This has been a tough week with tensions high between an art student critiquing Christianity as a commercialized religion and those accusing the poor lad of Satanism. Somewhere in between sanity was lost and atheists gained another self-professed atheist. (Well done Team A! And what the f*ck Team C?) But before we accept the term atheist with a capital “A” let’s see where the lad is in ten-years or twenty-years or forty-years time. I suspect there’s going to be an interesting journey where the question of God is settled with utter certainty only to return repeatedly and for the critique to burn ever deeper in their heart and mind. I can’t wait to see how this unfolds! But the ‘subject’ of the artwork was Christianity and its commercialization. So let’s get back to that for one more post here.
One of the movements that released a clear statement is the Vineyard Movement in South Africa. And after releasing their statement, I responded as follows:
It is, however, “the ‘subject’ of the artwork that demands our objective and discerning critique” and not the artwork or student.
I don’t believe we’ve yet seen enough “objective and discerning critique” of the churches and denominations and businesses. I believe the response of the Vineyard Movement is suitably placating without addressing ‘the subject’ of the artwork and without accepting the prophetic critique as relevant to itself. And in South Africa as a post-renewal movement transitioning between generation one and generation two this critique is extremely relevant. The ‘subject’ of the artwork are the churches and their commercialization of Christ and Christianity. The result is that God is good business. So in lieu of the students work being censored and them declared persona no grata and discarded in the news bin too quickly, I offer my own artwork above. It is precisely what the lad said sans or without the “blasphemy” as in touching upon the symbols that ought not to be touched and providing the critique to be critique. It is, however, missing something spicey and that’s precisely the problem. Christians and Christianity wants a sanctioned critique and can make you spend so much time on it that you don’t get to actually explore the critique.
To start, I acknowledge that as adults we have bills to pay and that whatever you give your time to costs time and energy. So if you work full-time and do ministry part-time, then you can only be so effective at either. So it makes sense to support those in ministry as those called by God to ministry. There is, however, an institutionalism to Christianity wherein what once was Christendom now presents itself as churches that are actually commercialized and Christian-flavoured businesses offering their services. We see this everywhere and so often that we’re actually ok with this.
Churches like the Assemblies of God and Vineyard and the Apostolic Faith Mission (whom the pastor who started the panic represents) all rely on a steady income to keep their doors open. And in these churches the trend has become the mini-sermon as part of the sermon focusing on tithing or the after worship as worship tithe request as part of the worship set focusing on worship. Here your duty is to give your tithe to this church as a member and in so doing you are giving to God. And whether you are ‘worshipping God with your finance’ (paraphrase from an actual Vineyard Church) or ‘opening your wallets because its the least you can do as Christ gave his all for you on the cross’ (paraphrase from an actual Assemblies of God church) or ‘place your donation here and receive ministry’ (paraphrase from an actual The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God church) there’s no escaping that we make the church not as in the Ekklesia but as in the institutional church as the Church central. The message here is clear that in doing the business of church there is an entitled expectation of an income for the business services rendered. And our giving goes to the the Church, our time goes to the Church, our energy goes to the Church. And so it becomes that in going to the Church you are going to God, in serving in the Church you are serving God, and in giving to the Church you are giving to God. It becomes this so much so that when not doing those things that the God-connection is lost. So, in not going to the Church you are not going to God, in not serving in the Church you are not serving God, and in not giving to the Church you are not giving to God. And one step further, in speaking out against the Church you are speaking against God!
The very notion of the Ekklesia and the Church and their conjunction and disjunction is incredibly important. So this is not something trivial that I’m overthinking, but instead something incredibly important.
I most assuredly accept that God calls people as ambassadors to serve others and represent God but not in order to make a business out of their services. Instead, it is in order to freely give and deliver what God has freely provided. This is ministry. This is the “don’t take your wallet or a spare cloak” when you do the work of the kingdom. What we do when trained for the ministry is the opposite. Everything requires money in business and the church. Mission trip = money; worship = money; sermon = money. Can you follow your calling without the Church and without commercializing it? Will people still give to God to support you? These are tough questions. They are questions I’ve asked and still ask as I continue taking a risk spending all my time doing ministry without charging a single penny for my services. Crazy isn’t it!
There’s a difference between the sharing out of what God has given you and a financial exchange for services rendered. And here it is that in doing church we transition from real ministry to business. When we make a business out of our services we are doing something completely different to the work of the kingdom. No one expects to go to a psychologist or doctor or surgeon without receiving an invoice. That’s the way of business. But ministry ought to be different but they are not. Instead, churches are businesses. And therein lies the problem. Some are businesses offering services to an aging and dying democraphic with no new customers walking in and others great businesses making good money. And in all of them are people genuinely called by God who have been derailed into the business of doing church. They are those who work in churches, maintain churches, grow churches, and plant churches. And among all of these are leaders dissatisfied that they spend so much time doing church that they have little time for the work to which they know God has called them.
I know this because I’ve experienced this. It’s tragic. And we have to get back to our first priority even if that costs us the Church. And I know this because so many people I know in ministry have said it! This is not a secret shared by an inner cabal but something patently obvious to all. And the way most reconcile it is by agreeing with the Church who pays them and defines what ministry is and says they can only do it if they retain their membership card.
To get at whether the Church as in the institutional church as denomination or business is primary consider whether there would or would not be a church without that building or a church without that staffed and produced event called a church service, communion service, worship service, youth service, morning service, etc. Is there still a church? If you are feeling that you have to go to the Church to go to God, something “is” wrong; to serve in the Church to serve God, then something “is” wrong; to give to the Church to give to God, then something “is” wrong.
After all, neither Jesus nor the apostles or early church had the equivalent of jobs or careers like we have. Did any wear a collar? Did any go receive a Certificate in Ministry? Did any have an office? Or run services? What was “ministry” to them? How much of what they did have we replaced with what we do with us only keeping the same labels to justify our businesses?
We should stand against the commercialization of Christianity as in the business of doing church and of making the Church central to everything. Instead, we must find a way past and beyond institutionalism to enable and nurture the Ekklesia. Let’s spend our time and professional careers on the Ekklesia rather than the Church.