Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Latte of Christ

I have frequently bemoaned the current trends in modern Christianity here. Fundamentalism has taken far too strong a grasp into the modern church. But, how has religous common sense been replaced by fantatical dogmatism? Part of that answer is the modern mega-church.

Many of the churches who have built congregations into the thousands are the churches putting forth ideas of non-acceptance and blind adoption of their tenets. Mega-churches are more like country clubs than places of worship; their popularity has been predicated on making congregants feel like members of an exclusive and priviledge elite. And part of your membership requirements is agreeing with what the church tells you to believe.

But why accept those tenets? What makes mega-churches so attractive in the first place? These exerpts from an article in the April 27th edition of the Washington Post reveal how:

For Church on the Move, one of the Bible Belt's fastest-growing nondenominational churches, the efforts to attract the next generation of believers comes at a 92,000-square-foot state-of-the-art community entertainment complex called Oneighty -- complete with basketball courts, 20 Apple iPod centers, 20 computers and countless video play stations suspended from the ceiling.

After listening to an hour-long sermon and Christian music performed by a 10-member rock band, students have full run of the place. It is a model that has been adopted by several hundred churches nationwide. "They make church fun," Ramiro Satoe, 13, said as he aggressively worked the race-car arcade game on a recent Wednesday night.

In the next few months, Church on the Move, which has 12,000 members, will renovate its lobby areas, putting in a cafe and conservation areas.

"We want to make our halls like Barnes & Noble -- feel at home, get here early, stay late . . . where we can talk about life issues, we can get to know each other," he said.

Indeed, gone are long fire-and-brimstone services. Wednesdays now tend to be more casual, social and personal -- a time to study the Bible, but also interact with like-minded worshipers who are often outnumbered on Sundays by what the devout church community calls the drop-in "seekers."

So, obviously the answer is: clever marketing and upper-middle class amenities. Really, ecclesiastical teaching has been replaced with Ipods, or at least made more interesting and palpable because you're sipping on a double mocha latte while listening to it. Also note the in-crowd attitude displayed by referring to Sunday-only worshippers as "drop-in 'seekers'." Sounds mildly condescending, doesn't it? These casual seekers aren't seen as being part of the truly committed, video-game playing, rock music listening church community.

I certainly don't begrudge a church providing entertainment outside of worship services and a comfortable environment for church members, but the whole purpose of church, to worship God and study God's teachings, seems to have taken a serious backseat in favor of church-malls and church-coffee shops. Malls and coffee shops where only the most devout and elite are truly welcome.

Thus are the politics of exclusion formed early in the fundamentalist world: through selective inclusion. So people who would probably be uncomfortable discussing homosexuality and gay issues but otherwise open become people who will not tolerate the moral threat posed by the "gay agenda." Their conversion from tolerant people to people who exclude others is predicated on their own fear that they will be excluded from their newfound church club of convenience and entertainment.

Membership to a church or participation in sanctified video games has overtaken the true practice of Christianity. The two have been great confused, as evidenced by this quote in the same Post article:

"Christians understand that church is not an activity -- it's a lifestyle," said Buddy George, a pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., home church of Rick Warren, author of the best-selling "The Purpose-Driven Life."

Like many modern Christians, Pastor George has it wrong. Church is an activity. Christianity and worship is a lifestyle.

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