Wednesday, August 24, 2011

a matter of words:: naked economic missiology and the "biblically screwy false witness" of attractional church

It's never about language and semantics.
It's always about language and semantics.

It's all we have.
But thank God it's not all that is.
And it's not all that God has.

I can understand  the complaints that recent conversations about Christology, missiology,  ecclesiology...and which precedes which...
as being merely academic  and a waste of time.

They sure can be, and often are.

And they are  just  clanging gongs if not implemented and actualized in actual, practical acts of  indiscriminate love for lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes.
But until we've wasted time in the ivory tower we may not be wasted enough to be any practical good on the streets below.
Theology makes praxis; and praxis makes perfect....and maybe perfect theology.

But again:

Words matter.
Largely because matter is words.
That's not just intriguing linguistics, but cutting-edge physics,
it's good theology .

Uh, oh.
Just theory, right?

"There's nothing more practical that theory, and nothing more theoretical  than practice."
When I first heard, and considered that phrase, not even knowing it was Marx, it made sense
(Evangelicals might flinch, but Jesus, Ellul and Žižek would approve),

Theology is formed, forged, and practiced in the street, as we do mission(=do life).
"Tear the curtain down, pull the altar to the ground," the 77s once sang, ostesibly about worship.
But bring down the theology and missiology as well.  That alters our altar..
Yank theology into the streets, and do it among (and with) street people., street walkers,  street fairs, street sweepers.

What's the deal with seminaries with a "Department of Practical Theology"?
Departments  can compartmentalize.
Calling it practical can ensure it's not practiced.
See "God loves donkeys, sweat, entrails and menstruation"

All this talk is not just all talk.
It is necessary to subvert and reorirent our imaginations..

...and our language.
Which matters, and is matter.

Two case studies.

Not long ago, our church had some documents to fill out for the IRS  (Why in the world is church connecting with IRS?..  But that's another post and topic for another day).  So I said to one of our leadership team, "can we have you sign a form after worship?"

Later, as we were signing, she said "I wondered wbat happened.  You said we should sign  after worship, so when we didn't sign after worship, I figured you forgot."

I had absolutely no idea what she meant.

Then it hit me.  In many circles (and in her previous church, the songs that are sung early in the gatherings  are called "worship" or the "worship time" or "worship songs."  So she thought i meant "after the music," and I meant "after the gathering (Of course, my definition was even more problematic)..

It is unbelievable that so few ever even notice, let alone challenge, this common practice in contemporary church.  As I blogged a few years ago:

A strange shift began about fifteen years ago,

Ask most evangelical or charismatic Christians in USAmerica about the place of "worship"
in a gathering. For some strange reason, the word has come to be synonymous with "the songs sung early in the meeting."

"Good morning! After the worship, the children will be dismissed, and Pastor Steve will share from God's word"

We even call the person leading the singing the "worship leader."
Whazzup with that?

Of course, this definition is foreign to Scripture, and to the church in all history and places..until our lifetime in the ... continued

It's only words, but words matter and cement our reality, worldview, hermeneutic, and practical theological/missional acts/axis.

Dan Kimball even asks "Should the church accountant be the one called the 'worship pastor'"? 
He's only half joking.

Walter Brueggeman, who never jokes, quips that "The key issues of worship in the community are fundamentally economic."

Talk to Wolfgang Simson, please.

Note that the term economics comes from the Ancient Greek οἰκονομία (oikonomia, "management of a household, administration") from οἶκος (oikos, "house") + νόμος (nomos, "custom" or "law"), hence "rules of the house(hold)".[1]  

Evertying is langiuage.
Everything is mission.
Everything is worship.
Everything is economic.

Frost and Hirsch:
Worship therefore is not a utility but an offering, that is a sacrifice, an economy of grace that interrupts and critiques the feverish cycles of production and consumption, which is why  the collection is not fundraising bur cultural critique."  ("The Faith of Leap,"161)

All of life is econimic, including worship.
All worship is missional, including the collection.
All collections are cultural critique.

Don't worry, it's just semantics.
Or semantics that are just.

