Saturday, February 16, 2008

The "Relevant" Church

The article on the FoxNews website piqued my curiosity: Florida Pastor Issues 30-Day Sex Challenge for Congregation, part of which included the challenge "Single men and women can't have sex for 30 days." Why, I wondered, would a pastor be satified with exhorting the single people of his flock to abstain from sex for only 30 days?--as though unmarried sex, like too much caffeine or too much sugar, were nothing more than a bad habit that needs to be minimized.

Following the links took me to the website of the "Relevant Church," where I was assaulted by a suggestive image and a headline that announced the "challenge":


Yes, emphasis is in the original. Perusing the website quickly revealed that the advertised "challenge" was among the least of the problems of this church.

When visiting the websites of churches and other ministries, I always like to learn first about the people in charge. In this case, the "lead pastor" is Paul Wirth, a "MySpace"-type Baptist-turned-postmodernist, and apparently the founder of this "church." You can always guess where a "pastor" is coming from when he lists his favorite music as "U2, Switchfoot and Foofighters" (the goal of a shepherd of the church is to be "cool," after all), his favorite book as "Blue Like Jazz" and "Next Generation Leader" (the goal of a shepherd of the church is to be "hip" and "culturally with it," after all), and one of his three greatest wishes in life as the attainment of a beachhouse (the goal of a shepherd of the church is to attain earthly possessions and creature comforts, after all--a mindset perfectly illustrated by John Piper's "Seashell Christianity" in his Don't Waste Your Life).

What motivated Wirth to start this church? He himself tells us: "Well I love our culture and wanted to be a part of a church that had a passion to be as current as today's paper while relating the truths of the Bible to every facet of our lives. Also, it is pretty risky and I love taking risks."

Loving a "culture" is not to be equated with God's loving the "world" in John 3:16 (though I'll take bets that's how Wirth interprets that passage). It really comes much closer (and Wirth's internal pursuit of a beach house confirms this) to "loving the world" in 1 John 2:15-17 and James 4:4.

Unfortunately, a pastor who is headed down the wrong path usually does not go it alone, but takes casualties with him. Sadly, that is the case here as well. Continuing down the "staff" page, we find the same question posed to the rest of the staff--with similar aspirations:

Music and Arts (Minister):
If you could have 3 things in life:
"To truly know and understand the heart of God, An extensive car collection, Two nice houses... One in Tampa and one in Nashville."

I am positive the irony of the answer given by the "minister of music and arts" is completely lost to him. On the one hand he wants "to truly know and understand the heart of God"; well and good. On the other hand, he unflinchingly states he wants "an extensive car collection and two nice houses," completely oblivious to the fact that those two wishes stand in contradiction to each other (Jas 4:3-4). But just in case this is not clear to Wirth's staff, when one truly "knows and understands the heart of God," the last thing he'll desire is "two nice houses and an extensive car collection."

Continuing with the staff bios . . .

Growth Groups (Minister)
If you could have 3 things in life:
"Saab 9-5, better time management, water front home"

Media Outreach & NexGen (Minister)
If you could have 3 things in life:
"A beach house in Southern California, a complete understanding of who God is, be a pro surfer"

Visual Arts (Minister)
If you could have 3 things in life:
"To make a difference, the ability to not have to sleep, and a billion dollars"

Head Intern
If you could have 3 things in life:
"To be able to connect kids/students to God in ways that they can truly relate to and understand, a black Escalade with 24" rims, an endless supply of white K-Swiss classics"

"Pastor" Wirth is evidently having an influence on his flock. It's a "relevant church" alright--to the surrounding culture, perhaps. Indeed, the "church" is hardly distinguishable from the surrounding culture in its values and aspirations. It's just not "relevant" to the Word of God and the church of Jesus Christ.

And that's really the problem with the "emergent church" crowd. It tries so hard to be "relevant" to the surrounding culture (though I would argue it appeals only to the the "punk" segment and not to the "culture" per se) that it ends up prostituting itself to that culture. The sad result is, the "culture" has its way with the "church," and that "church" becomes a sort of "scrub-faced" version of the culture--the same core values (attainment of a beach house, an extensive car collection and a billion dollars; and unmarried sexual relations are just a bad habit that you should quit for 30 days), without the excessive expletives.

Maybe the next step here is to become more honest with what this movement really is and to call it what it really is--The First Church of Loving the World and All That Is In It. Then at least they'd have a Scripture passage they could attach as a tagline.