Monday, February 20, 2012

Cool for Cool's Sake Is Not Cool

Recently, (as in a few weeks ago) a friend of mine sent me a blog post that had been circulating around.  She wanted to hear my thoughts on the article as she was dialoguing with one of her friends about the content.  Their discussion was great and it was cool to see college students talking about what they believe and why they believe it.  You can find the article here. 

They brought up some great questions.  But there was one statement that was a bit concerning to me as I read through their dialogue.  She wanted answers  (you should not ask me for answers unless you have a few minutes).  In the course of their discussion, her friend said something along the lines of  “The Church is not primarily for evangelism but rather for worship and edification of believers.”  What?  This is how I responded. 

“This is a false dichotomy.  Worship and evangelism are inextricably connected.  One is not to be practiced while sacrificing the other.  That would be non-sense!  In Acts, it is apparent that every sermon that was preached had non-believers present. Acts says that the new followers of Jesus met together every day of the week and that unbelievers were added to their number daily. How could we conclude that evangelism is not part of the church's primary purpose when unbelievers were added to the number daily? Why would Jesus leave the disciples with the Great Commission?  To say that the church gathered is not for the purpose of evangelism falls so short I don't even know where to start. By it's very nature, preaching must be evangelistic. Anytime you talk about Jesus or proclaim Jesus you are evangelizing.

Jesus said that he came for the sick--not for the righteous. So Jesus answers the question about who Church is for--it is for unbelievers and believers. One of the purposes of the church is to proclaim to unbelievers the Gospel of Jesus so that they might become believers. The Church is also tasked with equipping believers to do life and mission and to be agents of reconciliation. Additionally, the Church exists for corporate worship.  Doesn't Paul say that belief comes through hearing? And then he goes on to ask, "How will they know if someone doesn't tell them?" The imperative (instruction) is clear--church--preach the word! The New Testament is clear that the church is for evangelism, preaching, the edification of believers, the transformation of unbelievers, worship and mission.  One of these purposes is not subordinate to the other.  They are inextricably connected.

There are three "marks" of the church. These three things must be present for a church to be a church. They are the preaching of the Word, the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper) and discipline (biblical structure--elders, deacons pastors etc who oversee the church).  Since we're talking about evangelism I will just pay attention to preaching of the Word. When Jesus called the disciples he sent them to preach and to cast out demons. This means he sent them to preach the Gospel (the good news about Jesus) and to display God's authority over the demonic. Paul builds on this a bit in 2 Corinthians 5 when he says that “we are agents of reconciliation”--we who are saved are to evangelize! When we preach we declare the glory of God, the work of Jesus Christ and his power over sin and death. This is evangelism.  This means the church, when faithfully preaching Jesus is evangelistic. 

We need to rethink not just our view of the church but our view of evangelism. Jesus clearly saw the church as an evangelistic tool. The Great Commission is very clear. In Acts 1, Jesus' last words and instructions are, "and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth."

Is it okay for a church to be cool while evangelizing?  Well, I think that depends.  If your culture is considered cool than you had better be cool because you are cool and not because you are trying to be cool (that was pretty cool).  Why does the church debate “being relevant?”  Ironically, Jesus talks a lot about preaching the Gospel and says very little about the daily and weekly function of the church worship gathering. Jesus’ main statement about the church is that he will build his church on the confession that He is the Christ.

Additionally, the entire New Testament says very little about church gatherings--when to meet, what time to meet, how to do the things we are told to do when we meet, etc. There are no exact instructions on preaching a good sermon, music, how much music, how long of a sermon, topical sermons versus exegetical sermons and so on. In other words, God has allowed much freedom when we gather for worship. That leads me to the article concerning cool vs. un-cool. God used a jackass to get his point across (story of Balaam in the OT), he certainly can use pipe organs or electric guitar. He can use churches with incredible multi-media abilities and others with overhead projectors and transparencies.  Take Stone’s Throw for example.   I think that many people see what we are doing at Stone’s Throw and think that we are a seeker-friendly church--this just isn't true.  At least it isn’t true in the sense that they are defining "seeker-friendly." If by seeker-friendly they mean that we are trying to tell lost and broken people about Jesus--then by all means--call us seeker friendly. If by seeker-friendly they mean we are trying to be cool to reach lost people, or watering down the Gospel in the name of relevance--then they obviously haven't been to a worship gathering and are certainly not experiencing the community in which we live and breathe. It is okay for a church to be cool if they are preaching the Gospel, worshipping Jesus, and reaching people with the Gospel. It is not okay to be cool if they are just cool in the end.

My opinion is that churches trying to act cool are like kids in school who try to act cool--it comes off weird. Churches need to figure out how God wants them to execute the Great Commission and how this plays out in their community through their weekly gatherings, their evangelistic effort, their worship and so on. This will look different for every church--that is why Stone's Throw is different than other churches.  Stone's Throw wants to reach unchurched and dechurched people...that is why we preach the way we do and do church the way we do. Our emphasis is on being a church of missionaries. That is why we have Community Groups and also why we view our church gathering as only part of the church and not the centerpiece of church.   We do things differently because we are trying to reach a different kind of person. 

That is why Saddle Back Church in California (Rick Warren) might not work in New York City but Redeemer (Tim Keller) does. They are reaching different people groups. That is why a church in Jamaica will not work in Spain and why Stone's Throw might not have a chance in Africa. Sadly, many westernized people do not think through their theology to the ends of the earth--they have a westernized view of worship, God, church, evangelism and the like.   That is why we are so wrapped up in whether or not the church should try to be relevant.  Each church should try to be as relevant as a missionary who is working with the hidden people groups of the world. 

The Church must always contextualize the Gospel.  Jesus spoke in parables about fields, mustard seeds and farmers because he was speaking to people who knew about fields, mustard seeds and farmers.  Churches must never compromise the Gospel, but contextualization is absolutely necessary.”  

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