Deutscher Trip 2015 – Part Five: Leipzig

After spending the first four days of my trip around Bavaria I caught a train from Munich to Leipzig.

There is a large difference in culture between Bavaria and Leipzig that is noticeable from the moment you step off the train. Architecture is different, but also people’s mannerisms are different. It really felt like a different country.

Continue reading “Deutscher Trip 2015 – Part Five: Leipzig”

Signs of Life EP – Edge | Kingsland

Signs of Life - Edge Kingsland

Last week my church in Auckland released a live worship EP recorded at the Beyond Borders conference in 2010 for free. You can click on the banner above to download it.

The songs of Edge | Kingsland differ from most other modern worship styles. The songs are simple but deep chants, melodies, and scriptures. The music while loud is not overbearing instead setting the mood of personal worship in a communal environment.

Holy Spirit come, breathe life into these bones, Holy Spirit come, breathe life into my heart. ~ Bones.

I’m in a cynical mood, just saying

So anyway after my crazy long blog post this afternoon I suddenly decide at 5.40pm to go and visit a church in the middle of the city, I pretty much picked up my keys, walked down the road, jumped on a train, off at the next stop, and then walked my way two blocks to find the church.

Outside the church the doors were closed, and while they were glass faced so you could see in there appeared to be no one in the foyer welcoming people or anything, this was 5 minutes before the service was due to start, and no people coming or going from the building. Thinking this was odd I walked past and quickly thought of my next plan of action for something to do. It was at this moment that I heard very loud crowd sounds coming from the nearby Hide Park.

I then wandered up to the park where as part of the St Patricks Day Celebrations a U2 Cover’s band was playing. And this is where things get weird. There were probably 20,000 people at this park listening to the band, possibly more. And you know what the songs of the lyrics were talking about everything that is wrong with the world, and people were singing along, they had their hands raised and were jumping up and down as well. It was at this moment cynically I thought to myself that this was a lot like church. Only the people weren’t filled with the Holy Spirit they were filled with too much Alcoholic Spirits. And later there were people who appeared to be overcome by the spirit but it was the spirit of alcohol that had caused them to collapse.

And the cynic in me goes why do we have magnificent church buildings where the doors are closed and you are just expected to somehow know how to get in, when you can get a much larger crowd by setting up a stage in a park, that is open and exposed to the world. What are we missing? I am sure the alcohol component has something to do with it, but if people are able to have a fun time on alcohol and desire it so much, then why isn’t it the same which church? Sure you have some people who are completely on fire for God but what about the rest. What are we missing?

And reading over this the cynic inside the cynic tells me that it is because there is too much arguing amongst church denominations and the like. Sure that is partly true. But that can’t be that much different than the difference between hip hop, classical, and alternative rock can it? I mean all of those genres all attract massive crowds and people long to attend live music gigs, but there is something about Sunday and church that just puts people off including myself. Just saying.

A theological dilemma

A few days ago I blogged on the struggle I was having finding a church that I fitted into (see Rebuilding Conservatism through Modern Churchanity).

Over the last few days I have continued to look at churches and there are two things that are really bugging me about modern churches: prosperity theology and social justice.

Now social justice is something I really believe in and have a real passion for, not just feeding and housing the homeless but also having an impact in the wider community amongst work mates, schools, social clubs etc. For me social justice is about Christians being out in the world as lighthouses amongst the darkness. John 13:35 (NIV) says “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

However, I am finding many churches who are so insular and cater for their own membership and do little for the wider community – or when they do it is through the indoctrination of specific religious beliefs upon people – and this is always bound to end up in massive controversy. Something that I always wonder is why can’t we just go out into the world and serve people first, show them the love of Christ rather than ram church down their throats and then “rescue them”?

Jesus didn’t go out into the world and say in order to be healed you have to first believe this and that and something else and attend church every Sunday, and the special program for people like you on every Tuesday night. No, instead he spoke to people and they were healed in fact sometimes he didn’t even speak to them he just told them to get up and walk. Sure after this they most likely believed but it seems the opposite of what a lot of churches are preaching whereby in order to be healed you must first believe. Surely God can heal those who don’t believe and through that healing they will believe?

Anyway I am already sidetracked; my main gripe/dilemma/issue rests with prosperity theology.

