I think I first heard the term “holy discontent” from Bill Hybil. I wish to comment on what I see in blogsphere and Facebook pages lately. Some of the most popular religious bloggers (both in English and in Chinese) are those who point out the problems of the church. Many of them have made a living blogging about these problems. Their contribution is very important. I often read many of them faithfully.
Several themes surface among these bloggers and some Facebook updates (and such updaters happen several times a day on the same topics). They may say that the church has lost the gospel. Others may say that the church’s stance on certain issues (e.g. homosexuality or same-sex marriage) is passé. Still others point out that based on this or that study, numbers are declining, making the church irrelevant and even unnecessary. In many cases, the framing of the problem is almost formulaic. The problem could be theological, ethical or numerical (or pragmatic). There’re two ways to react to such bloggers.
First, some may choose to conveniently ignore them by maintaining status quo. Others are more vocal in denouncing such bloggers as radicals and liberals. I believe there is a third way.
I always feel very hesitant to buy into everything these bloggers say simply because some of them have not had church ministry experience. Sure, I think ministry experience is not the “be-all and end-all” criterion in judging someone’s observation. In fact, I think some of the keenest observations come from my non-Christian friends. This is the problem however. They only become popular because they hit a nerve on many others who feel equally discontent. Before we know it, there’ll be a chorus of curses raining down on the church. What they say may be valid, but their observations often offer no solution to the real problem.
Real problems have to be solved within the church. I believe that it is naive to get rid of all of the structures of the church and then call it renewal. If we were to do so, we end up with anarchy in the name of renewal. I also feel that structures were set up for a reason. We somehow lost the reason along the way, thus being stuck with the structure. Thus, i think the solution to structural issues should be solved by research and reflection on why certain setup worked in ages past. As Christians, we can’t simply assume that the Spirit somehow works NOW in the renewal of the church without regard for the PAST work of the Spirit.
Many studies have been cited by bloggers to back this or that reason why numbers are down. The fact is, statistics could often be listed along with “lies, damn lies and …” You get my point. Those who are familiar with statistical analysis know that certain sociological studies are heavily laden with presuppositions and in some sad cases, question-begging and circular reasoning. Statistics tell only part of the story if they even do that much at all. Statistics are the metanarrative of modernists and unaware postmodernists. Even if the metanarrative is right bout the dropping numbers, can we simply correlate one cause to the drop? From my observation of many declining churches, each case is often drastically different. Even if the statistics are true, what different factors are causing the drop in attendance in church? These factors could fill up tomes. The whole “the number is dropping” argument also creates another pesky problem. We’re starting to measure success purely based on statistics, and number becomes a larger and larger part of the way we evaluate truth. In such a case, is the church more and more becoming just like a corporation, with some being successful numerically (and turning profit) while others failing miserably (and suffering loss in finance and attendance)? The very tool we often use to evaluate success represents the very thing many such blogger hates: institutionalized religion. I’m unsure whether many who make such an argument are aware of this fallacy.
I’ll use one more example. Some have said that we have lost Jesus or lost the gospel and so on. Well, that’s fine. It’s easy to say that we’ve lost Jesus or the gospel. Okay, fine! Such rhetoric even makes one sound “cool” and “hip.” (Can we even use the word “hip”? It is so uncool. Maybe I should say “sick” as in “dude, that’s an uber sick ride. It’s dripping in gold.”) How do you FIND Jesus and the gospel? Would the same bloggers offer solutions via serious research in biblical studies, church tradition, and theology to formulate the TRUE Jesus or the gospel? It’s easier to complain than to do serious research. I can tell you a secret. Most of them are not serious researchers in any of these areas. If you don’t believe my claim, google them for any serious research on biblical studies, theology, church history or ethics, in serious academic publishers and journals. Whoops, I’m exhibiting academic snobbery, yet another hated trait by this group of cool bloggers. IF by some chance some of them have done some serious research, not many of them have tried to preach regularly in a contextualized manner what regaining this Jesus or that gospel actually means. At the end, these blogs are spiritual junk food. Sure, they taste good initially because you can resonate with the problems they bring up, but then after you devour them day after day, they can hurt your attitude and ruin your spiritual health. The unsolved problem therefore remains: “cool” is overrated.
The third way is a simple way. IF you want to complain, earn the right to complain by being part of the solution, by doing serious and deep reflection or research, and by participating in the church’s life to bring forth change. When people do not participate in the church’s life, they should also lose the credential to complain.