Summary: comedian Lenny Bruce gives our Christian psychology a metaphorical cattle prod shock when he said, “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.’” I suspect it has a lot to do with fitting in.
I read the prologue to a story called Girl in the Middle. The girl is Kim Satinsky who is in eighth grade. She says, “You would think that being in a clique is fun but take my word for it: It’s not. They make me wear expensive things when I’m not really rich and tell me if something’s really out. On the first day I wore expensive clothing and eye makeup and hung out with a clique, just ’cause it was the first day. Actually, I hung out with just one girl called Maddi Ryan and she introduced me to her friends. Now I’m "popular" and "in". I thought I would be grateful. But it’s really hateful. I have to be real quiet with them or else they’d know I’m a geek at heart in disguise and throw me to the table near Austin F., the world’s most annoying kid. But now they’re pushing me to do things that I shouldn’t, and it’s getting serious. I don’t know what’s worse, getting involved with police or sitting near Austin.” It’s tough fitting in.
One doesn’t often expect to receive a jolting wake-up-call from a comedian. However, comedian Lenny Bruce gives our Christian psychology a metaphorical cattle prod shock when he said, “Everyday people are straying away from the church and going back to God.’” I suspect it has a lot to do with fitting in.
If we turn this scenario inside out or the other way around, a lot of us in the Church have a tough time fitting in as well – fitting in with society. …The odd one out at work or the only one at the party not into drugs and alcohol. …Considered ‘odd’ or a ‘geek’ because you want to avoid sex or living together before you get married. To quote Dan Yarnell, Lecturer in Theology and Community at Birmingham Christian College, we have to figure out what the “appropriate clothing of the gospel” is so we and the world can adapt to one another because people are not fitting in with the church and we’re struggling to fit in. Yet as we learn to adapt so that the gospel works in our very promiscuous world, we have to figure out how not to compromise the core of the message and doctrine of Christ (I.e. the physical reality of God in the flesh, crucified and raised from death).
Regrettably we are struggling to make that happen. Leonard Sweet, historian, futurist and author speaks to our struggle in his book “Aqua Church”. The title represents how we need to be a first century Church in our 21st century world. If you don’t know what a first century Church is, you can read about it in the book of Acts.
“Aqua” represents water or liquid state. While water can take on different forms – liquid, steam or ice – the molecule structure that makes water, water, is not compromised.
Aqua church is church that adapts to the environment but does not compromise the integrity of its “molecule” components that make it church, meaning what I mentioned moments ago – we are not to compromise the essence of Church and the place of Christ in it and his redemption of the world through his death and resurrection. But how do we get that message to people without being offensive? Can we always hope not to be offensive? How do we make church palatable so that people feel they can fit in; that there’s a place for them in the life and community of Church, without that becoming a religious institution of rules, expectations and orders?
We’ll take some time today to explore the challenges we’re facing in the Church to be in, but not of, the world, as Jesus teaches in the text of John 17. Sweet inspires four principles in “Aqua Church” that will help us in this discovery.
If we are going to deal with this problem of fitting in on both fronts and grow the Church, grow God’s Kingdom, we have to face some things. There are three problems. The first problem is, there are those who
1. REJECT CULTURE
If we’re to be successful in sharing Christ we cannot be against culture. Sweet says, “It is virtually impossible to be a successful anticulturalist. You have to live in the world somewhere. The gospel must be “enfleshed” in some culture.”
Jesus teaches in John 17:11 that we are “in the world”. Again, in verse 15 he prays to the Father, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Our being here is God’s design.
The problem we’re facing is that we over-compensate for John 17:16, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” We have the idea that to embrace culture is to be unfaithful and somehow we’ve become a part of the world. We have to come to understand that separation from the world does not mean isolation but insulation. We’re not to reject people and cut ourselves off from them because their way of thinking and behaving is unfamiliar to us. We must find the balance that leads us to an attitude of separation and insulation from the world’s evil but avoids an attitude of isolation. The solution to bridging the divide in relationship between Church and Community is not avoidance – “you in your small corner and I in mine”, to put a spin on the Sunday school chorus.