The Journey



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Is a spirit of Rhetoric at work in the church?

I’m more interested in the message than the format. I want to hear God’s word - the Bible, yes and prophetic too, more than I want to hear someone’s opinion.

In these trying days we do need words of encouragement. We see many people setting a great example of how to be good to each other. How to love one another - and love is of God. There are so many things in this viral time that suggest that good can come out of the situation. Parents are looking after their own kids, and teaching them at home. Yes, I think this is good. People are helping each other. We are all, or most of us, respecting each other, and showing our love and concern for our neighbours in the very act of keeping our distance. Yes, I do that partly for myself, but I do it more for the other person, so that they won’t be worried - or infected!

And we have some wonderful opportunities to show that we collectively and individually are good citizens. We are keeping the law and we are complying with requests made by elected authorities which are imposing new requirements on us. But not just us, on everybody. When I say, “we are all in the same boat” I mean, this is not an attack against the church. It is not a conspiracy to shut us down. We are touched by demonstrations of the faith which are more public now because we have been brought out from behind the walls of the church. I’ve been advocating for that for as long as I have been a Christian. Its what brought me to be part of the March for Jesus in the 90s and any number of other events in public.

What I want to get on to is the stuff I see all over the social media which we are all relying on at the moment - YouTube and Facebook, and more. I hear so many voices, so many. And everyone has an opinion, a so-called “prophetic insight” or some “word” of discerning what is going on in these times. The trouble is that most of it doesn’t matter at all and none of it makes any difference.

The definition of the word “Rehetoric” puts the words to how I have been feeling about the endless number of ministries and ministers showing up on our YouTube feed. (The fact that the same kind of content, a kind of audio-visual diet of only the same food over and over and over, keeps coming up is the fault of YouTube’s algorithm of course, which feeds me what it thinks I like to eat. Over and over again).
Here’s that definition:

rhetoric/ (ˈrɛtərɪk) / noun
“the study of the technique of using language effectively
the art of using speech to persuade, influence, or please; oratory
excessive use of ornamentation and contrivance in spoken or written discourse; bombast
speech or discourse that pretends to significance but lacks true meaning”

Its the last part of the definition that resonates with me particularly - “speech or discourse that pretends to significance but lacks true meaning”.

And I feel like I am in danger of doing what I so dislike seeing in others - spending my time as a minister criticizing other ministries. But I’m not trying to tear down anyone in particular. I’m trying to point out that we cannot survive on this diet of empty words and flashy presentations. We cannot survive on worship (either in person in church or online) that is not worship but just a concert. We are not worshiping when we are watching someone else worship. Its a problem for me.

So it was with a major “worship event” on Good Friday - you know, the day when we consider the crucifixion, and the incalculable price that God himself paid for our redemption. The agony of the cross and the blood that was shed. The first song? “I am who you say I am.....” This self absorption, this self-comfort instead of relying on and relating with the Comforter himself turns me off and turns me away. Yes, the song has its place but it is not the message of the cross, which, surely, we could focus on for one day, even in the most pressing of times?

I do not believe that God is going to intervene, at least not soon, on a global scale to avert what is going on in the natural world. This is not the message people want to hear. They want to hear Psalm 91 - that, in effect, “You are impervious to this disease, because you are a Christian” (so by extension, “you do not have to be subject to the same societal rules that other people are under”). Lies. There, I said it. There is such a thing as the sin of presumption. “You won’t be harmed, because God will give his angels charge over you so you won’t dash your foot upon a stone....” You know who used that verse in the gospels, right?

In this time God is doing something different. He is using this calamity to shake the church into action. Sadly it seems that a large portion of the church as they adjust to the present mostly-online-reality are trying to make a sad facsimile of what we had before the virus hit. Trying to do what we always did. Resistance. But in that, perhaps you.... we.... are resisting God himself?
We are presently forced out from within the walls of our church buildings. Isn’t this where God would have us be?

We (the church) are making our content available online and seeing much larger numbers of people at least taking a peek at what is going on. They can “visit” with no questions asked and without the pressure of meeting stranger who might be weird. Let us hope to God that we are not scaring them away with what they see. I hope they don’t encounter a bunch of scared, timid Christians spouting rhetoric, conspiracy theories and false prophecies that have no bearing on the lives of anyone but just tickle the ears of those who hear. I see a lot of this around right now. God forgive us.


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