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Embracing the Death of the Church by Neil Cole

In every town of America there is at least one church with a building worth hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars. This church meets every Sunday morning with only eight to ten silver and blue haired women and one or two balding gentlemen for a “service”. Empty parking spaces, silent pulpits and dusty pews cry out for days of glory gone by. The church has been dead for years, perhaps decades, but has been kept alive unnaturally by an artificial life support system. The soul is gone, brain waves have ceased, but mechanization keeps the lungs breathing, the heart beating, and the door opening every Sunday morning at precisely 10 AM. Why? We are so desperately afraid to admit failure that we will keep the church alive as long as we can. It is as if the continuity of Christianity depends upon this one church staying alive. If the church dies God has failed, and we cannot allow that.

Life Support

Why are we so desperate to keep churches alive? While I know that the church is special to Jesus (His bride!) I think we have lost touch with something very spiritual…death. Can it be that death is as spiritually right as life? Well consider this, without death you cannot have a resurrection, the Gospel, salvation…life. Perhaps it is time that we embrace a theology of death.

The thinking behind this has caused us to commit the worst treason possible against heaven—self-preservation. Why is self-preservation so bad, aren’t there worse things a church can do? Self-preservation is nothing short of blasphemy, it is taking into our own hands the function of Deity. It is playing God, plain and simple. That is the problem. As a consequence, literally tens of thousands of Christians and churches are deceived into a “churchianity” that is carried out by men, for men, under the name of God. I wonder if God likes getting the credit for all of the crap we do.

While we clearly avoid a theology of death, the opposite is not a theology of life, for life is not what you will find in churches that strive to avoid death at all costs. I don’t know how it happened, but sometime in history we bought into a theology of safe. We think that we should do what is safe, for ourselves, for our families and for our churches. In fact, we are convinced that anything that is unsafe must be outside of God’s will and is thoroughly un-American. A theology of safe is put in place as a defensive measure to avoid death. This leads us right down the path of self-preservation.

SAFE ?
Really?

Jesus is not about safe. He is the one who said things like… “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” “He who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” “Let the dead bury the dead—you follow me.” These are not safe and wholesome words, they are words that shake us up and toss us out way past what is safe.

I have come up with two acronyms to expose some of our delusion regarding these things. The first reveals our inadequate theology of SAFE. The other is how Jesus wants us to embrace a theology of DEATH.

Safe is…

Self-preservation = our mission
Avoidance of the world and risk = wisdom
Financial security = responsible faith
Education = maturity

This is what a theology of death looks like…

Die daily to who we are
Empowerment of others (not self) is our life
Acceptance of risk is normative
Theology is not just knowledge, but practice
Hold tight to Christ with an open hand for everything else.

Jesus said, “He who clings to his life shall lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” We need to embrace a theology of death, our lives depend upon it!

(c) Neil Cole 2008


 

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See also: 
Why Less is More- Neil Cole

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