Worth it for the heavenly celebration alone

There is not much more to be said about Don Miller-gate, but some deep reflection is certainly due.  While I am saddened by the depth of their roots into the Church, I am thankful for Miller’s words so they may be engaged and corrected with the truth of Scripture.  If even one sheep is called back into the flock of the faith, it will be worth it for the heavenly celebration alone.

On his blog, Mike Cosper offers great analysis and suggests the solution is not a new way to do church, but the old.

Rather than a robust engagement with God’s people, God’s word, and God’s Spirit through interactions with one another, songs, prayers, scripture readings, and the Lord’s Supper, we think of Sundays as merely preaching and music. Rather than an immersive, formational environment shaped by the physical architecture of space and the spiritual architecture of a Gospel-shaped liturgy, Sunday Morning is a platform driven spectacle, led by mega-celebrities at mega-churches and would-be-celebrities and smaller churches. Rather than a challenging and diverse diet of milk and meat, celebration and lament, confession and assurance, we’re fed a pump-up-the-jams hype fest that culminates in a “You can do it!” sermon and a marketing pitch for membership. It’s an environment that feels hostile to doubt and suffering, unless your goal is to overwhelm them both with enthusiasm.

I realize I’m guilty of caricature here, as there are many, many churches that break this mold. But I think it’s fair to say this much: in the past, corporate worship was seen as an immersive formational experience, wherein the church calendar and liturgy slowly shapes Christians to live Kingdom-oriented lives in a fallen world; today, the gathering (shaped by revivalist sentiments and revolutionized by new technology) is meant to be a catalytic, emotional experience. We aim to be spectacular, rather than regular. We aim for instant gratification rather than slow, steady change. 

As James K.A. Smith argues in Desiring the Kingdom, all of our gatherings are formational – even the gatherings that aim at spectacle. Where a more traditional approach aims at an orientation towards hope in the coming kingdom and patience in affliction, the contemporary model often aims our hope in the institutions, leaders, and experiences of Church. Our hope is built on the coming sermon series, or the upcoming evangelistic push, or the ability of the pastor to inspire us, or the ability of the worship leader to “usher in the Spirit of God.”  Practiced regularly, week-in and week-out, these efforts shape us to love and hope in a particular way, and like any idol, it will ultimately disappoint us. 

To this, Miller, like so many others, has said, “No thanks. Doesn’t work for me.” And in this sense, I don’t blame him. But his solution is no less tragic. His new liturgy will orient his life around himself or around his work, and these masters will be as cruel and disappointing as any mega-church or celebrity pastor has ever been. 

So yes, I think Miller needs to be challenged and corrected. But I also think his comments reveal the tragic lack of spiritual formation in many of our churches today. They remind us that many Christians have no meaningful vision for why the church gathers; for why we sing, preach, and pray.   

The solution isn’t trying harder to please religious consumers and church shoppers. Instead, we need to look to the old paths, where the good way is, and keep telling the only Story that gives us a sense of ultimate hope in this tragic and broken world.

While this audio from a past White Horse Inn episode centers on other types of false teaching, specifically the prosperity Gospel, the connection to the Miller kerfuffle is not hard to make.  Pay specific attention to the 3:30 to the 7:15 mark.  It is not the orthodox calling out false teaching who are being divisive, but the false teaching. The entire audio is worth taking the time to listen through.  Two lines from Kim Riddlebarger stand out:

“Smooth talk and flattery, in Paul’s mind, would be words that avoid the truth.”
“It is the crucified Christ who is so offensive.”
See you in church, Sunday. We both need it.
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