So what is prosperity theology? A really interesting article in Christianity Today puts it this way:

The teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the “sowing of seeds” through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.

There are a number of verses that are often used to back up this belief, in particular Malachi 3:10-12 (NIV):

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

Now I certainly have no issue with giving to the church, however, the modern church is so focussed on a money tithe. It was not like that in the past, the reason why the verse says storehouse and not bank is because in the past the tithe was giving of what you actually produced – not just material wealth but also giving of time, and goods, etc.

Lots of modern churches have this focus on giving 10% of your financial income to the church. I whole heartedly disagree with this (and could spend a whole another blog post on this). I believe you should give to God and the church what God has placed on your heart to give. I may not agree with most of what the church I have been attending over the last few weeks but having said that when I got paid I gave what God placed on my heart to give. In addition to this I give to God through serving in other areas both within church and in the wider community (although not much at the moment until I find a new church and get settled).

Opps, I am off on a sidetrack again. Coming back to the idea of Prosperity Theology I fundamentally for a few key reasons:

First the lives of the apostles in the book of Acts certainly do not seem to agree with prosperity theology, in the healing of the crippled beggar in Acts 3:6 (NIV) Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” That verse has always spoken to me we don’t need material possessions to follow God, to heal people, or to do God’s work all we need is ourselves.

Jesus actually spoke in many places about the greed associated with building up massive amounts of wealth. And I could go on for many paragraphs about the love of money being the root of all evil and/or how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven. And I am certainly not saying that you can’t be rich or God can’t bless you, if your heart is in the right place then it is awesome that you have such a blessed life. But there is something that just seems so wrong about preaching that if you give more and more and more to God that you will get more and more and more back. If you don’t get more back does that mean you’re doing something wrong, or your faith is not strong enough?

Second, the book of Job is all about God letting terrible things happening to someone but their faith remaining strong the entire way through. Job didn’t give up just because he gave his whole to God and God didn’t bless him with abundant wealth instead he knew that the reward in heaven was so much more than what we can ever have on earth. (And I know this is a massive over simplification of the entire book).

In a more modern context I find Prosperity Theology not holding true in the whole situation with the poor starving kids in Africa. I say “poor starving kids” a little cynically not because that isn’t the situation but rather the constant pressure in advertising to give money and the problem with go away, that is not the case, sure money is needed to fund things, but more important is people on the ground giving their time and love.

But again coming back onto topic a lot of Christians in areas of the third world have a stronger faith than many Christians do in the restful west. If prosperity theology was so true then why don’t these people just have faith in God and through some miracle everything works out right for them? Africa remains one of those situations where I fail to understand why they get such a rough ride when in the west we get it so good yet we are quite often far worse sinners. And I know there are not degrees of sin, all sin is bad, but yeah it is something I have never quite understood form a spiritual point of view.

So coming back to the hunt for a church to call home, maybe I am being really picky, maybe I am being too religious, maybe I am too focused on doctrine then on God. But the real issue for me is I don’t want religion where God is effectively dead and ritual replaces any chance for the Holy Spirit to move. However, I really seek a place which is alive in passion and worship for God. I love loud modern church music and preaching that is relevant to today.

At the same time this often goes way to far where the music becomes more of a show than worship to God and the preaching crosses over from talking about God and the stories in the bible to instead using modern motivational speaking tricks to keep the audience interested and incorporates so much modern secular business style teaching that somewhere along the way it just becomes Church Inc. I really want something in between, something that is bible based, not steeped in tradition but has respect for it, and has a real passion for both social justice and community.

So far I have not found that in between anywhere near my new house. The question I am really pondering is do I continue to attend a church that I disagree with a core preaching and style of for the purpose of attending church until I either find a church near me that I agree with, or I find an effective way to get to the outer suburbs to attend churches that I do agree with and have a passion to attend? Do I continue to attend a church that I disagree with because the people and community is awesome and being in a new city friends are what I need most?

Is a suitable modern substitute for church: podcasts, worship music, bible reading and commentary, and small group discussions at university? How long can one grow with God and not lose faith with the absence of church, at the same time what if that church is destroying your faith? Can a church destroy faith?  These are all (and there are many more) questions that I am really struggling with at the moment.

