Pendulums and Plumblines

the_pendulumThe Christian Pundit published an interesting article, Young Evangelicals Are Getting High.

It claims that the trend among young people now is towards “high church”, including Catholicism and Anglicanism, where they can find “a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality…”

This a clear reaction against the recent fad of Christian existentialism – in all its many forms.

Christian existentialism will always be with us, rooted in the heresy that our individual perception and subjective “experience” of Christ is the highest form of revelation and authority – and that everything else, including scripture itself, is subservient.

The pendulum, however, is finally swinging away from the anemic, me-centered and largely irrelevant gospel it fosters.

We are seeing some of these issues also play out in the waning organic church movement.

Our fellowships in Virginia are what some call “organic” because we emphasize community and have smaller participatory gatherings where we are free to minister one to another – rather than organizing around larger, podium-directed “services”.

By the grace of God, however, we have avoided the hollow existentialism of much of the “organic church movement” – with their various misleading slogans like “Christ is all”, while conversely rejecting all that He’s given for our growth and maturity (e.g., like the plenary authority of Scripture as His written Word).

In fact, “all” has been little more than the postmodern sensibilities and relativism of a few folks – with their books, blogs and conferences – but little real local church accountability or experience.

Their existentialism felt good, sold books and got them speaking invites – but lacked substance.

Unfortunately, though, it derailed what should have been a mighty move of God.

Fortunately, creating Jesus in our own image is finally wearing thin, and that branch of the organic church community is, I believe, finally dying out…

… the defensive protests of its “old guard” and their ingrown mutual promotion networks notwithstanding.

In contrast, while the existential branch of the organic church community seems to be sinking into ever more obscurity, here in Virginia we are growing and having an impact on our county.

People are now looking for substance, and want all of Christ – including not just His presence but also His moral character, His precepts, His commands and His written Word.

They want a faith that is not just about them, but relevant to all of life and a waiting world.

But neither the extreme of existentialism nor spoon-fed liturgy are the answer.

For some, the challenge now will be keeping the pendulum from swinging too far in either direction…

For us, however, we are not into pendulums, but plumblines.

~ Jim Wright

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8 responses

  1. Interesting premise. I wouldn’t want to ride the pendulum to the other end, though. My concept of grace carries beyond salvation to daily living and resists the swing to dependence on my works to stay saved…the basic premise of religions everywhere.

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    • I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who actually believes in “works to stay saved” – as opposed to living a life that shows evidence of actually being saved – but it does create a good bogey man, I guess. 😉

      As I often emphasize, we need a vibrant relationship with the Living Word, in submission to the discipline and authority of His written Word.

      His rule, and His written Word, embrace all of life, culture, history and human endeavor – and He calls us to be engaged in the ministry of reconciling “all things” to Him. If that’s “works”, as He directs and commands, then so be it.

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  2. Gosh, I was part of a “movement” and didnt even know it–about 4 or 5 yrs ago i got so sick of the entertainment driven urban megachurch i’d attended for 15 yrs that i thought i might just start screaming during one of the services. I left most services feeIing either frustrated or bored. I knew it was time for a change, and so i started going to R.C.Sproul’s church in Sanford, St Andrews Chapel—about as high as high church can get. Each service starts with a procession down the center aisle behind a cross, everybody in vestments, pipe organ, no hymns written in the past 100 yrs, men wearing suits & some women with hats, etc. This was in a 3 yr old sanctuary that was “self-consciously” patterned after a 12th-century English cathedral. One of Sproul’s best-sellers is “The Holiness of God” and everything at St. Andrews and his sermons reflect that. When he reads the text for the day everyone stands and he thunders, “THIS IS THE VERY WORD OF GOD AND YOU WILL RECEIVE IT AS SUCH.” I went to St Andrews for two yrs before i discovered an organic fellowship. The problem with high church is that in its own way it can be as much “entertainment” as the megachurch with its rock bands and upbeat sermons. It is not at all participatory. Tho i felt fed by Dr. Sproul’s sermons, after a couple yrs of high church i was quite bored with the same liturgy every
    week and the old, old hymns.

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    • Thanks, Carl.

      I think the organic fellowship in your area, from what I’ve learned as I’ve gotten to know some in that fellowship, fortunately has avoided the more extreme existentialism that otherwise plagues large segments of the organic church community.

      I also think, from reading your blogs, that you too have avoided those extremes and thus have been able to find appropriate synthesis between God’s transcendent and thus objective truth, and what is existential and thus subjective experience.

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  3. I think the article about young evangelicals getting “high” reflects the Hegelian paradigm: Thesis-Antithesis- Synthesis. We end up back at a slighlty modified point of origin. So, i’m a lttle over two yrs into being an “organic” and have not gotten jaded yet. I still attend St Andrews every once in a while and also the megachurch, Northland. It is a relief knowing those are not my only options, and I find that I can find Jesus in many venues.

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    • I like Hegel’s paradigm as a way to describe social phenomena – action, reaction and synthesis – but not so much as his original intent as an epistemological method (i.e., means of finding ultimate truth).

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  4. Thanks for this, Jim. It’s interesting to read this as an Englishman and an Art Historian. During the early decades of the 20th Century, many creative intellectuals here turned to Christian religion, but it was very High. People like T.S.Eliot, Auden, Greene, Dame Edith Sitwell, Sutherland, Waugh. I have often wondered why that is – that they went for something established, rather than radical. Your post on what is happening in the US, and your assessment is interesting. One day I will research it and write a book on that period. God bless you, Steve.

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