Culture of Conversion

I’ve touched on this subject, previously, in many places, but it deserves more focused attention. Over the centuries the church has established its own culture (negatively speaking), a “Church Culture.” By this I mean, in its attempt to separate the secular from the sacred it has succeeded in many ways only in alienating anyone and everyone outside and without its own culture. It is as if when one is converted, that one is converted to a culture. If that one fits not nicely and neatly into that church culture, then, that one is obviously not converted and in need of conversion. That is to say, “This is Christianity, and if you do not accept this culture, then you have rejected Christ.”

Granted, most in this church culture do not make this explicate claim, but the implications are clear even if the words are not. Those outside of the church and its culture (call them “un-churched” or “de-churched,” unsaved, heathen, pagan, or whatever), as well as newcomers to the faith (and old-timers as well), suffer the confusion and down-right confounding of this church culture. The world rightly views the church as the expression of Jesus Christ on earth. But what is implied in this expression is a certain culture which one must be a part. If that one rejects that church culture, then that one thereby also rejects Christ (or so it would seem). For 1500 years the outsider has had a choice of coldness toward God because of (at least a perceived) rejection, an endless struggle from within oneself of his/her place with God because the culture is not their own, or a complete and total conversional conformity to the culture of the church.

Counter-cultures, therefore, developed which poise themselves against Christ (because of the church culture implication) or at least find themselves indifferent to Christ and the church (and it’s culture). The church culture deems such competing cultures “worldly,” “wrong,” and “of the devil” and closes in upon itself, making itself an exclusive club void, by definition, of any inclusivity. But God; God moved within these counter-cultures to make Himself known. God moved in the hearts of many in the church culture to reach out to the alienated, the marginalized, the forgotten, the broken, the poor and the lepers of the norm. God, if you will, enculturated the Good News of Jesus Christ. God is the God of all (each and every) human being (whether they know it or not). God is the God of all and every culture (whether they know it or not). God cannot be contained by a single nation, a single culture, or a single people.

Today the church finds within itself a reformation – a revolution. It finds itself in the midst of a paradigm shift – a violent collision of accepted norms. There are Christians who have not converted to the church culture, but have been captured by a living Christ. These do not accept the moral/ethical decrees of the church culture but, rather, surrender themselves to the death of Christ, complete the sufferings of Christ, and experience the resurrection life of Christ. They know nothing other than the ever-outstretched arms of Christ, who loves humanity with all-inclusiveness and every form of declension, without exclusion. They do not look like, act like, talk like, walk like, or smell like the accepted church culture, but they are the church nonetheless; deemed so by Jesus Christ, the theology of His cross, and the love of God. This church is not an exchange of culture, but a change of life. It is not a conformation but a transformation. God has not made of all people one culture (sameness), but He has made of all cultures one people (oneness).

The Vision Reigns Supreme

The Vision reigns supreme! This simple phrase is the only concrete rule to doing church in the present paradigm shift. It has also proved to be a phrase of contention for many within the church. One problem is that the Vision is not our own, but is in fact from the mind of God and placed in the imagination of God’s Vision casters. Another issue is that we must understand that all are not Vision casters, but most are Vision carriers. Carriers of the Vision must be in constant connection with a Vision caster. Casters of the Vision often do not see the details of the Vision but are always imagining it; recognizing it when they see it lived-out. Vision carriers are usually detail oriented. They catch the Vision by living out its values. Values are the principles of the Vision which are experienced as mission.

The Vision reigns supreme. The values of the community where the Vision is cast cannot contradict the Vision. Vision casters equip Vision carriers to own the Values of the Vision. For example: The Vision insists that Christ died for all humanity. Therefore, a value of the Vision is that all are enveloped in God’s love for humanity; there cannot be a single individual (or group) that is not included in the all-enveloping love of God. Thus, the mission is to express the love of God to all humanity, and not just a few. Likewise, the notion that church is about folks being either, “right” or “wrong,” is not a value of the Vision. The Vision does not differentiate between “right” and “wrong,” but between God’s holiness and humanity’s lack thereof. Simply, there are values that are the Vision, and there are values that are not. Examples of Values:

