Church in a Trance (by Dr. Bradley Duncan)
The church is in a trance. We sleep. We indulge. We self-perpetuate. We shelter ourselves. We exclude others.
We fight a few battles but they are often the wrong ones, battles which serve to lobby for our own interests but fail to respond to God’s calling.
We invest a tremendous amount of resources (time, money, talents, influence) to establish our own kingdom, doing a dance. We’re in a trance. We follow along and keep doing activities, but in getting caught up with these activities, we’re avoiding much of the real meat of kingdom life, like nurturing relationships, responding to God’s calling, and helping the world. What if there was a way to spend 10% of our time administrating, organizing, and producing a religious environment, and the other 90% investing in real living?
Here’s a vision of what this could look like, organized around some key “vision” words: Responsibility, Acceptance, Freedom, and Response.
Responsibility: The global church is a massive group of people with a common thread: faith and the work of the Holy Spirit. We should recognize the tremendous resource we have, and realize the tremendous responsibility we have to utilize this resource for the common good. Too often we view the world outside the church as messy, ugly, transient and doomed. We wash our hands of it and do our own thing! Well, what if what Jesus meant by the Great Commission and by the example of his life was more comprehensive than just spreading a message? What if it meant “start a fire that transforms the whole Earth into my kingdom”? What if it meant to care, not just to preach and judge?
We’re largely ignoring the world around us, while people are hurting and need real love, relationships, and material help. I don’t mean improving the world into our own image of a giant religious system, I mean investing our time, money and effort in really caring, really transforming, really fighting injustice.
In business terms this kind of responsibility is also called “Ownership” or “Empowerment.” In social terms, this kind of responsibility is called “Maturity.” When a person is a child the world revolves around his wants, needs, fears, and his desire for comfort. As we grow in maturity, hopefully we realize that the world is bigger than ourselves and our family and we try to give back to our community, notice the needs of our neighbors, fight against things that are wrong, and speak out to lead others.
Can the church grow up now? Can we move from childish, shallow, self-focused behavior, to a more mature outlook where we see that the world needs us? There’s no downside. If we grow up, wake up, and care, we better accomplish everything Jesus called us to. If we invest less in our weekly religious activities to do this, I really don’t think he’ll mind! After all, isn’t true worship to care for widows and orphans?
In a trance, we still define true worship as a heart-gripping song. Church, it’s time to wake up and snap out of the trance. Time for some Responsibility.
Acceptance: This is a hard word when we really mean it. It’s synonymous with “Grace.” Grace is what happened when God decided to accept us, to offer relationship to us, and to love us unconditionally. He used his supreme authority to offer us a promise of friendship. Since he did that while we were messy, ugly, and self-absorbed, it means that he accepted us the way we are.
He didn’t put other conditions on his offer. Christ came to rescue the prisoners and offer them full access to himself and the Holy Spirit. He infused the naked hurting world with goodness, available to anyone and everyone! No strings attached. How can Grace ever mean “conditional love”? If it’s unconditional then it can’t depend on our lifestyle, our set of ideals, our frequency of reading the Bible, our participating in a local church, or our habits of committing “A-list” sinful behaviors! As Jesus said regarding the harlot, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” This means the “regular” sins of self-indulgence, prejudice and arrogance were at the same level as the “A-list” sins like prostitution. Do we treat regular and A-list sinners the same? Don’t we all have lists of unacceptable and acceptable people?
I’m not justifying wanton sinful behavior, I’m advocating a new concept for us wanton judgmental types, called “Acceptance”. We should accept people the way they are. On the other hand, we should NOT accept hate and injustice. This would be inconsistent with our ideals of unconditional love. In other words, we must reject rejection in our churches.
Freedom: With acceptance and responsibility we unlock the true meaning of salvation. The word “salvation” means some sort of liberation, leading to “freedom!” Freedom from what? Well that depends on what has you captive. For many of us in the church tradition, we are captured in a trance of self-indulgence, and a cycle of judgment and hate based on idealistic moral rightness.
On the other hand, many people in the world are captured by tangible chains like addiction, exploitation, poverty and hunger, and sickness with lack of access to health care. People are captured by the evil behavior of others, including neglect, abuse, intolerance, harsh work ethic and unkind treatment. People are trapped in relationships and economic situations. They need kindness, education, opportunity, support, access to basic health care, or advocates to free them from oppressive exploitation. Carrying the true message of Freedom to the ends of the Earth means liberating people from the evil caused by others, and working as hard as possible to fight harsh living conditions.
We can also practice salvation, liberation, freedom in our own dealings with other people. When we accept them the way they are, and empower them to partner with us for a common cause, we can liberate them to make their own choices. When we offer Freedom inside the church community, we release people from following rules and norms, and treat each other as partners to achieve a common cause.
The opposite of Freedom is Control. The System of Control is our own kingdom. The System of unconditional acceptance, and therefore Freedom, is the kingdom of heaven. Which kingdom will we invest in?
Response: So, what does God really want? He went to a lot of trouble to offer friendship to us. He came to Earth as a man and died on the cross to make a way for us. What is his Will? I broadly call what God really wants, “Response.” If you are a married man, what does your wife really want? Does she want compliance? Does she want slavery, good works, usefulness from you? Maybe sometimes (as we all know!), but she will tire of robotic slavery quickly if you don’t respond to her need for relationship. When she offers you her love, what does she want? A Response!
What we often call worship is better called a Response to God’s offer of love. The kingdom of heaven, established on Earth, is God’s people in relationship with him. It’s a kingdom of Freedom, that we receive from God and must bestow upon each other.
It is just impossible to relate to God at a mature level while we’re still in the Trance. It’s time to wake up and grow up. Can we change? God is waiting for our Response.
Dr. Bradley Duncan is an aerospace engineer living in Boston. He blogs at http://GraceEmerges.blogspot.com and started the “Open Church Initiative” Facebook page.