Part one of this got little attention, let alone little love, when I think it is stating things as they are. I'm not going to go back to the Kaufman and Kafka analogy -- you'll have to read part one to get that -- but I'm going to be a glutton for punishment, because I had decided to write at least two parts. So here goes.
I'm saying that most of professing Christianity is a performance art, which is different than a performing art. Sometimes it is called conceptual art. This perhaps majority of professing Christianity has the world as an audience and is playing a game with it. The lines have blurred between reality and fiction. And this kind of game playing works best and perhaps only in religion.
The first example I gave was the Charismatic movement, and I included continuationists and revivalists. Charismatics are playing and many, if not most, have themselves convinced that the Holy Spirit is doing something there. They will not be challenged or questioned, which is part of the game, as it defies love in their arrangement. It's the equivalent of not laughing at a Kaufman act, because it isn't funny. Many have gone along with this act, and now mistake this for a real movement of God. They are as good as fishing in their empty bathtub, the absurdity of it. I add continuationists as their enablers, the ones not quite willing to join, but unwilling to warn that the emperor is wearing no clothes.
Revivalists have their own version of it, but not different than some of the abuses of the false religion at Corinth. People are convinced of some kind of real spirituality with antics that produce results that are attributed to the Holy Spirit. Part of the performance is preaching, which is called Holy Spirit preaching because of a particular style that is often so contrived and so over-the-top that people are willing to attribute it to the supernatural. If it isn't what the Bible says, that can be fine, because the Holy Spirit is "working." How do you know? Because you can feel it. Music, the building, and other techniques and strategies create an atmosphere that promotes enthusiasm and euphoria, then labeled as "alive" and related to the "Spirit's working." Results are produced that back the claim. The audience wants something to happen and is willing to lay aside a right instinct to question in order to accept that it has, as a part of the self-delusion. If you break away, you are admitting that you were involved in something that was too strange for someone in his right mind. You embrace the performance. You go along with it. You feel good. You must be OK. You're not.
Now to another example of this, and it might be all I talk about on this one, and I might not even finish it.
The Church Growth Performance "Art"/Hoax
There is so much of this, the church growth performance "art"/hoax, that it is very difficult to sort through it all. It has sadly turned God's institution, the church, into so much of a game. It's hart to know where to start. I want to illustrate the absurdity of it.
My church has 42,000 every time we meet. How about that? Doesn't that sound great? God is working. "Tell me about it." OK. I have a season ticket to the San Francisco Giants, and they sell out every game, 42,000 people. What I do is stand up in my section, and I read a verse, pray, and then sit back down. We have 42,000 show up for that. You say, "But they aren't there for what you're doing. They're not there for the verse and the prayer." And I say, "What difference does it make why they're there, as long as they come? Why do you have to be so critical?"
The church growth movement (CGM) is essentially about getting people to church at almost any cost, short of a criminal operation. In certain cases, laws are probably broken. Such a high percentage of professing Christianity is using some form of the CGM strategy, that one could say that everyone is doing it. It's not everyone, but almost as good as everyone. There are people not doing it, I know, but it's very difficult to find someone that is not strategizing in a CGM kind of way to see people visit a church meeting.
My second paragraph of this section was extreme to illustrate, but what I'm going to explain next is an actual conservative example of what I'm talking about, where we're at in this. It's not close to the worst. A certain neighborhood is designated as a location where a bus route can start. The people looking at the neighborhood see it as a place where plenty of households of whatever nature will let their children ride on the bus to a meeting that is called "church." Alright. Now is the time to recruit the riders. You pray. Then you go out and start knocking on the doors of this neighborhood inviting its children to come, telling them that it will be safe and there'll be some helpful things about God, but also on this trip on the bus, you will get candy and soda and an opportunity to win some prizes. And that's just a normal Sunday, regardless of the big push when something more will be offered during one or two times of the year.
From one morning of work, there are twenty riders the first Sunday. Amazing! "God worked." "God blessed." "God is using me." "God answered my prayer." "I always pray; that's important." When you get to church, leadership is impressed. They give positive reinforcement. "God really has used you" is verified by others. You were a top spiritual leader on that given Sunday. That's how God works.
On the bus, a lot of positive attention is given. There's a lot of hype. There's a lot of excitement. There's socializing. The kids get to take a trip away from home and make some new friends. When they get there, they have an exciting class, an exciting junior church. There are a lot of other kids there. It's fun. It is face-paced, dynamic, and did I say exciting? The songs are fast and exciting. The people have a lot of enthusiasm and give a lot of attention to the children. The candy comes. The soda comes. The prizes come. The next Saturday you visit the previous riders, to come again. Others are also recruited with the same previous offer. A few won't come back, but those are replaced with others.