Law and Grace Cannot Co-Exist
The necessity of the Cruciform (the Form of the Crucifixion)
“Church” is defined not by bringing people IN, but by sending people OUT
“Church” is not a building but a people
Christ centeredness rather than self-centeredness
The Kingdom of God shapes the church
Church doesn’t dictate the shape of the Kingdom

When the Vision reigns supreme it does not displace God, but it demands Him. If it is not from the mind of God it is not Vision, but only and simply an agenda – a human made plan and purpose; a human worldview that may or may not lay claim to God. But its values will speak to its origin. Furthermore, if the Vision reigns supreme then an individual (or individuals) cannot have a plan of action around which they manipulate the Vision to fit, but must plan their action firmly within the Vision. We do not get to do what we think is proper and call it Vision, for it is an agenda (by definition). The Vision reigns supreme and we must adjust to that reality.

Though Vision carriers are drawn to certain Vision casters, they follow the values of the Vision casted. Vision carriers are drawn to Vision casters 1) whom they like, 2) whom they will listen to and, 3) with whom they want to serve the Vision. The Vision caster expresses the Vision to equip the Vision carriers. Vision carriers live-out the values of mission. The Vision caster mandates no more rules than one: The Vision reigns supreme. The Vision carriers are accountable to the Vision, not rules, and the Vision caster is accountable to the Vision carriers (because the carriers express the values). That is the Vision! The Vision Reigns Supreme!

A Conversation With Religion

Religion: Isn’t god good?! To god be the glory!

Me: Of course God is good. Why would you feel the need to state something so obvious? And what do you mean by “to god be the glory”?

Religion: I mean, everything I do, I try to do in order to glorify god.

Me: You have the ability to do things – something; anything – that glorifies god? What do you mean by “glorify”?

Religion: I am obedient. I try to follow god’s commands. I pray in the morning, at meals, and at night. Even if everyone around me is caught up in the world, I put god first in everything I do.

Me: To what end?

Religion: I don’t know what you mean.

Me: Why are you doing these things? What is the goal? What is your intended purpose?

Religion: To please god!

Me: So, to you “be the glory,” then.

Religion: No! I do these things so that god is glorified.

Me: I don’t understand. How is God “glorified” because you feel that you are pleasing? Doesn’t doing – or attempting to do – all these things make you feel better about yourself?

Religion: These things make me a better person and god is pleased with me for that.

Me: I can’t follow the logic – What do you mean by “a better person”? “Better” by whose standards? How possible is it that God is “pleased” (whatever that means) by anything outside God’s-self? And am I to understand that God’s worldview – God’s point and purpose in and for creation – is for you to be a better person?

Me: Haven’t we returned to, “To you be the glory”?

Religion: No! I sin. I am a sinner. So I follow god’s commands to keep me from sinning. I try to be obedient to god by praying and by not doing the things of the world and by only doing things that glorify god.

Me: So you’ve said. What do you mean by “the things of the world”?

Religion: There are things that are of the world and there are things that are of God.

Me: So, in other words, you’re saying that there are secular things and there are sacred things – two distinct categories of things?

Religion: Yes!

Me: And these two categories are never to coincide? These “things” always and forever stay in their respective categories?

Religion: Yes! In fact, god is pleased with the things which glorify him and he will judge the things of the world. He is pleased with what is right. And will judge the things that are wrong.

Me: Interesting. Something else, outside of God’s-self with which God is “pleased” (whatever that means). And from where have these two categories come? Who has determined that these are the two categories?

Religion: god has said it in, in his word.

Me: “In his word?”

Religion: Yes, in the Bible.

Me: So the Bible is “the Word of God”? God has no other words?

Religion: If they’re not in the Bible then they’re not his words!

Me: Interesting; irrational, but interesting.

Religion: Logic and reason have nothing to do with it! God is beyond logic and reason.

Me: I don’t understand the sounds coming out of your face! We can’t even communicate without… Bygones… Does “the Word of God” state that “god is beyond logic and reason”?

Religion: Well, no. But logic and reason are things of the world.

Me: And the Bible states that fact?

Religion: [silence]

Me: My apologies. So let me see if I am understanding this – Your “obedience” – your attempt to follow “God’s commands,” praying, and doing what is “right” instead of “wrong,” for the purpose of making you a “better person” – brings “glory to God.”

