This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Friday, October 2, 2009

If You Build It, They Will Come (Part 5)

i believe that most churches i've been associated with in my life (and i include myself in this remark) are waist deep (at least) in Western materialism and don't even realize it; and few people in them are really in a position to assess objectively just how riddled with sinful me-and-my-stuff-ism they really are. That right there scares me. Because a church with very materialistic values can always appear to themselves and others to be doing a good thing even when they're not.

Plus, even if a particular case where a church implemented a build-it-and-they-will-come strategy has nothing wrong with it in and of itself, it still solidifies an overall position in our culture where we're more likely to harbor our materialistic and selfish values rather than to become critical of them. If we've all had cake and ice cream three meals a day for generations now and we've always believed that's how we ought to live, then there's no one who's nutritionally healthy to provide us an objective reference point by which to see just how sickeningly unhealthy we are.

What about plain old simplicity? If i personally need all kinds of additions and decorations and extras just to get interested and stay interested in Christianity, then does that suggest there's something wrong with Christianity or with me? Would God really give mankind a message and practice that just isn't adequate for anyone outside the first century? Would God really give us a message and practice that just can't stand on its own, but needs our help to get it off the ground? To me it seems like a form of discontent. 'The NT's way of doing things just isn't enough for me or for people in my community.'

i know someone could respond and say, 'hey, but maybe making those kinds of decorations is a part of the NT's way of doing things.' But is it? Maybe i'm wrong, but it seems the early church was characterized by a beautiful simplicity. At the end of the day, what did the early church really have? "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer." (Acts 2:42) (Okay, it's true you could argue they technically had a little more than that. But whatever more you could add to the list, they most certainly did not have any 'bells and whistles' akin to the productions put on by many churches today.) All they had were these simple principles of belief and ritual--and yet the early church thrived!

So when contemporary churches get it in their heads that they'll never thrive without elaborate facilities, state-of-the-art technology, and better-than-corporations-could've-done-it programming, i can't help but think we must be doing something drastically wrong. Something must be wrong at a far more systemic level than just 'our building isn't pretty enough.'

Doesn't it stand to reason that if the first century church could absolutely flourish on such simplicity of strategy and sustenance, that we should be able to do the same in our time?

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