As a side note a few years ago The Chaser did quite a funny satire piece on one particular modern church. Now before I get ravaged by people who attend this church note a few things: a) It is comedy, b) You should be able to laugh at yourself, c) If this is how the world really sees you then maybe it is time to consider ways to change that perspective, d) You can only be offended by something if you chose to be offended by it, e) I certainly do not agree with most of it.

Rebuilding Conservatism through Modern Churchanity

Since moving to Sydney I have been struggling to find a home church that I fit into. I have spent countless hours looking at many church websites and reading their doctrines, lining them up to what I believe. Maybe I am doing this wrong but in the past I have had major falling outs with churches where I fundamentally disagree with something that is believed, taught, preached or made a rule of membership. So far the few churches that I would love to visit have been at least 20km to the west or north of the city and without a car I can’t make it to them.

Over the last five weeks I have been attending, with a group of friends, a very large and “modern” Pentecostal church. If I were five years younger I would probably have loved to attend the church but now I seem to be seeking something more “real”.

I use the term “real” with caution, but even in a modern church that has done away with all the church tradition there seems to be something very religious about following a perfectly timed script every Sunday that goes something along the lines of this:

  • A few minutes before the service dim the lights, add lots of artificial fog into the room, play a five minute video and light show to build the mood.
  • Start into worship with a roar and two songs that are so loud you can’t hear the lyrics, and can’t get over the “rock concert” like experience that is happening at the front of the church.
  • Do another two songs that are a lot slower and quieter (although they are still on the loud side).
  • Have a leader get up and welcome people to church, do prayer requests, show a video testimony, do the offering, show the church news.
  • Do preaching for about 30 minutes
  • Do a call for salvation
  • Final song

Sure most churches use a variation of that formula every week, but that is something I am grappling with. Why do we have to use that formula every single week?

I am not trying to say there is anything wrong with loud music, people jumping up and down, or any of the other stuff. Heck, at Parachute Festival I will be up the front in the middle of the moshpit even during the Sunday night worship.

And maybe I have just grown up so churched that now I am seeking something more. The church I was attending in Auckland for the last six years was something different. They were doing things differently. Sure there was plenty of Sundays were they followed the formula I have outlined above, but just as many would be different, say a Sunday where there is nothing but an piano, acoustic guitar and bongo hand drums on stage. Or a day where instead of doing “church” they would have a big meal as a church community or instead of preaching they would have a group of people sharing testimonies. It was church, but it was different church.

And that brings me to community, a church is a community of believers, but also a church should work in the community. I am finding a lot of churches are very inner focussed they will help those who are in “their” community but seem to be doing little in the wider community.

Throughout the last few weeks as I have questioned what I really believe and where I fit in I have also felt my conservatism rebuilding. It is interesting how attending a church with little in the way of church tradition has left me seeking church tradition. I don’t believe in religion, but I do believe in church heritage and it would be nice to have a mention of it currently being the season of lent and how that applies to our lives today (and I have to admit I am not doing anything for lent), or to do a communion one day. It seems to me that the “modern” church has done so much to attract those who got sick of church religion and as a result have nothing to do with the traditional church. Surely there is a balance somewhere in between?

What does a city on a hill look like?

A month ago I asked the question “What is the purpose of Church?” (http://www.brad.net.nz/blog/2009/06/what-is-the-purpose-of-church/) and at the end I stated that it was to be continued leaving the question “What does a city on a hill look like”?

I have been slow to continue it not just because I have been busy, but also because I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about it, and how to write down my various thoughts and views.

The question is derived from the well know verse of Matthew 5:14 NIV:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Now the verse in question is talking about Christians and the Church and how it should appear to the world.

The full set of scripture reads (Matthew 5:13-17 NIV):

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Now it is clear (I hope) from the scripture that Jesus is talking about how Christians should act and behave in the world. And plenty of people have gone out and preached that you should live this perfect life to make your light shine. But I am actually not sure if that is really what I take from this.

You see the city on the hill bit still gets me, and like my views on the church I am not sure if the city on a hill looks as shinning clean as some people make out. I don’t believe that a city on a hill is filled with people in pure white robes and not a speck of dust is to be found. And if I ever came across a city that was like that then I would have to wonder what they were hiding, what did they want you not to see?