Religion: I don’t like the way you’re saying it but, yes.

Me: And am I also understanding correctly that this – your “right” way of doing it – is the way God has prescribed in “his Word”?

Religion: Well, it’s not my way but, yes, it is the way the Bible says is right.

Me: And what of a person who does it differently – the “wrong” way?

Religion: There is only one way! Every other way is of the world. And the world’s way leads to Hell!

Me: You say “Hell” with such a sparkle – a flash – in your eyes.

Me: And just so I am clear – God will judge everything of that other category, those “things of the world,” correct?

Religion: Exactly! To god be the glory!!

Me: Well, I believe congratulations are in order.

Religion: What? Why?

Me: Because your god has brought everything into existence for the soul purpose of your obedience and his pleasure is found only in your attempts at doing right in the hopes of being a better person, in which he (somehow) finds himself glorified.

Religion: wait…

Me: This is incredible! And convenient, too!

Religion: How?

Me: Not only are you the central figure in god’s worldview, but god agrees completely with your version of events, and will judge everyone else accordingly! Congratulations, you’re the Messiah!

Me: Unfortunately, I will not be in paradise with you. Apparently I will be in “Hell.”

Religion: But you believe.

Me: No, I “believe” in a First Cause (logically) – an Uncreated Creator, necessarily; a self-aware being outside of space/time – that has brought everything into existence, not for the purpose of obedience but love – God’s own love. I “believe” that how God did this is not directly expressed in “the Bible” but in that creation itself (which is the purpose of science), and that all the books and libraries on the planet cannot contain all the things that God has to say.

Religion: You do not believe the Bible, then.

Me: I do not “believe” your interpretation and definitions. I “believe,” according to the original language of the Scriptures, that “the word of God” is God’s very own logic (logos, in the Greek, is “logic” and not specifically the written “word”). The Logic of God is God’s very own worldview, expressed to creation in creation, and revealed to humanity through the minds of human beings. Incidentally, I find it fundamentally flawed to believe that one can bind in a cover, capture on paper, and fully express with a pen – all nicely captured and transported in the human hands – the Word of God.

Religion: I have never heard the things that you’re saying.

Me: Just wait, I’ve got more offense! I “believe” that God, by definition is something/someone other than. And no amount of sacred Laws, moral/ethical codes, or self-righteous obedience to the same can somehow, magically, make me a person good enough to transpose space/time to be with God.

Religion: So you do not even try to please god.

Me: I do not “believe” that God could possibly be “pleased” with anything or anyone outside of God’s-self; otherwise, it is not “God” by definition of which we speak. Your own Bible says that no one can keep the Laws (“no not one”), for the Law is a picture of who God is and not who we should/can be therewith. You would have us attempt the impossible. And any “obedience” we claim to have is but a symptom of our degradation – it is only a lie we tell ourselves in an attempt to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.

Religion: If not by obedience, then how does God judge us?

Me: With the Cross of Christ! God is not judging humanity, but rescuing it. It is sin – the missing and subsequent moving of the mark of God’s intended goal for humanity – which God is “judging.” The rescuing act of God is sufficient for all humanity, yet efficient only for those who agree with God’s worldview.

Religion: So, you believe in universal salvation?

Me: I “believe” in universal atonement. If all have died in Adam, then all are alive in Christ. The logic is irrefutable.

Religion: This is not what I’ve been taught.

Me: Because you do not “believe” in thinking (logic and reason)! You understand it to be at odds, contrary to God when, in reality, it is from the mind of God. All the Natural Laws (of physics, thermodynamics, mathematics, and logic, etc.) are secondary causes, effects really, of the First (or Primary) Cause.

Me: And because you “believe” in some arbitrary division between the sacred and the secular – the things of God (“right”) and the things of the world (“wrong”). I cannot fathom what you mean by the division. By “world” do you mean creation? When God had caused creation, God said that it was “very good.” God loves God’s creation. Do you mean this present state in which we find ourselves? If so, why then does God come in the form of the humans of this present state? Why is God rescuing and restoring that which he, according to you, will “judge?”

