concerned for my soul… Me hanging out with these people in black… I would usually just smile and tell them they didn’t really understand and not to worry, God had my back. After all, I knew Jesus had hung out with prostitutes and “outsiders”, so why couldn’t I hang out with the goths? I bet Jesus would.
Years later, I discovered Sanctuary in San Diego, California. Sanctuary was about 10 members strong, all gothic, all the time. It was ran by a man infamously known as Pastor Dave. Many of the goths in the area knew him, they knew of his style and his leanings toward Christ. They knew that he would come out to the local goth clubs and hang out with them. They knew that he was real, he could be trusted, and that he loved them. He was well loved by the scene too and now has over 200+ goths on his myspace friends list from all over the world. His church, Sanctuary, may have been gothic on the outside, with gothic worship and gothic leaning themes in messages but it was always strong in the word and in encouraging the people to really know Christ through his word and through spending time with him. The message was loud and clear that if you wanted and needed to know Christ the only way to do it was through his word.
Sanctuary later led me to Asylum in London. London was many things to me but the main thing London was to me was a turning point in my walk with God. For reasons I won’t get into my faith wavered during my time in London. For the first time in my life I doubted God. I wanted to believe but I had lost my trust. It certainly wasn’t Asylum’s fault. Asylum was much like Sanctuary only more heavy metal leaning (at the time any way). No, the fault was all mine. The decisions I made and the direction in which I was going led me to believe the church (the body worldwide) was, simply put, a complete and utter wreck. I had up to that point for years been watching people get hurt by the church. I watched hypocrites hurt one after another and I swore up and down I would not be one of them. BUT it happened… I DID become one. I didn’t mean for it to happen of course. I meant for it to go another way but it did happen and I can’t go back to change it, I know that. The thing I did learn from that though is that I had come to a point of “toxic faith”. I acted like I didn’t believe in God and made many a stupid decision. Yet deep in my heart I really couldn’t turn my back on God completely. I really truly wanted to but it wasn’t happening. I had had a real divine experience. So while I acted like a non-believer (whatever that might mean), I continued to go to church. This was a downward spiral into darkness.
Life marched on and I returned to California, during which time as I continued to walk around blind and lost till I discovered Regeneration, whom helped to set it right. My time at Regen helped me to see what was meant by a healthy church. People were hungry to hear God’s word. They would all bring their bibles to church and get excited about passages such as Leviticus, which most Christians choose to cower in fear of. These people would pray without ceasing, seek every moment of every day after God, they were walking talking true blue to the core healthy Christians. (Now keep in mind I am not saying that any of the churches previously mentioned didn’t have that, but this is the first of all of them to have such a DIVERSE crowd of people whom were ALL like that.) This church had the homeless and the rich, the student and the professional, the accountant and the creative. It was probably the first time I had really seen the idea of the Christian church being one body of different functions. It was a place of protection and growth for many. A place we could share our hardships and know that people would build us up, pray for us, and get us back on the move again. To me this is what I would call the first century church. This is how the church should be and should act. However, I have noticed a trend towards experiencing God because people are “sick of the Word”. This presents a lot of problems for me. Having had a “toxic” faith that was built more on my experience of God rather than what God has to say in His Word, I know where that “experience” of God can lead and I am not just saying this for myself but for others.
There’s a movement called the faith movement (that may or may not still be around). If you have ever been to one of their gatherings you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that people run around dancing in the aisles (during the sermon) and fall over and start shaking and go up for healings that never really happen despite being told it has. People in these movements are often worked into a frenzy through the worship till they end up following suggestions of the pastor later. Walking because they have been said to be healed only to find that they can’t. Not taking medicine because they were told they were healed and ending up in the hospital because of it. This is a very dangerous pattern that begins to develop for people through these movements. Over time people begin to lose faith and eventually turn from God because of such actions. Over time they lose sight of the fact that God loves them just as they are, if they ever knew that in the first place. This is where the “experience” of God gets dangerous. It is when people are not taking it upon them to learn and to be as wise as serpants and yet as gentle as doves. Instead often times they end up just the opposite and forget to love their neighbor as themselves.
Now I have yet to see this in the emerging church so far so good but I do worry that it sets a dangerous precedent to head right down that sort of road. I do understand the need to meet a generation where it is at and to make the message fresh. I understand the desire to show that you do love us as a generation and that you are not like the forefathers before you whom may have rained a God of hate and judgment over us but we don’t want “buddy Jesus”. We want a real person. We want to know whom he is and was. Jesus was a rebel but the church has made him soft. Jesus was passionate but the church has made him dispassionate.
So then I ask of the emerging church who on the surface seems to seek experience over the Word, how then will you teach us of God? How will we know God if we do not learn what God has to say? How will we grow if you do not challenge us to? Will we become a generation who seeks one experience of God after another, never being secure in our faith? How are we to know after all that God loves us if we cannot feel it, time and time again? God says in the Word that we are to be secure in our faith and know that we are loved but where is that balance if we only know a God of our experiences rather than a God whom has transcended time and generations to meet us exactly where we are at?