Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More Front Porch: Mere Krustianity

At the risk of preaching to the choir, I also want to note this post from Front Porch Republic--Mere Krustianity. In this article, Jason Peters takes on American big-box churchianity. There are few things more satisfying that reading something exactly expressing the views one already holds. Nevertheless:

But I have often wondered what this same dispassionate observer would make of those versions of the faith, if “versions” they may be called, that have sprung up either in contempt or in ignorance of tradition—or in contempt and ignorance both. I’m talking about those places, built on a kind of shopping-mall plan, that avail themselves of the word “church” without any regard for its meaning–rather like those who help themselves to connubial privileges without ever uttering the terrifying words “I do.” We know what the hostile observer makes of First Church of the Sprawl. But what would the amiable, if distant, observer make of it?

By “it” I have in mind, for example, a place called “Bible Harvest Chapel,” which is a kind of movie theater retrofitted to a former big box electronics store. I went in it once to see in what ways I might be oriented to something beyond myself. The first architectural feature I saw directing my thoughts heavenward was a Starbuck’s-style coffee shop.

Welcome to Bible Harvest Chapel; would you like to try our Lord’s Day Special?

Was I to dip my fingers in a double-skinny caramel latte and make the sign of the dollar? I didn’t know for sure. The place hardly resembled a chapel. And although there was once a harvest on that spot (for the big box store-cum-ecclesia was built on a cornfield), no one there rejoiced to bring in the sheaves, not even in that robust manner of your hearty Baptist congregation cycling through the hymns it agrees to sing. Even that kind of hymnody, which isn’t quite up to the standards of what Tradition hands down, had been replaced at the Church of the Electronic Jesus. Indeed, the hymnals were flat-screens on the walls of the “sanctuary,” and across these screens strolled the lyrics to songs the drummer kept time to as the guitar-players jammed. The singing was literally off the wall, and I wanted to gyrate my hips before the Lord, as King David had of old.

Recitation of the creed, incense, daily lessons, sacrament: no signs thereof.

And the parking lot, now desertified by asphalt, was full of Lincoln Navigators sporting, at about eye level, “W ’04” bumper stickers . American Christians shopping on Sunday morning. The last great synthesis. Full acculturation. Full interpenetration of marketplace and faith. Marketplace as object of faith, with Jesus and Jeep Liberties for all.

Or, rather, full absorption of the faith by the marketplace—and the obliteration of history.

Well, yes. The article generated considerable response, as it is a little more theologically hard-hitting than what is normally seen on FPR. But the comments quickly devolved into a Catholic vs. Protestant squabble, mainly due to posts such as this:

But I’ll be damned if this lowland Scot turned free soil prairie sod buster presbyterian Calvinist will consent to live under a dictatorial church anymore than I will a dictatorial state.

Give me that old time religion anyday. Its traditionless tradition recites a lineage going back further now than that from Augustine to St. Peter and it tells me its own stories, which are my stories, of faith and sacrifice and binds me to a deeper magic, a deeper authority, than the tightest grip any prelate ever had...

Well, you get the drift. Fr. Jonathan, from Second Terrace, salvaged the conversation with this excellent contribution:

Truly thanks, with no hidden sardonic subtext, because the “Krustian” truncation of “40-yard Christianity” is actually abetting the progressive gods unmoor people away from the land (and Trinity) and hasten them toward the gnostic gas of limitless expansion and consumption.

My old-line Pentecostal associates have no use for the mega-church religion, which has no understanding of grief or joy. The showtime-church avoids unease and seeks fixes of fun and frenzy. It has replaced hope with the wan shades of Republican and Democratic optimism. It has ripped out the Nicene Creek and has embraced psychotherapeutic rituals of self-esteem: no wonder there is no “felt need” for sacrament.

This argument in the comment section has turned ignoble. None of you would want to actually defend the megachurch experience, which is just as separated from the Reformation as it is from the church of “costumes and customs” (a comic note). I look for the Nicene Creed and some acknowledgement thereof to find fellow travelers: I see it here on the Front Porch in spades (do not pardon the pun) — but it is sorely missing in the dead marshes of mega-church-ianity.

Shame. The critique was leveled against denatured Christianity. Not against people who still sing the old 100th.

Jason Peters continues with a follow-up post--“And the Disciples Were Called Krustians First In …” —Acts 11:26, RSV (Revised Suburban Version)--which, if anything, is even better than the first. Here, he "reiterate[s] the dangers of living in contempt of history." Read the comments as well, for the link with Flannery O'Connor.


margaret said...

I have a wee soft spot for people who still sing the Old 100th. Presbyterianism is a second-best, workable alternative to episcopacy in that congregations are accountable to the greater body, their worship is decent and orderly and their buildings are respectably plain. Sometimes they even smile on the sabbath. We don’t have the megachurch phenomenon in the UK although we do have one trendy-wendy Scottish Episcopal (!) congregation here in Edinburgh who have recently spent millions gutting an austerely beautiful early 19th century church into ‘worship space’ complete with glass foyer. They will claim they have done it to glorify God but one can’t help feeling they’ve done it for their own comfort and convenience and Richard Hooker’s remark about the ancient church having chalices of wood and ministers of gold and his own church having chalices of gold and ministers of wood comes to mind. It doesn’t take much in the way of expensive externals to glorify God, at least not nearly as much as it does to satisfy man.

What I found bizarre about American evangelicalism as a British lifelong Anglo-Catholic (before becoming Orthodox) was the way it seemed to be a multi-billion dollar subculture removed completely from every other kind of Christian and in varying degrees from the rest of society. People mega-church or home-church – either their church is the size of a village and they have no idea who their brothers and sisters are or it’s the size of their own family because no-one else is fit to be their brothers and sisters; they can choose to only read evangelical novels (reading them myself in B&N in Denver provided much entertainment); they can choose to only watch evangelical dvds; they can listen to every genre of music by assuredly evangelical musicians and so on and on. I was even told there was a tv station with evangelical news and evangelical soap operas although I never found it. And if I’d driven through Colo Springs one day and seen an evangelical supermarket where they could shop without having to mix with the unsaved I wouldn’t have been the faintest bit surprised.

John said...

Margaret, your defense of Presbyterianism is the best I've seen so far. And you have much of our American evangelicalism pegged. Sometimes, it almost seems as if they think they invented the concept of Christianity.