Saturday, March 18, 2006

"What are we selling?"

I was in my Theology of Paul class on Thursday morning when one line of the professor's really caught my attention. "What are we selling?" He was particularly asking us to think about what our personal understandings of salvation are in light of Paul's epistles and the interpretation that James Dunn gives of the theology therein. I'm no closer to understanding my personal concept of salvation (other than the fact that the word makes me queasy) but it made me think about the church in a way that I've never wanted to see before - as a business. Let's face it - we live in a capitalist society where everyone is selling and buying all the time. We even have dating services and website where, in a sense, we sell ourselves. Churches are competing for people in the pews - the ones who have the largest congregations and the most money to play with are seen as the "winners" converting souls and doing God's work with blessing. What are we really selling? Do we have to look at it that way? Isn't there something beyond the consumer model? What would Jesus have to say about this mentality (and the cleansing of the temple scene comes to mind)?

Regardless of how idealistic I want to try to be, the fact remains that many people don't think of church as something they want to do, but either something they need to do or are obligated to do. That doesn't seem right to me - although need and obligation are a part of it, I go to be part of a community - to worship with people who think like me and value the same things I value (for the most part). In this society, we can sell anything anywhere, including over our computers where we never really have to see or interact with anyone. Is that the kin_dom of God? Is that the ideal life for anyone? We can show our kids Disney movies galore that teach us it's not about the things in life but the people, but everything around us tells us otherwise. Advertising thrives on the message that happiness can be bought, and how do churches thrive? Is the church too something that can be bought?


Andy B. said...

These are big questions, but the underlying question of all of them is "What does church do?"
Before we ask that question, I think we need to ask "What is church?" Sometimes we assume that church can be defined by what it does - i.e. help the poor, get new members, sell books, protest at soldiers' funerals, etc. What is lost in public discourse is a healthy discussion about what church IS.
Being and Doing,
Andy B.

Rachael Jones said...

It's been a loooong time since I've been a part of an academic community, so forgive me if this sounds simple. But how can you define what a church is WITHOUT discussing what a church does? I don't see how one can seperate the two aspects of faith and works.

OT: See ya in 10 days Mandy!!!!

mandyc said...

Interesting questions - can we say what chuch IS without talking about what it DOES? In some sense, we can say church is the community of God, but that sounds like such a Sunday School response and what does it mean? There are all kinds of people in that community - as Andy pointed out, myself and Rev Phelps are both in "church" but are we going to say we're in the same church? I want to be able to say I believe in the church universal, that God's grace and love is for ALL people, but when that plays out in action, what I do and what Rev Phelps does seem diametrically opposed.

So what does the church do - I think my piece was working of that idea that it "saves" people and thus ends up "selling" that salvation - but I admit that I don't like that model and don't know how to work out what salvation is.

Andy B. said...

Right on. I'm with you. It's not the church that saves, it is God. So what does the church do? Does the church love, or does God love through the church? For me, that is the only thing that makes it possible to love some people - the assurance that it's not me, but God through me doing the loving. When you go deep enough, the church doesn't do anything other than serve as a vehicle through which God works. Then we need to go back to the question I started with: What is the church?
Loving the Dialogue,
Andy B.

mandyc said...

Well, Andy, it looks like you answered your own question - the church is the vehicle of God. The question still arises though, what does that mean? Fred Phelps thinks he's doing the work of God, as do I, yet we are completely opposite in our interpretations. Is one of us not hearing the Holy Spirit? Is one of us deluding ourselves? Or could we somehow both be doing the work of God? I try to make room for the mystery and unknowable in God, but that's hard for me to swallow.

The other thing about the church is that it is a human endeavor and therefore inherently flawed. Yet it strives to be more as it works with/for God.... I think maybe we have a hard time balancing what is up to us and what is up to God.