It is no secret that I detest many aspects of modern evangelicalism.
I am certain the five years spent interning and working at a mega-church, during the very early stages of my faith, contributed to this passionate hatred for much of the institution.
For those of you who haven’t worked at a church, or who have had the fortune of working at one where ego and programs and profit do not reign, the best way I have come to describe it, is to draw the analogy to trash and trash men and dumps.
We all have trash in our house. Old vegetables. Empty cereal boxes. Dirty diapers. The two melting, partially liquefied, bell peppers that somehow got buried in the back of the fruit drawer, only to be discovered after setting out on a quest to find the answer to “What’s that smell?!”
If Dirty Jobs is reliable, there are two ways to deal with trash. Incinerate it or pile/recycle it. Bear with me here, because I’m trying to draw an analogy between sanitation services and the gospel, which, to be honest, is a shaky proposition at best, but…
…in this perhaps ill-advised analogy, the gospel is the incinerator, everything else – programs, to-do lists, for sale resources – a landfill or recycling program.
So every week, we produce internal, emotional, spiritual trash (we produce good things too, so don’t get distracted by thinking I’m ignoring the good), which, we can have continuously incinerated by the gospel, (i.e. the finished work of Christ upon the cross), or we can spend our time devising ways to make it smell better or look prettier.
In my experience, as well as my post-mega church observations, far too many players in modern evangelicalism take the latter approach. Worse yet, many even devise their own trash dispensing guidelines, while, even worse yet, some repackage the trash itself and try to resell it. So resources to combat lust are often comprised of the same material that constituted the original lust.
To draw upon a common Puritan tactic, namely, the-loosely-related-hanging-by-a-thread-of-context-proof-text, “The strength of sin is the law.”
To be clear, the presence of trash is not what has stoked my intense lividity towards the players and institution. No, it is the widespread refusal to consistently direct people’s trash towards the incinerating power of the gospel.
Perhaps the economics of our spiritual trash is equivalent to the economics of incinerating or recycling physical trash. Incinerate the trash and it’s gone, never to return. But, recycle it, and repackage it, then recycle it again, and so on, well, there is big money to be made there.
So there is my analogy. If it has holes, well, as I said to begin, trying to make the gospel analagous to landfills might be a bit foolhardy.
So what of the three words that are changing my life?
You will find them in 2 Corinthians 3. Almost as an afterthought.
“We are not peddlers of God’s word, like so many, but…”
In other words, there were numerous landfill operators in Paul’s day. With those three words, “like so many”, he acknowledges their existence, but quickly moves on to the much better thing – Christ and His gospel.
And so I have become convinced over the last several weeks, that Paul didn’t spend the majority of his time fighting the peddlers, but making sure people knew of the incinerator. It may sound fatalistic or full of resignation, but it has brought a peace to my soul which has been absent for several years.
I would like to think most occupational ministers know there is an incinerator. And maybe even, some, at one point, believed in its power and usefulness. But, the more they, and their colleagues, protect and promote their institution and resources, the more their affinity to lucre crowds out their remembrance of the gospel.
So instead of camping out at the landfill, complaining and bemoaning the stench, for the first time ever, I am deciding to move far, far away from the landfill and establish a house that is next door to the incinerator. In doing so, I am in no way condoning their programs, but simply acknowledging their existence before flat out ignoring them.
Got trash? Take it to the cross and have it disappear forever. Don’t like the simplicity of that approach? Well, good luck making those gooey bell peppers pass as suitable nutrition.