Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Real Deal Churches

The George Foreman “Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine” has been around since 1995 and has reportedly amassed over $100 million in sales. I guess you could say it has a proven track record. Now, though, there is a new player in the market. Boxer Evander Holyfield, who defeated Foreman in the ring in April 1991, now wants to take big George on in the competitive grilling business. To that end, he has introduced the “Evander Holyfield Real Deal Grill.”

Wow. This is huge. I mean, Toyota vs. Ford? CNN vs. Fox News? PC vs. Mac? Britney vs. K-Fed? Obama vs. Hillary? They all pale in comparison to “Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine” vs. “Real Deal Grill”!

What caught my eye was a quote from Holyfield. In a news story reporting on this earth-shaking development, he said, “"I've got a George Foreman grill. It's a good grill. But don't you think the latest grill is supposed to be the best grill?" Now, I’m sure that the Real Deal Grill has other features to commend it, but right now the only thing I’ve seen touted in its favor is that it is the “latest” grill. And, being the “latest,” we’re supposed to assume that it’s the best. Does it perform better than Foreman’s grill? Maybe, but don’t worry about that—it’s the latest thing and that’s all you need to know!

I guess you must be a preacher to have a story about grills get you to thinking about the way things are in modern church life, but I am and it did.

On the one hand, there is much to commend in the classics. Many folks will continue to use their George Foreman grills because they’ve been around a long time, they have a good performance record, and they work just fine. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix (or replace) it,” they’ll say. Some of us are that way about church. “They way we’re doing it has worked for a long time, and we like it, so why change it?” I understand that way of thinking. To follow such thinking to its logical conclusion, though, we’d really need to ascertain as accurately as possible what the worship of the New Testament churches was and replicate that model as closely as we can. I mean, if we want to be classical, let’s go all the way. We err, though, when we want to maintain what we’ve always done without even knowing why we do it or what the significance of a particular practice is or whether a time-tested methodology is really effective any more.

On the other hand, there is much to commend in being flexible, adaptable, and creative. The Gospel doesn’t change but the world does and people do and we have to learn to speak different languages and adopt different methodologies as we go along. Still, I get a little nervous when it seems that someone thinks they are developing a “real deal” church just because it’s new and innovative. “Don’t you think the latest church is supposed to be the best church?” someone might ask. Well, no, not necessarily.

But neither do I think that the oldest church is supposed to be the best church. If I thought that, I’d have no choice but to join up with another faith tradition that can with legitimacy trace its institutional lineage back a lot farther than we Baptists can (with apologies to all those Trail of Blood, Landmark, “we don’t go back to Jesus, we go back to John the Baptist” devotees out there).

Let’s face it: lots of us think that our particular church tradition and our particular church practices constitute the “real deal,” whether we are in an old and established church or a brand new emergent church start or a church that’s somewhere in between.

I confess that when I hear about some new church trend or practice or methodology I sometimes have the same reaction that I did when I heard about the Real Deal Grill: do we really need that? But on the other hand, how do I know that the Real Deal Grill won’t offer something new that will prove really helpful? And how do I know that some new trend or practice or methodology is not God’s way of getting the good news to our changing culture?

Still, there is something to be said for the tried and true, for what God has historically and perpetually used for his glory. That’s why, I think, searching Christians are often drawn back to the ancient spiritual practices that have nurtured and formed Christian lives for centuries now.

Whatever we do, we should do it for the glory of God. What in our Christian practices and in our church life brings glory to God? Surely the answer is what it has always been: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Surely it is to major on relationships, the one we have with God in Christ and the ones we have with people. Surely it is to keep those main things the main things and be willing to be as flexible in the details as God calls us to be.

It is not “old” or “new” or “traditional” or “contemporary” or “established” or “emergent” that makes a church a Real Deal Church.

It is good, old-fashioned faithfulness to the one law: love.

Hey, let's face it: the final test of the grill is how it cooks the chicken.

The final test of the church is how it exhibits love for God and love for people.


The Beast said...

I thought it was good old fashioned faithfulness to food.

Joshua Ruffin said...

This is an issue that can be applied to virtually all aspects of life, indeed existence. Evolution, whether biological, psychological, political, or spiritual is nothing if not inevitable and necessary. I agree with your assessment...we MUST always look to improve ourselves, and our methods.

You know, the (paraphrased) dictionary definition of insanity is to continue along the same course of action even though it continues to produce the same results. Troop surges, anyone?

But seriously, I liked your post. I may be biased, but not many other pastors seem to have their heads anywhere besides the clouds or...well, you know.

Scott said...

Interesting analogy. As you conclude, I love my Foreman grill because I enjoy the taste of the chicken.

Jennifer and I were just discussing a similar point this morning. We liked our church in Nashville, because we fell in love with the people there. We had some theological differences with the worship, and we had our quibbles with the way that some things were done. But those minor things were easily overlooked because the church loved one another, and loved the people in the community around it.

You could say that, according to the analogy, the chicken tasted pretty good.

Now we are attending a church in Waco that we absolutely adore. We love the people here, and we have not experienced any theological quibbling about worship or anything else. In fact, every once in a while I wonder when the curtain is going to be pulled back, and all these flaws will be exposed that we never noticed before.

So I suppose that according to the analogy, now we have chicken that not only tastes good, but it has been marinated and had some spices add to it that make it taste like nothing else we have ever experienced.

The love of God, within the hearts and souls of the people of God, can blind us to our differences (in a positive way). I'm reminded of the book Joshua. In the story, Jesus (Joshua) has incarnationally returned to a small town. Each Sunday he worships at a different congregation, and is welcomed at every church that worships in truth and love, whether it be Catholic, Presbyterian, of Pentecostal. That story has stuck with me for many years, and I remember it often on Sunday mornings. If the worship honors God and transforms the people in the image of Christ, then we can be assured that our methods have passed the test.