It is like those people who appear to have it all perfect on the outside but on the inside are the complete opposites of that, a complete mess. Even myself, on the outside I am really organised and take extreme pride in what I do, but when you get to know me you know that my personal stuff is a mess, like my room is never tidy and never something to be proud of.

In fact I would go so far to say that a city on a hill is the complete opposite to roads without dust, in fact I think in a true city on a hill the roads will be really dusty and dirty with the amount of people travelling from afar to visit it, to find solace in it.

It is like when you are travelling to any city and you see the lights of it in the distance, it always looks great to the first glimpse of the eye, but as you get closer you start to spot the flaws, the cracks in the pavement, the homeless on the park bench, the regular traffic jams. So what makes the city on a hill that Jesus describes so different from any other city?

Well I don’t actually believe it is entirely who we are or the things that we do that makes the city shine. But rather it is deeper than that. It comes down to how we live our life and how God shines his light out through us. The light of the city on the hill is not visible light but spiritual light. It is love. It is accepting people as they are, not judging, not criticising, but loving people. It is accepting people as they come, and showing them the love and the grace of God.

Now that is not to say that some of the things that they do are acceptable things, but first we must show them the love of God, you need to build bridges and relationships with people, not create a pit of lions that you must cross first before you can be considered good enough.

So the city on the hill is actually and very messy and dirty place, it is filled with people who are in need of love and forgiveness. It is like the emergency department at a hospital, chaos, but organised chaos. It is like the church. And the light shinning out of it is the spiritual light of those Christians who are caring for the needy, for the sick. Those Christians who are not donating to the neediest aid agency, but those who will actually get their hands stuck in, those who will actually put on the armour of God and take their place as a foot soldier, a medic, or a counsellor.

TobyMac puts it this way on his “Alive and Transported” album:

You see it’s not our words. Our words aren’t going to be which stops the world in its tracks. Our words will not change the world. They’ve heard it all.

It is not normally our music. Normally we make our music for us, for the body, so that we can sharpen each other, edify the body, glorify our god. Once in a while one crosses over but it’s not typically the music that is going to stop the world it its tracks. Our music is not going to change the world more than likely.

It’s not our buildings, as grand and beautiful as some of our church buildings are. It’s not the architecture, that’s going to change the world.

But I believe what will change the world, is when we begin to love each other, and when we begin to love the world, and when we begin to reach out to the orphans, and the widows, and the lower income families in our communities. When the world sees that kind of love, I’m talking about undeniable love, I believe they will stop in their tracks and say “Yo, whatever you people have over there. I want some of that baby, I want some of that right there for me”.

When our houses are packed so full of love that we have gotta open up the back door to let it ooze out into the valleys and the suburbs and the city streets. When the world sees that kind of love, real love, they’re going to stop in their tracks baby. They’re going to say “Whatever homy, homy, yo homy, whatever you people have over there you Jesus freaks, I want some of that man, I want some that Jesus for me man if it is doing all that.”

How many times have you heard someone actually say something like that? Why do we have to win people for God? Why aren’t they asking if they can come to church with us? Why are we the one inviting them, begging them? What makes church so unattractive? If those modern and megachurches are really so great then why are they (mostly) always struggling for money, or even if they are packed still packed with only Christians who have moved there from other churches? If they are so great then why is the rest of the community still not interested in attending? Why is church so unattractive in today’s world?

Maybe that will be the topic of the next blog on this subject. It is something that I am still wrestling with.

What is the purpose of church?

To worship G-d?
To have community?
To convert people G-d, save them from sin, etc, etc, etc?

All of the above?

You argue that “i want a church who is open minded yet not following the trend of the generation” and I agree.

But shouldn’t we be taking this one step further by saying that we should not be following the trend but in fact setting the trend?

If the purpose of church is just to worship G-d, then should we throw out the teaching and just have a giant two hour worship session? I would sure love it, but is the fact that we don’t do that on a regular basis suggestion that church is more than that?

If community is achieved through church then what is the purpose of small groups? Are small groups just an admission that most churches have become too large and the small group is a simple solution to keeping the masses happy? So is community really the purpose of church?

If it is to convert people to G-d then how successful are we at that?

What is the church offering that is any better than they can get at their local dance club on a Friday night, or at the opera performance at the town hall on the Saturday night?

You see the church is not one thing, or a static body. But rather it is meant to be a dynamic organism, with many people making up its various parts, performing many services with Christ at the core.