Time for the second case study.

Music is not worship.
Worship is not music.

Note, though, we need qualifiers here, in the first case study: Music is part of worship, etc.

BUT, our second, deeper, case study:

Church is not a building.
A building is not a church.

No qualifiers needed.

If the Bible is our lexicon.

If life itself is our lexicon.
I love Dylan's quote: "The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.”

It's our songs, and eventually our lifesongs, that reveal what we believe.

Not our words or church words, as Peter Rollins reminds.

This case study, seeing church as a building, is far deeper, and far more fundamental..

...and inevitably, eventually idolatrous.

"it's not only pathetic, it borders on false witness." (Frost and Hirsch, p. 175, emphasis mine).

Not just because of the "obvious reason": churh is the people..

But because  missiology precedes ecclesiology.

Because, as  Frost and Hirsch emphasize, mission is the  "organizing function," " catalyzing principle"  that "brings to life" the other three functions of church (worship, community, discipleship.

"this makes sense of why Christians refer to the building that house the weekly worship meeting as 'the church.'  It leads Christians to refer to the fact that they 'go to church'.  This phrase in itself is biblically screwy and most Christians know it, but they can't break from the default mode that tells them that the worship experince [not mission/Missio Dei] organizes everything that we understand church to be.  )169)
Tim Neufeld: "Our spirit of outreach is a veil for self-absorbed religious tourism."
And I make the case ( Pepsi, Sex, Elevation, Mission Trips That Are Actually Missional)
that not just tourism, but also voyeurism  and  exhibitionism.

Whats up with short term "quickie" mission trips?  Here's a fuller quote from Tim:

.. I have seen and been a part of many mission trips that have a stated purpose of helping the people they are going to minister to. Churches raise $50,000 to visit an exotic country or flock across the border into Mexico. Team members feel good when they return home because they have served, but missionaries often report that the groups they host are loud, arrogant, culturally insensitive and often more trouble (to the missionary or national pastor) than they are worth. I wonder if the best thing that happens in Mexico over spring break is that American churches stimulate the Mexicali valley economy by buying tacos and Pepsis. Our spirit of outreach is a veil for self-absorbed religious tourism. But we feel good about ourselves when we come home."Our spirit of outreach is a veil for self-absorbed religious tourism. But we feel good about ourselves when we come home." (-Tim Neufeld, Occasio blog)

If you come home feeling bad about yourself, the mission trip probably worked.
Feel good about yourself if if you feel badly about yourself upon re-entry.

It means you have the gift of reassessing your theology, theory, language, worship, economics , sexuality and mission.

Because it all starts with  mission...or, uh, sex:

"For many, sexuality is simply what happens between two people involving physical pleasure. But that's only a small percentage of what sexuality is. Our sexuality is all the ways we strive to reconnect with our world, with each other, and with God." (Rob Bell, "Sex God," p. 42)...
Everything is sexuality...and elevation thereof (as the rabbis and Bono preach)

Male and female in the image of God..
The only way we multiply.
The only we are missional.
Not  talking the sexualizing of mission and  taking sexed up mission trips.
We're taking about  taking a trip into  missional theology (=sexuality).

It's all language.
Naked language.
Sexual language

A missional church will be on the front lines of sexuality...
we cultivate e a missional sexuality.

Examples of such undepartmentalized practiical theology? Check out and its Extreme Makeover Brothel Edition, or check into churches/ministries that address and redress human trafficking..
(as opposed to  just "shoulding" on people.with lectures that "Pre-marital sex is evil"  "Abortion is a sin," true as those truisms are, better to start more holisically, Hebraically...theologically.)

The call is to baptize our sexuality (not sexualize our baptism)

Here's a  quirky video that ties up some of these thoughts:
NOTE: it's not for the religious or faint of heart.
But it offers a reminder that old school church can be so consumed with consumerism (the evil twin of economics, which you'll remember has to do will all of life and worship) that it overlook wayward sexuality.sexual immorality (Remember our definition of sexuality...Language matters).

Uh, if you are still here after that video (:..

Let's talk.
It's not just language.
It always is.

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