Religion: But the Bible says…

Me: No, your interpretation of the Bible says… Without thinking, you “believe”… You have always been taught by others-of-the-same that “the Bible says…” You don’t even apply to yourself (yourselves) the same standard, concerning the Bible, to which you hold everyone else. You said “the Bible is the Word of God,” and that if it’s not “in the Bible” then it is “of the world.” But, defying the First Law of Logic, you contradict that premise by extracting a “belief” that is not biblical – “logic and reason is of the world.” You’ve adopted the Jewish texts as your own – Christianizing them – and ended up in the twilight zone for your lack of common sense.

Religion: Aren’t you afraid of going to Hell?

Me: First, I fear not, because I “believe” in the God (and God’s grace) that I proclaim. Secondly, fear is a tool in the attempt to control the masses. And finally, why?! Because I think for myself? Even if I’m “wrong” (which I am not), God will not zap me with lightning (that’s the action of another so-called god) because that defeats the purpose of the Cross, that brings all logic (and theology) crashing to the ground for lack of substance.

Religion: Then what do you think is God’s point and purpose?

Me: If the Scriptures (“the Bible”) are believable – and as the Christian First Principle it is necessary – then the only one who is “obedient” is Christ and, therefore, humanity is in need of God’s grace. That grace is abundantly available within God’s own worldview. Any other worldview (including yours) is counterfeit and contrary to reality. God’s worldview is to apply therapy, healing creation’s brokenness. And that worldview is for humanity to be an expression of God’s rescuing act. God is a community and all creation generally, and humanity specifically, is an expression of that image of God.

A Survey of Salvific Events

Humanity was first brought into existence by God in perfection, but also in formation – in perfection, in the sense that it was able not to sin; in formation, in that it was built to grow in love and mercy and grace. On one hand, it was made to retain perfection, but on the other it was incomplete in knowledge, experience, and wisdom, etc. The tension between perfection and formation (incompleteness) gave humanity a dynamic nature: It had the natural image of God, enabling it to relate and learn from God and it had the moral likeness of God where it could care for God’s creation as it learned God’s worldview.

But humanity fell out of proper relations with God and was, then, not able not to sin. This original sin – the missing and subsequent moving of the mark of God’s intent for humanity – is inherent within and throughout all humanity. It is not guilt that is inherited within humanity, but it is the distortion of Truth that permeates throughout humanity. We had lost any sense of perfection and all formation of God’s love, mercy, and grace for creation. God is not a Punitive God who judges humanity for its alienation from His worldview, its separation from God’s perfect formation of creation. God is a Therapeutic God, healing the sin that humanity now identifies with – that distortion of Truth; that alienation and separation from His worldview for creation, of which humanity now imitates and to which humanity now likens.

So God breaks into creation in the form of humanity, in the Person of Jesus Christ, to rescue humanity and to restore God’s proper image and likeness in creation. The Cross of Christ satisfies God’s divine justice for the offense of alienation and separation. The Resurrection Life of Christ restores the God-likeness in humanity (the original, natural image and moral likeness), bringing the healing and wholeness of the Great Physician to creation. Furthermore, in this restoration, the Spirit of God in the Resurrection Life of Christ brings humanity back into formation by inspiring and empowering it to walk-out God’s worldview for creation. In this work of God’s grace God reaches humanity with a universal restoring presence in creation, and as a witness to that presence in the life of the church with ordinary and extraordinary gifts for the formation of incomplete humanity.

The sin of alienation and separation present at times throughout its history notwithstanding, humanity in the form of the Church – the Body of Christ – is the Kingdom come; the reality of God’s world view. The Kingdom of God is not just a future event but is also a present reality; it is now, but not yet; it is developing, the silent increase of God’s reign in the created order. God’s rescuing act is not static, but is a present movement into the future. We experience now a foretaste of the everlasting Kingdom of God. Now, we live by the spirit in the Resurrection Life of Christ but, then, we will live a life with God in actual, physical resurrected bodies (not able to sin).

Thus, in grace God’s love has gone before humanity, healing its incapacity to respond to Him. God is wooing all humanity to turn from the lie, to renew its spiritual senses. The faithfulness of Christ restored the broken image and likeness, healing humanity, and empowering it to participate with the Spirit in its own transformation. Creation yearns to return to God’s worldview, where humanity learns from God how to care for it in His image and likeness again.