There are so many different ways to get people to church, who wouldn't otherwise come, if the sole reason was God and the Bible, if the motive was love for God and obedience as a Christian. There are a lot of different ways to justify this strategy. There is no example of it in the Bible. It is in fact the opposite of how Jesus worked even when He preached the gospel. He didn't try to make it easier on people. They needed to believe it was the truth, and that was a good enough reason. God's Word was depended upon, because that was the means of salvation. That's how the Holy Spirit works, is through scripture. And in the end, the response will glorify the Lord.
What I'm saying is that the above is very conservative. It's nothing like the hip thrusting "worship leaders" of a Rick Warren meeting. They're nothing like the kegger party gathering of a Mark Driscoll. Those using this more conservative means in part justifies themselves by the idea that they aren't like these other people, aren't employing some of the same techniques. They don't have the rock concert or the jumpers every Sunday in the children's area. And it is one strategy. This is not supposed to be done.
By the way, I'm not saying that it isn't hard work to put all these types of programs together. It isn't easy to go back to the neighborhood every week. It's hard to plan the choreography for this week's special. Paying for the lighting and the speakers and the microphones and the instruments, learning how to play them -- it all takes time and money. Paying for gas money for a big gas-guzzling bus is expensive. It's a sacrifice to pay for that. Candy and soda for a lot of people adds up. Organizing a program every week for all those people with short attention spans is hard. It's hard work, time-consuming, all of it. But it works. And when it works, it feels good. You're helping people. You care for people. The kids enjoy it. They learn the Bible too. You could make a long list of a lot of good things that happen every week. One more thing here, I think that it is a similar feeling that President Obama gets when he thinks he's giving healthcare to 30 million who don't have it at the expense of all the others (if they weren't already, they're now guaranteed Democrat voters too, who don't want to give up this freebee).
Those involved agree with each other that this is the work of God. The people who criticize don't love the Lord. They probably only say things because they are ashamed of their own work for God and the lack of results. They justify their own deadness by their criticism. They probably wish they had as many people in their service as we do in our bathrooms in any one meeting. If God is working, you get a lot of people. And they're getting a lot of people. With all those people things are hopping, and that's the atmosphere that clues you in that God is working. That's what it is to be alive, is to have a lot of children coming because they're going to get candy and a soda, and then more.
There are so many prongs to this, so many tentacles. It's not the simplicity of the New Testament, what Paul calls the simplicity of Christ. Jesus and the Apostles just told people what it was, explained it, and people either wanted it or not. Their goal was to make it plain to everyone who would want to listen. They didn't sugar coat it, try to make it look like something that it wasn't. They talked about the hardest stuff, the cross, up front. It wasn't a performance. It was real. And that's what true spirituality looks like. It's not a performance with props and actors. It's real. And that was before anyone got into the church. The church was for believers. They were the worshipers of God, and only believers can worship God.
All of the strategies of the CGM of whatever branch or style or technique or packaging do not take faith. They do not please God. Faith comes by the hearing of the Word of God. You don't find this in the Bible. It is sight. It is flesh. It isn't the Holy Spirit, but it is sadly designated as of God, which is part of the hoax. And meanwhile, people are not hearing the true Gospel. They are not even being offered the opportunity to hear it in most instances. And we don't find out if people would really be willing to do actual biblical ministry, fulfill the Great Commission. They think it's offering small toys and candy, it's inviting people to a concert, it's bringing people to the social club. The leaders probably know that people don't want to know their Bible that well. Many of them don't know it well. I'm not saying that some of them don't read it. They do, and then they use it. I say, "Use it." They many times don't rightly divide it. They don't look to it as their basis for what to do, for what God wants. It's very often just another prop in the performance. Not every Christian should be expected to learn the Bible well enough to talk to anyone, to preach to anyone. And they usually won't, so men have developed and are inventing new ways to do work without really even having to be saved.
Just like the Charismatic movement is thriving in foreign places, especially third world countries, leaving them worse off then what they were before, the CGM strategies are also going here. It's a good use of the dollar. You can bribe more people with less money in those places. Sometimes there is just the curiosity of what the American might do or what he might give you in the future. The American "churches" have perpetuated it with expectations of some big stories in the prayer letter that reports or now on the website. And so the leaders on the field are being urged to do these things. They feel good having a big group that is so impressive. They call it the work of the Lord. The American churches agree.
Perhaps to be continued.