A member of our church recently asked me for my assessment of “One Love Church” in Eugene, Oregon, and their message “Church sucks”. Upon investigation, I discovered that said church is pastored by the Rev. Crank (his real name, I swear), and that he is trying to connect with people who think that “church sucks” by agreeing with their negative assessment and offering something different. He bills himself as a pastor, not a preacher. Presumably preaching also sucks. Since September he has been mailing out their “Church Sucks” message to hundreds of homes in Lane County promising a different kind of church. Specifically he offers them a church which does not focus too much on sin, which has services which last just over thirty minutes and which feature the music of Katie Perry and Maroon 5. I am tempted to satirize this, but am unsure how.
What then is my assessment? First let me say that I have no reason to doubt that the Rev. Crank is sincere in wanting to serve Christ, and that he genuinely wants to reach out and connect with people, bringing into the church those who would not otherwise be reached. I believe he has good intentions, but the road paved with such things does not always lead to good places.
Perhaps the best way to proceed would be to ask One Love Church a few questions. Question one is about Ariel Castro. Castro, as will be recalled, is the man who kidnapped three young women and repeatedly raped them for about a decade while keeping them confined and hidden in his Ohio home. He was stained deeply with sin and guilt, and completely in bondage to the darkness within him. If the late Ariel Castro had come to One Love Church, what would have been their message to him? Would they fear to focus too much on sin? The message of the Orthodox Church to him would’ve been, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17). This is not focussing too much on sin, but zeroing in on Ariel Castro’s greatest need—that of forgiveness, cleansing, healing, and transformation, all of which are only available through repentance.
Admittedly most men are not like Ariel Castro. But all need forgiveness, cleansing, healing, and transformation nonetheless. If one does not acknowledge this need and therefore is irritated upon being told that one does need to repent, presumably one will conclude that Church Sucks, and may even feel it to be judgmentally pointing the finger. But it is doubtful that Castro would’ve felt unjustifiably judged, since the church would simply have been confirming what his tortured conscience was already telling him.
Question two: what is One Love Church really trying to accomplish by altering so dramatically both the church’s message and its worship? Yeah, yeah, I know all the religious talk about reaching the lost. But the question remains. That is, what is the actual goal? Specifically, is it to transform and change the people who come, making them different from the world around them and from their old selves? Is it to persuade them to “turn from darkness to light, and from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18)? Is to radically alter them so that they now live as strangers and exiles in the world (1 Pt. 2:11)? Or is it, as I think, simply to get them into the building so that they regularly attend the service and can be counted? (One should take care to count quickly, since they will only be there for little over thirty minutes.) The Rev. Crank is, I suspect, part of the American evangelical subculture, and that subculture has long been trained to work (and emotionally manipulate) to produce “decisions for Christ”, decisions which can be counted because people raise their hand or walk to the front of a church and allowed themselves to be prayed for. What matters here is the external act; what matters is the numbers. Success is based on these numbers, and not on the converts’ perseverance or internal transformation, which of course cannot be easily determined, much less numbered. If one packs ‘em in, one is reckoned to be a success. The goal then is to pack ‘em in, by whatever means necessary, even Katy Perry.
Last question: does One Love Church really think in their heart of hearts that the Church of God for which Christ died sucks? It is easy to agree with worldlings as they sneeringly and disdainfully write off the Christians as a judgmental and self-righteous lot. Whether or not most Christians are in fact judgmental and self-righteous is, of course, another question, but when one is determined to write off something, one rarely takes time to do in-depth research. But does the Rev. Crank really agree with our detractors? If he does not, then his strategic move to appeal to the worldling’s sneering opposition is not particularly honourable or even honest. But if he does, I would suggest that he turn his gaze away from the trendy and affluent American west coast and look further east. A lot further. For in the Middle East and in other places around the globe, the Church is even now undergoing tremendous persecution, as hundreds of men, women, and even children are suffering and dying for their Faith. These brothers and sisters are not judgmentally pointing the finger (the ultimate sin apparently in Eugene, Oregon), but are enduring torture, rape, despoliation, and execution for their love for Christ and for membership in the Church. If anyone can face them and declare to them that their Church sucks, they will have more nerve than I have.
I think that the true mark of success is therefore not how successful one is at packing in worldly affluent Americans into a half-hour service featuring the music of Katy Perry and Maroon 5. I think the real mark of success is how successful a church is at producing martyrs like these.