Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is Evangelism a Selfish Idea?

I am preaching on the parables and other tidbits of wisdom from the Jesus Seminar Jesus. The red and pink sayings (and a few gray ones that I like) will be my "lectionary" for a while. Last week I preached on the parable of the Dinner Party.

After the service a church member commented on this line in Luke's version:

And the master said to the slave, "Then go out into the roads and the country lanes, and force people to come in so my house will be filled." Luke 14:23

He said
that is the problem.

He is right of course.

Evangelism is a selfish idea.

You know, it could be that the people in the roads and country lanes are perfectly happy. Whose interest is served by forcing that person into the dinner party?

The master in this parable doesn't care about people or what they care about. He just wants his house filled. The Church interpreting the master as God and itself as God's broker, thinks its role is to force everyone into its pew (and subsequently its morality and its beliefs).

Another friend sent me a link to
this story:
Following months of scandal and years of waning popularity, the Catholic Church plans to attack secularization by going after sheep that have strayed from the flock. Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that the Church will create a new pontifical council to "re-evangalize" the West, the Associated Press reports. Speaking at an evening vespers' service in Rome, Benedict said that the office will " 'promote a renewed evangelization' in countries where the Church has long existed 'but which are living a progressive secularization of society and a sort of 'eclipse of the sense of God.' " (Europeans: This means you.) The news comes a day after Benedict condemned Belgian authorities for raiding Church offices as part of their ongoing investigation into the sex abuse scandal. The Pope has not tapped anyone to head the office—dubbed the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization—but the Italian media speculates that the job will go to Monsignor Rino Fisichella, the current chief of the Pontifical Academy for Life. If Bendict does pick Fisichella, it won't be without controversy: Last year, the official came under fire for backing doctors who performed an abortion on a 9-year-old Brazilian girl who had been raped by her stepfather.
The Protestants are no less hypocritical. We use lofty concepts like evangelism when membership numbers are down. We use lofty terms like stewardship when budget numbers are down.

Now there is nothing wrong with an organization wanting to increase its membership and influence. I do it. My congregation has created its own little niche and I do what I can to promote it and welcome people into its life. We like to think that what we do is a good thing.

But it is very easy to slip from
We are doing a good thing.
You are not doing a good thing unless you do it with us.
That has been the Church's image of itself. It sees itself as superior to the rest of the world. That unless people are like it, that unless people share its "sense of God" that is apparently being "eclipsed" by "secularization" then people are worse off in some sense.

To put my cards on the table, I am in favor of secularization. I think the reason church numbers decline is because many people don't find the church interesting or useful. In fact, the church has come to represent backward, repressive views (anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-science).

Don Cupitt makes an interesting argument that the historically charitable aspects of the church have become part of the modern democratic society. He writes:
In short, the modern ethical state is far kinder to its own weaker members than ever the state was in the so-called ages of faith. Since 'the Death of God' (around 1680-1720) the liberal democratic state has gradually come to perform the traditional Corporal Works of Mercy on a vast scale, and today actually implements much of Jesus' programme. In the post-Christian epoch, as the Church has slowly died, the state has become startlingly Christian. The state's ethics is today much more Christian than is the official ethics of the churches. p. 99, Jesus and Philosophy
It seems to me that rather than try to force people back into archaic categories of belief and morality, the Church ought to adapt its strengths to a new era.

The Church certainly does have strengths (ritual, music, art), resources (community, creativity), and infrastructure (buildings, connections) that could be beneficial to individuals and to communities as we navigate through life's quickly changing challenges.

But forcing people to its dinner party isn't the way to go.