(continued from Part One)
I spent my early years living on my grandparent’s farm in rural North Alabama. I have vivid memories of how good my grandmother’s Southern fried chicken was. I always looked forward to that particular treat being on the menu, often on Sunday after church. I also have memories of either my father or one of my uncles going out into the barnyard and selecting the hen that would be the guest of honor. After seizing the doomed bird, the head would be quickly twisted off, yet that wasn’t quite the end. The chicken, minus the head, would sometimes flap around the barnyard furiously for several minutes before keeling over. As a young boy, I found this fascinating. In some ways, the chicken seemed alive, but dead at the same time.
This chicken story is somewhat analogous to the situation we find in today’s church. Many churches are for all practical purposes, dead. Others appear to have signs of life, but are at the same time dead as well. In the fifteenth chapter of John Jesus tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches. If we stay connected to the vine, we have life. But if we become disconnected we lose the source of life and we wither on the vine. It is the same for churches. Without a vital connection to the vine, churches wither and die.
Tyler Edwards has written an excellent book that deals with this very subject and I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in breathing life back into the Body of Christ. Entitled, Zombie Church, the book contains detailed descriptions of what a dying church looks like as well as measures that might be taken to bringing a congregation back from the edge of the grave. Describing these Zombie Churches, Edwards states:
The church is supposed to offer the source of eternal life. Some do exactly that. Sadly, others do not. Even in places where the lawn is mowed, the music plays, and meetings are scheduled, life can be absent. Just because things are moving does not mean there is true life. Some churches have hollow motions. Healing is not administered, joy is not experienced, minds are not edified, and people are not changed. One of the best tests to see if a church is truly alive is to ask the question, if the church closed its doors would anyone outside of it even notice.
In the above description, one can see that a church can give the appearance of life when, in fact, it is like the headless chicken flopping around in my grandmother’s barnyard. It is, indeed, a sad but true commentary on the state of many churches today.
Returning to the theme of re-introducing Jesus to the church, by now it should be apparent why this is central to the task of church renewal. I don’t particularly like that term “church renewal,” primarily because I don’t think it accurately describes the depth of what the Body of Christ is in need of. I would prefer to say that what is called for is a “New Reformation,” or to put in other words, “Church Rebirth.”
A cadre of Christian scholars and writers are asserting that we are in the midst of a new Reformation and, along with the apparent decline in membership, attendance, and other negative trends, there is also reason to be positive. Much of the reading I have done over the past few years indicates that the old and worn out wineskins have to be jettisoned before the new, relevant forms of the church can be birthed. Diana Butler Bass, in her recent book Christianity After Religion, describes several authors take on this exciting but challenging age and gives her view on what it all means:
Phyllis Tickle, former religion editor of Publishers Weekly, asserts that the church is undergoing historic transformation, the sort of change that happens only once every five hundred years or so. The esteemed Harvey Cox, recently retired from Harvard Divinity School, claims that Christianity is currently making a break from the “Age of Belief,” a fifteen-hundred-year period of Western Christian dominance. Others, perhaps more modestly, say only that Christianity is moving out of a three-hundred-year cycle that began in the Enlightenment. Whatever the exact chronological schema, the message is mostly the same: We live in a time of momentous historical change that is both exhilarating and frightening. Christianity itself is becoming something different than what it was.
The exact forms and shapes the faith will morph into as the next decade unfolds is difficult to predict, except to say that it will most likely be far different than what it was in the century just past. It is beyond the scope of this essay to delve into the various projections that are being put forth regarding the future of the Body of Christ. One thing is certain, however. It is critical that the new forms remain solidly connected to Christ, the source of life and light. Along with that, the rebirth of the church will depend on how well it reintroduces Jesus Christ to both its members and those beyond.
Returning to the words of Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, let us revisit the importance of giving seekers the information needed to adequately respond to the central question of the day: Who do you say that I am?
There is much more in Christ than we have ever imagined. And there is infinitely more to Him that we have yet to know or touch. We can never exhaust Him. Christ is so large that no search party in the universe can explore an iota of His infinite depths. What is more, He will never grow old or stale. Jesus Christ is the only thing in God’s universe that doesn’t wear thin.
For reasons too numerous to enumerate, the church has drifted far from its central task of introducing people to this magnificent, awe-inspiring being we know as Jesus Christ. His true identity and character contain riches beyond description, yet so few of us know him for who and what he truly is. It is only through reconnecting with Christ and reintroducing him to the world that the church can hope to regain the glory, luster, and cultural impact it once knew. Yet before the church can take Christ to the world, it must educate its own ranks in regards to Christ’s true nature and glory. This is where authentic healing can begin and be carried forward. Sweet and Viola continue:
But mark this down: When the people of God get a sighting of their incomparable Lord – and when the world encounters His unfathomable love, irresistible beauty, and overwhelming glory – every idol will be forced to the ground. The clouds of dust will part from our eyes, and Jesus Christ will displace everything. But first, the church and the world must see Christ……….Therein lies the task of every disciple – to proclaim this amazing Christ to both lost and found………..The world awaits those who can present such a rich gospel that it leaves people spellbound, filled with awe, and desperate to know their inimitable Lord.
Church Rebirth begins with giving current members as well as newcomers a clear, in depth picture of just who and what they are dealing with when they encounter Jesus Christ. I am convinced that once a person deeply understands what a truly remarkable being Christ was and is, this knowledge will give rise to an experience of awe, reverence, and gratitude. And from this experience flows a genuine motivation to answer the Master’s call by making an all-out commitment to grow in Christ-character and service to others.
The challenges facing today’s church are numerous and daunting. Yet we must remember that change is often far more positive than it is negative and, at the same time, breathes new life into “zombie churches.” It is through embracing positive change rather than resisting it that church rebirth can come and I am convinced that in the long run, what emerges will become even greater than what has been.
It all begins with meeting Jesus again for the first time.
© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved
- A Decapitated Church is a Lifeless Corpse (Part One) (lifebrook.wordpress.com)
- In Defense of Brian McLaren (lifebrook.wordpress.com)