In this post I’d like to discuss something that I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. In the Evangelical church, in evangelical faith, there is an accepted status quo. This is true in the mainstream Evangelical church, and it is also true in the Pentecostal church which is a division of or offshoot from the mainstream Evangelical church. These are the two branches of Christianity of which I have had personal experience. However I am sure that it is also true in every other branch of Christianity. In this article, I aim to show that as Christians we should always avoid “Status Quo Christianity” and strive instead for a faith which is deeply, radically centred on the Bible, and which springs entirely from it. As Christians we have to keep going back to the Bible to assess our faith and our various practices. We have to learn to develop mindsets that are deeply knowledgable about God and the Bible, so that we can instantly evaluate an idea or a concept and say “That is not of God!” or “That is unbiblical!” Sometimes it happens that something will be spoken of in the Bible which is clearly not actually in line with God’s character. Not everything that is written of in the Bible is written as a positive example for us to emulate. Sometimes the Bible just records these things the way modern newspapers record negative news as well as positive. We also have to learn discernment to deal with these things. What God desires is usually quite obvious when we examine the Bible, but there are often people who try to twist the Bible about these topics, and they might be able to confuse us if we are not sure of the Bible or what it says.
As a Christian, it was many years ago that I made the decision to pursue the Bible and to take it at face value above every other thing, including any accepted church/Christian status quo. This does not mean taking the Bible literally in everything. There are some parts of the Bible which are clearly allegorical. These are often introduced where the writer says “I saw a vision”, as for instance in Daniel 7. There are some parts which are consigned to Old Testament Law. As we have seen when dealing with St Paul’s instructions regarding women in the church, there is still a certain level of sophistication necessary for interpreting Biblical commands to make sure that they are understood in context. However understanding all that, my overall approach to the Bible is to assume that God means what He says. Many times, when hanging out with other Christians, they seem to spend all their time arguing that God does not mean what He says. They try to make the faith palatable for modern Western audiences. In do ing this, they often cut away the splendour and majesty of our faith, and of the God at its centre.
I would have thought a Bible-centred approach would be the most obvious approach to use for a faith that is centred around the Bible. Many churches claim to be Bible believing. And yet whenever I go to these churches, what I actually find is “Status Quo”, time after time after time after time. This is because there is actually a Status Quo for what it means to be “Bible-believing”. On the whole, the theology will be correct, about who Jesus is, who we are in Christ, the supremacy of the Bible. Where “Status Quo” Christianity falls short will be in the necessary commitment that we are to demonstrate in response to this faith. “Status Quo Christianity” champions a weak and powerless faith, and calls it triumphant and strong. Whenever I go to these churches, and they start jumping up and down about literally nothing, I think to myself – “Seriously, whom are you trying to kid?!!”
This is what our faith should look like. Our churches should be full of real power, with real miracles happening. People should literally, genuinely be raised from the dead. The sick should genuinely be healed. There should genuinely be love and grace poured out between us which reaches out from beyond us and touches our community. None of this is easy to achieve. It comes with serious dedication to God, serious prayer, serious pursuit of all that He represents.
This is what “Status Quo” Christianity actually does look like. Our churches are full neither of power, nor of people. Instead of practising a deep commitment to God which is characterised by deep prayer, deep grounding in the Bible, modern Christians seem to think that a two hour session in church on a weekly basis is sufficient to satisfy their spiritual obligations. There seems to be a tacit understanding that the pastors will search the Bible for us, teach the Bible to us (as we are too busy to do it ourselves) – and we will pay them for this. However, in my experience the pastors themsleves do not pray. Even though they are paid for this, even though this is their job, they appear to be too busy to be fully immersed in and knowledgable about the Bible. Instead of individual Christians actually rolling our sleeves up, and preaching the Good News of Christ to our friends, we pay people to do this for us, as we are naturally too busy to do it ourselves. We pay money to “support” people in everything that the Bible teaches should be done by ordinary Christians in non-professional capacities. There is no real expectation of divine power in the slightest, much less raising the dead. Within this status quo, a “good” Christian is someone who obediently subscribes to this status quo, trotting off to church every week, plus also an hour of small group on a weekday. Money is very important in this status quo, to pay the ministers and to basically “keep the wheels rolling” on this status quo, so that through the constant activity paid for with money rather than driven by the Holy Spirit, we can at least pretend to ourselves that there is some semblance of life in our churches. So a “good” Christian is also someone who is willing to financially contribute to all of this.
In a way that is so shockingly different to what the Bible teaches, church members can and do win influence and prominence for themselves depending on how much money they contribute. There will never be an official policy for this, of course. However someone who contributes more money will be regarded as being more committed to the cause, and therefore more deserving of recognition or position within the church. This is true both in Pentecostal churches and in mainstream evangelical churches.
This is the status quo that I bump into in church after church that I visit. I try not to “write a church off” before attending it, I try to give it the benefit of the doubt. However, time after time, I find that this is what is accepted and promoted as true Christian faith – although it is so different from the Bible.
In addition to this, there is even a status quo for a church that is “not status quo”. This is characterised largely by services which are designed to be funky and appealing to young people. Instead of “Old-fashioned hymns”, there will be music in the style of contemporary popular music, there will be cool media and multimedia and there will be trendy names for small groups. The clothing chosen by the pastor in one of these “non-status quo churches” is also crucially important. You might recognise him by the trendy Christian T-shirt he is wearing, for instance with the single word “saved” written across it, all lower case, in a bold font, followed by a full stop, and a graphical icon of an arrow pointing upwards.
Or perhaps he might wear the T-shirt of a popular music band with no Christian affiliation whatsoever, like Radiohead. I know nothing about Radiohead, I have never knowingly listened to them in my life. However since uni days I have noticed that they seem to be very popular among Evangelical Christians, and many pastors establish their credentials by referring to them, to show they are conversant with popular culture. (If not Radiohead then possibly Coldplay? Travis? I equally know nothing about these bands – except that they are largely regarded as being “cool”). Some of these pastors will jump energetically on the bandwagon of every passing fad – like you know those rubber wristbands that were popular a few years ago? Well some pastors are still wearing them. I have nothing against a church being cool in and of itself. However, the point with even these supposedly “non status quo churches” is that the substance will still be the same, it will still be the same status quo, lacking a truly radical adherence to the Bible, to prayer, to Christian character, to the pursuit of God’s power. It will just be dressed up in trendier clothes, with cool lettering. Sadly for me, many of these pastors talk about being “desperate” for God, “hungry and thirsty” for His presence and His power, in “passionate pursuit” of Him…and I naively start getting all excited…only for that same familiar Status Quo to eventually reveal itself… 😉
Part 2 of this post has now been published, and is available here
Image of church interior by Junior Libby at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net
“Saved” image by me, using arrow vector from http://vector.tutsplus.com/articles/web-roundups/free-vector-arrows/