Religionless Faith

In Luke chapter 11 Jesus is railing against the religious leaders for not only refusing to enter into knowledge themselves, but also for refusing to let the people they’re supposed to be leading to enter therein (VS 52). In his letter to the Romans (chapter 2), Paul argues the same point and then concludes, “The name of God is slandered because of you” (VS 24), which is a loose translation of the account where God through Isaiah is making the same argument (Is. 52:5). The first charge against the church that I receive from those who are Un-churched is that of hypocrisy. The second charge, ignorance. And the third, controlling. Whether or not these charges are exaggerated in their explanations the point is valid, as a rule many Christians are not expressing a loving faith of Good News, but a conquering religion of fear.

Though they speak not only against Christianity, and despite the fact that we usually write their kind off as rebellious pagan unbelievers, we can learn a lot (in light of the Scriptures quoted above) from the Un-churched and the “non-believers.” One of my favorite bands has a song that goes like this: “They speak of love and tolerance…but thrive on people’s ignorance…making them all slaves of fear. They feed on your anxiety to build their dead society…They nurture prejudice and hate…in the name of whatever god. Increasing power is their price. They’re feeding you lies with calculating smiles, enslavement of the human mind. As long as you kneel to their authority, religion is what makes you blind. They treat you as spineless fools and use you as obedient tools….it’s time to set your spirits free. Your minds are enslaved…they’ve locked you up and thrown away the key.” ~ Amon Amarth, Slaves of Fear (Surtur Rising ©2011)

Another example from another of my favorites is more subtle: “What pain will it take to satisfy your sick appetite? Go in for the kill. Always in sight. Pray! The time always right. Feast! Feed on the pain. Taste! Sorrow made flesh. Sweet! …Shallow are words from those who starve for a dream not their own to slash and scar. Big words, small mind. Behind the pain you will find a scavenger of human sorrow. Scavenger! Abstract theory, the weapon of choice used by a scavenger of human sorrow. Scavenger! So you have traveled far across the sea to spread your written brand of misery.” ~ Death, Scavenger of Human Sorrow (The Sound of Perseverance ©1999)

In my conversations with folks (like the members of these bands), they associate God with our expression of Him and their reception (rather, the lack thereof) of our expression. They do not understand faith (and cannot without faith), but relate any involvement with any god as “religion.” Thus, relating religion to enslavement of hypocrisy, ignorance, and control. While these descriptors do not paint an accurate picture of faith – the relationship that Christ has instituted – they do bring to bear a valid interpretation of damaging religions that counterfeit such faith. To these folks, Christianity (along with any other religion paying homage to every other god) is simply a man-made institution that seeks to enslave and otherwise capture the helpless and hopeless of society.

As noted above, faith is not understood without faith, but the life we live in faith can be easily understood by believers and unbelievers, alike, if it is what we in fact portray, and not the dreaded religion of our own making. In the Scriptures above the accusation by Paul, Jesus Christ, and God Himself is against religion that counterfeits faith, precisely. No doubt, unbelievers are responsible for the natural revelation of God that they oppose (Rom. 1:18-20), but we are accountable for not giving witness of that revelation to them as well. Making disciples of the church is hereby in question. Making disciples of Jesus Christ is the inarguable purpose of the church. The argument herewith: Religion is what killed Christ (Matt. 27:20); Faith is for what He died (Rom. 3:25).

Hammering the Nails of Redundant Thought in the Religious Masses

“When the only tool you have is a hammer everything begins to look like a nail.” – Abraham Maslow —– The church in America is in a state of decline. There are more people going out the doors (be it carried in a box, or simply in mass exodus) than there are coming in them. Likewise, the groups of people who have never been a part of the church are growing in mass while their interest in the church continues to dwindle, respectively. The answers the church attempts to give speak to questions that aren’t even being asked and that haven’t been asked in a long time. The overwhelming focus within the church is polluted by the very same thinking – irrelevant and out-of-touch self-consumption.

