On Tuesday, I wrote a post called The curse of postmodernism. This is part two. In a paper entitled Some Thoughts on Ecclesiology, Post-Modernity, and the Grace Fellowship of Churches, Atlanta area pastor Bishop Jonathan Alvarado explores what he calls the “secularization of the values of the church”.
It has been my observation over the past several years that a growing phenomenon has surfaced with respect to the church and its relationship to the world. It occurs to me that there has been a driving force from within the ranks of church leaders to manufacture a facade and foster a general disposition of the church attitudinally, that in my estimation is becoming more volatile and destructive. I do not speak of the necessary contextualization for the purposes of reaching and impacting the larger society with the gospel. Nor am I referring to some manifestation of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in some radical or “cutting-edge” ways. What I am directly addressing is the secularization of the values of the church beginning with the expressed value systems of some of the leaders of the church, many of whom having positions of great media notoriety and influence over the constituent Christian community.
Alvarado’s paper attempts to address what I believe is more of a reccurrent phenomenon rather than a “growing phenomemon”. Nevertheless, its another welcome look at what we are currently experiencing with such inbred doctrines like the prosperity gospel, the emergent church and the gay christian movement. Such errant beliefs aren’t new, just reconfigured as they all spring from various heresies [see antinominianism for example] assaulting the church since its formation. Much of it is a mixture of contemporary culture, religious ideology and a sprinkling of scripture. Alvarado is a self described “intellectual pentecostal and sophisticated theologian” among other things, so I’ll leave it to you to determine whether or not his paper hits the mark. I do think the questions posed at the conclusion of the paper are excellent and should be answered. That’s where I want to jump in. His questions are bolded.
1. What are some of the implications for a church whose faith is not being defined biblically or theologically?
The implications have actually progressed to realities. The church has already begun its slide into apostasy by leaving its biblical moorings and as a consequence is being redefined as a place where comfort is more desirable than commitment. The church has been redefined as a place of broad inclusion without the call to exclusive discipleship. I could go on. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor 10:11 These things happened to them [Isreal] to serve as an example[to us], and they were written down as a warning for us in whom the culmination of the ages has been attained. But we have ignored the warnings and ignored God’s voice speaking through his prophets. Instead, the church has gone whoring after the very things that precipitated the judgment of God upon Isreal. We are well beyond the implied stage.
2. How does postmodern thinking affect our theological constructs today?
Postmodern thinking has reduced our once high Christology (referring to the preeminence of Christ) to a believe-as-you-want philosophy. When Christ and the Word are not extolled as the alpha answer to all of life’s complexities, contemporary theological constructs become meaningless exercises in religious pandering. The impact is most seen in the high numbers of moral failures, criminal activity and sexual waywardness in church leadership which is then excused and tolerated as simple mistakes. Those expositing the Word do so not from a place of divine unction, but from their own compass of failures and struggles. We see through a glass darkly, but postmodernism completely darkens our somewhat dim view. More succinctly, it creates an atmosphere where comfort is demanded and conviction is eschewed.
3. Does the changing face of the contemporary church pose a threat to classical Christianity?
Neither ethnicity, gender, nationality, age or any other immutable human characteristic pose any threat to “classical” Christianity. The threat emanates from our own failure to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints. There shouldnt be regionalized versions of our faith, but one faith, one Lord and one baptism.
4. How do we as church leaders handle the modern blending of ideologies and what implications does this have for orthodoxy in this postmodern era?
First, let’s make sure we understand orthodoxy as right belief, not traditionalism. We already have a fairly intact blueprint presented to us in the scriptures. Contemporary ideologies will always need to be examined in light of biblical truth/standards without variance. There should be a quality assurance approach to dealing with any ideology, no matter what its origin may be. Paul wrote to the Galatians 1:8, But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (NASB) Its no secret that there are many open heresies and heretics operating in the church, yet we are largely silent and passive because we fear offending people. The apostles all dealt with such challenges and held fast to what was true as a way of rejecting foreign matter introduced to the body. They all used strong language and strong remedies (Jude comes to mind) to unite believers in a common orthodoxy. Today, we must follow their example if we expect to achieve the same results.
5. Does looking through an untrained or contemporary lens positively or negatively affect the church’s hermeneutic?
It depends of the extent of one’s “untraining”. That would be the greater concern, not whether the lens is contemporary. Relevance does matter, but not to the degree that we abandon the standards of our faith to appease or attract people into the Kingdom.
6. How do we as postmodern believers negotiate between contemporary thought and methodology and “the faith once delivered”?
The first hurdle is understanding and embracing a perspective greater than our own. A kingdom perspective which transcends our “visions” no matter how lofty they may seem to be. God’s goal is always greater than mine and when conflict arises, I should always defer to God’s will. Im not sure I would apply the adjective term postmodern to believers as per the textbook definition. It would immediately restrict us to a way of thinking certain to conflict with biblical directives. Contemporary thought shouldn’t arbitrarily be assigned a negative connotation unless it has indeed been determined to be a negative. Our filtering as believers in a contemporary environment needs to be one wary of subtle influences which incrementally could affect our vision and interpretation of what we see on a daily basis. A healthy suspicion of anything (berean principle?) is advisable until it can be indentified as friendly or hostile to our faith.
7. How do we as a church move from being followers of cultural change to becoming change agents in the earth?
On one level that is contingent upon leadership. Followers are taught to follow leadership. That’s the current prevailing paradigm of the church. But if leaders want to foster a “salt of the earth” mentality in followers, they have to drastically reduce sole dependence on leadership to live their lives for them. The unhealthy co-dependency fostered by many leaders only serves to cripple followers and render them incapable of independent ministry. Each believer should be taught from day one that they are called to ministry as we are all priests unto God. That’s one of our foundational concepts rarely emphasized in churches. We need to deactivate all language and concepts (particularly the church member[ship] concept)which facilitates this mentality and then actively require people to serve the kingdom as a collective individuals.
8. In light of question seven, can this be accomplished without becoming tainted with the filth of the systems of society, which are corrupt and self-serving?
Yes. It may be more a matter of personal character, fidelity and focus than the tainted systems of the world. Those systems are in place to tempt us and most likely will remain, thus our response to the seduction of the filth, should change. That ensures our purity in the midst of an impure world.
9. With the advent of high-speed everything, how should the church filter the information that its members are receiving? Is there a viable option for information discrimination?
The problem is not the information venue, but the intent of those presenting the information. When for instance a blog is portrayed as a purveyor of gossip without an individual looking at its content critically, people squander an opportunity to be empowered. All technological portals are to be employed in the promulgation of the gospel and not one of them should be ceded to the enemy. The broader issue seems to be a fear that exists in leadership. The fear is that the “pew member” may learn something which conflicts with what the leader is attempting to instill. That has its pros and cons, but primarily the fault lies with leadership not encouraging honest berean research. 2 Tim 2:15 applies to every believer, not just those who elect to attend seminary with the intent to enter organized ministry. We cannot escape that we live in an information age, which was actually prophesied in Daniel (12, vs 4). Rather than looking for alternatives, we should ensure our character has integrity and then maximize use of the information to our advantage.