But what happens when the arm wants to go to the left and the leg wants to go to the right?

Is that grounds for splitting the church into two and getting yet another breakaway church?

Is there one true church? Is it the Roman Catholic Church, or Christian City Church?

Is G-d in the drums, or in the soft melody of a grand piano?

Does G-d reside in the building, or in the body of believers in the building?

I believe that the church should be on the forefront of everything.

For too long the church has lagged behind, has resisted, and as a result in this post-modern world has ended up being a relic of the unenlightened past.

So is it time for another enlightenment?

I think so.

No longer can we sit back and rely on advertising and word of mouth for getting people to attend on Sunday.

No longer can we be just another social service.

No longer can we resist the constantly changing world.

The world is not flat, yet many churches still act like the wheel has yet to be invented.

For the church to have relevance it must be different.

And not different because it is boring, but different because it must be radical different.

We need to bring back some witch trials…. That set us apart. (just joking).

No, what we need to be is on the forefront of the new media.

Take blogs for instance. What an opportunity missed.

Blogs have quickly turned into a mass media entity, but were founded in political commentary, and that is the focus of many still today.

What about viral videos… already taken, with people typically doing silly stuff.

You see as much as we don’t want to mindlessly following the next trend that comes along, we are not even that good, we are still stuck in the 1500s when it is the 2100s.

And yes I did just write 2100, we need a 2100 hundred mindset.

What is wrong with a bit of experimentation at church?

What is wrong with a bit of hip-hop thrown in the mix?

At the end of the day G-d gave us these talents and these abilities to use, so why are we not using the gifts that we have been given, why are we doubting and questioning everything?

And this brings me to music.

Oh music, probably one of the most controversial topics within church communities.

No you cannot possibly have an electric guitar, electric guitars are evil because they require electricity, and electricity is scary stuff, it involves science, and science is evil (just ask Galileo)

You know what. I want to see a turntable used in church. With the Westminster Abbey Boy Choir’s version of How Great Thou Art scratched up a little.

Why? Because I can. Because if it can get people in the door and worshiping G-d then it must be good?

Well not exactly.

But it is different. And we need that point of difference.

You see at the moment the church may be living, but it is not breathing, it is in the rest home on life support.

And while we continue to play the funeral marches every Sunday morning then it will get just that little bit closer to death. Jesus may have risen, but when will the church awaken?

You see this is what gets my back up the most.

Jesus was not this holier that thou person who 2000 years ago showed up to the local synagogue in a Gucci Suit, driving a Mercedes Donkey M5, and the value of his 20,000 sheep was known throughout the land.

In fact it was the opposite, born in a manger, not a nice clean little straw bed but a pigs-sty (maybe that can be the next excuse for my room looking like one, my room is just having the Jesus experience, amen).

He did not own many possessions in fact he advocated in a minimalist lifestyle, selling what you have, and serving the poor.

He wasn’t afraid to get his feet a little dirty, and a little dusty, but these days we must always wear our Sunday best, and mud well urgh.

He was the friend of tax-collectors, and prostitutes, something that even today we continue to have issues with.

He loved these people, but all we can seem to do today is hate on them.

The church is more known for spreading a message of labeling people sinners, rather than children of G-d, or people who G-d loves.

The key thing was Jesus was not afraid to be different, on the edge, and ruffle a few feathers, he certainly was not old and boring.

But today even the notion of adding a more upbeat song to the mix (or adding a slower song at some churches) will put half the church into revolt.

The church appears to be more concerned with closing the doors on the world from Monday to Saturday and opening them up for two hours on a Sunday to let people in, never to let the warmth of G-d’s love out (it may catch a cold).

And what gets me most is perfectionism.

G-d is perfect, and only G-d can make things perfect.

The church today is too concerned with putting on the correct face, for trying to make itself look like it is one notch above the rest.

Surely the church should be a place that is one notch below, full of people who are on the outside broken, but on the inside healed by G-d.

And that healing that starts on the inside can then begin to thaw the frozen outside.

Surely the purpose of church is to be a city on a hill.

A city not a building, letting light, warmth, and love out.

A point of difference in a darkened world.

Not just a building covered with so much dust that the light inside cannot escape.

And that leads onto the next topic what does a city on a hill look like?

To be continued….