“The problems in the world cannot be resolved by the same kind of thinking that created them.” – Albert Einstein —– The folks that know how to play church, or at least those who are susceptible to the “church culture,” are the same 40% of the population to which the church has been catering for years. It is a long-standing maxim that local churches stand and fall according to the exchange of “members” between them. What about the other 60% of the population? Are we waiting for “them” to become like “us”? Is there some point in “their” evolution where “we” take interest in “them”? What would “church” look like if “they” were included among “us”? Incidentally, church is not “Church” without “their” inclusion with “us.”

“Religion is the opiate of the masses.” – Karl Marx —– The ideology that “church” is a building to where we go, where we are entertained by a skilled professional, where we are consumers of that which is being peddled, and where we are spectators of the sport of “Christianity” is destructive and self-defeating. It is nothing more than a religion invented by humanity. It is nothing less than an addiction to a mind-numbing drug that dulls people to their responsibilities of being “the Church,” by definition. Church is the exercising of all the gifts of God in humanity.

In short, as long as the church attempts to answer the questions begged with more-of-the-same, future growth looks bleak. It is not because God has abandoned His worldview and neither is it because Jesus has abandoned His Church. It is because, at present, the church desires to manage the business of maintaining the status-quo of accepted norms. The established system senses death and seeks only self-preservation. Thus, in its death-rattle, it scrambles to produce more “programs” in an effort to prolong its state of unconsciousness.

Until we pull the plug on our self-centered religious system (and subsequently rise from the dead in Resurrection Life) we cannot answer the real questions asked and we cannot really be the Church – the expression of Christ – in a hurting world. God’s worldview is still the rescuing of humanity from itself, and Christ’s Church is still the place where God exercises that worldview. Once the Church recovers its role as the place where God meets the needs of humanity, once it ceases to operate out of human frailty (religion) and again moves and breathes in and out of divine essence (faith), once we come to the realization that Jesus Christ Himself is life for living, then we will see the true Mission of God; we will see, not conversions of cultures to Christianity, but transformations of lives in Christ.

Three-Pointed Expression

There are three points at which the church expresses relationship (or the lack thereof). These three points are layered; that is, they are always the same three points, but the identity and/or description of the three points can be expressed differently depending on the subject or object of the relationship. The three points are Upward, Inward, and Outward. For example, Jesus expressed an upward relationship with the Father, an inward relationship with His followers, and an outward relationship with a hurting world. First, Jesus expressed the mission of God in who He was; equipping him, secondly, to express that mission in and with His followers, which, finally, could be corporately expressed to a hurting world. Because Jesus had an upward relationship with God He could have an inward relationship with His followers and they could have an outward relationship with a hurting world. The expression of God’s relationship with Jesus is the focus for His followers, which is the expression of His followers to the world.

Another aspect, or layer, of this three-pointed expression is our own individual upward relationship with the Father, our inward relationship with our own-self because of that upward relationship with God and, our outward expression of those relationships with God and self in our relationships with others. If we attempt to outwardly express a relationship with God without first internalizing the relationship, our expression is broken. We expect others to experience something we have not, yet, experienced. Likewise, if we immediately go outward without first going upward, then we offer only the same brokenness and hurt that the world already knows and experiences because we, ourselves, have not healed.

The expression of the church is to be a reflection of its upward relationship with God, its inward relationship with itself, and its outward relationship with a hurting world because of its upward and inward relationships – in that order. A church that moves from the upward relationship with the Father to an inward relationship with itself, and does not move outward to the hurting world, is an exclusive club of ineffectiveness. What is outward only serves to feed itself. A church that moves from the upward relationship directly to the outward relationship, but does not first express the inward relationship, is hypocritical. It speaks of things it does not know and it finds its identity in the numbers of people in line in its outreach ministries. And a church that begins with the inward and moves outward, without the upward relationship with the Father, is simply and only a humanitarian aid; the ultra-social gospel, where humanity is on mission to fix humanity and not God’s mission to heal humanity.

Individually and corporately, we must strike a balanced order in our relationships and there expressions. Upward, inward, and then outward is the necessary order. The balance comes in relation to the personal need of the upward to heal the inward so as to express it outwardly. We must strike the balance individually before we can do so corporately. Yet, the corporate expression of upward, inward, and outward is where the individual order is forged. Oh, the importance of the primal upward!