Today I had two, very different experiences – I prepared for our church members’ meeting coming up on Sunday and I spoke with a young man who wasn’t convinced that the organized church was relevant anymore. It made me think about church and fellowship and why we do what we do. Does church membership make any difference? Is there a need for Christians to gather in an organized way? As long as I have a Bible and Jesus, can’t I improvise the rest? Those questions led me to a quote of Max Lucado’s that I’ve read before and found insightful and encouraging. In the book Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear he writes, Questions can make hermits out of us, driving us into hiding. Yet the cave has no answers. Christ distributes courage through community; he dissipates doubts through fellowship. He never deposits all knowledge in one person but distributes pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to many. When you interlock your understanding with mine, and we share our discoveries, when we mix, mingle, confess and pray, Christ speaks. Lucado highlights for me 3 critical perspectives on church and fellowship.
While the Bible does use the word “marry” and “marriage,” rather than add an eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt have a wedding,” there is a commandment not to commit adultery. And you begin to realize that if it’s a sin to sleep with someone who’s not your husband or wife, then there must be some formal process to identify where a marriage begins and when it ends. In a world without weddings or marriage, you’d never have adultery. Because the lines were never formally drawn, it would be impossible to nail down when you’d actually crossed them. I think church membership is a little bit like marriage.
This morning I woke up listening to a podcast interview on marriage with Matt and Lauren Chandler. They’ve gained attention for their book on marriage entitled, “The Mingling of Souls,” and are promoting an upcoming conference that will be offered on-line in February. Several things stood out to me.
Our campus worker with Power to Change invited me to their year-end conference P2C+. I was busy with sermon preparation and other ministry with the short week, and so could only spare half a day on New Year’s Eve, but it was well worth the time. I’m not sure what I expected. There were probably 800 students gathered and it would have been easy to entertain them with light talks on hot topics. What I got instead was a hard-hitting morning on the theme of suffering.
This week, GraceAnna Castleberry made waves with her article on “The Dior Woman and True Freedom.” She was commenting on the new commercial from perfume maker Christian Dior. In it, Natalie Portman stars as a runaway bride, who abandons the altar, casts off her white wedding dress, and runs in a black cocktail dress to a nearby cliff where a handsome man is waiting in a helicopter to fly her into the sunset and the “freedom” she craves. The clip is just over a minute long and so we’re left to interpret the details, but Castleberry has a healthy suspicion of its message. She says this:
“Have we really reached a point where freedom is portrayed by such petty play things like a little black dress, a helicopter ride, and a man to kiss but not commit to? Is freedom merely the absence of responsibility? If that’s the definition of freedom, I don’t want it. It has such an achy hollow feel it hurts.”
Two weeks ago I began to talk about our Learning Centre discussion on the “no strings attached” (N.S.A.) approach to relationships that North Americans are characterized by. I shared that sociologists summarize the Canadian mind-set as being typified by low trust, low obligation and high freedom. These qualities are not just unbiblical but extremely unhealthy because:
- A lack of trust will lead to isolation and loneliness relationally.
- A low obligation mindset will lead to problems professionally and maritally because healthy commitments are the glue that holds relationships and organizations together.
- A priority on freedom will cause someone to check out when things get uncomfortable.
Given the emphases of our culture, it’s not surprising to me that baptism has become less and less popular in the church – and yet I’m convinced that it’s one of the things God has designed to bring healing to our N.S.A. issues. When was the last time you thought about baptism?
Earlier this fall, I shared in the Learning Centre about one of the things I learned about Canadian culture when I went to Japan. I didn’t realize until I left my own culture that the Canadian approach to relationships is known by sociologists and others by the acronym N.S.A. That doesn’t refer to the National Security Agency but the “no strings attached” style of relationships that Canadians and Americans have become known for. We’re considered friendly and informal, but as one sociologist described, they “always think everyone is their friend. But they don’t trust anyone.” Or someone described the mindset as, “relationships should be something that exist for the sheer enjoyment of them – not something to which you’re obliged.” Or another person has said, “Our friendships are based on freedom to come and go as we please.”