Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Relevance and Reverence

Is it okay to be posting memes like this? Is this making a mockery of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross? Or is someone attempting to take the story of Jesus' death and resurrection and making it understandable to today's culture? I don't know the intention of whoever made this meme, but I can say one thing: I find it hilarious. Not because I think that a person being crucified is a laughing matter. In spite of the shame and rejection Jesus experienced on the cross, he rose up victorious, conquering death. Of all the things this could have Jesus say, a "nah bro" seems to hit the mark.

So, is this just irreverence, or does it say something more? And if it is irreverent, what does God think about it? Or is this meme something that's relevant to us today? I use this meme as an example of a greater phenomenon in our society. People are getting tired of imposed reverence without relevance. By that I mean that there seems to be a stigma about the church that it just propagates worship and submission to God (and Jesus, of course) without thinking. But if there isn't some relevance to what the church is doing in its worship services and in its messages to people, then it might as well be another brainwashing camp as many other things in the world are.

Ever seen the movie Jesus Camp (2006)? This movie approaches this question quite well -- and makes the evangelical movement look pretty bad in the process. In a gist, the movie highlights several "youth camps" that focus on spiritual training to help teens and tweens become dedicated to God. But it's really a masquerade where these vulnerable kids are being indoctrinated into something else. The sad thing is that these kids are genuinely longing to become closer to God and to faithfully follow him. They're brimming with potential and you can see the start of some amazing things about their character. But instead of being taught something relevant -- and, in particular, true -- their spiritual leaders are drawing them away from God and toward some superficial hyper-moral conservative activism. You could even say "legalism."

I've talked to friends from different countries who have expressed their frustrations with what they've seen in the Catholic/evangelical/fill-in-the-blank church. Many think that Jesus was a pretty incredible guy, but their church experiences have left them in an agnostic uncertainty about what God thinks of them and how (seldom) involved they think God is in their lives. Their main complaint: these churches are teaching/imposing dogma and forbidding them to question the status quo.

But if you look carefully in the Bible, you don't see that message being propagated. For example, Acts 17:11 says good things about some Jews who critically tested what they heard: "Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." What does this mean? These people didn't just accept whatever was spoon-fed to them. They fought with it. What does this mean for you? You should wrestle with what you hear. You don't have to accept everything you hear at face value. You don't always have to walk on eggshells, worrying about being irreverent -- or letting others bully you into that. That's why there's a whole section of the bible called "wisdom literature" (we'll take a look at some of this later).

Sometimes you have to walk on the edge of irreverence to get to the relevance. Churches can't pretend that everything is squeaky clean and smooth. Life is hard. Faith is hard work. But if you test your faith and test what you hear, it should come back as true. God can take the heat. If anything, he appreciates honesty. And if you believe if God is omniscient (sees everything), then you know that he knows what you're thinking anyway.

This is a message that I've been saying for a long time -- particularly when I was actively involved in youth ministry. The only way to understand God is to ask him questions. And if the church wants to be relevant to the needs of society, it needs to suck up some of the irreverence and create a safe space for people to learn and explore. Note my tone here: I'm saying this to highlight my point.

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