Take Me to Church
This is the title of a song by the band Hozier. The song is pretty disturbing, and yet it is an enlightening and honest picture of the state of our culture. In one quick listen, it's pretty clear that "church" is neither Christ's bride, nor the meeting place of his people for worship. No, church is the self-destructive worship of a person. Church in this song is in the bedroom, and as it turns out, church is more specifically an act of homosexual love.
No, it's not a really a song that a good Christian girl like me should be singing along to. But the rhythm is pretty darn catchy. The one thing that I respect about this song is its honest depiction of the state of our culture. Love is god. And the order of the words here are very important. To say that God is love is to say something very different. In the former case, love is however the individual defines it, and is usually attached with a sensual feeling. And this Love must be worshipped. This Love is supposedly what unites. And this Love is what is expected to save.
Of course, we can sneer at this song for its depravity. But I think that we need to be confronted with its message. The lyrics reveal the singer's turning away from one church to another, "Every Sunday's getting more bleak." His lover "giggle's at a funeral," revealing a disregard for death and its eternal consequences. This lover laughs at mortality. He's encouraged to "worship in the bedroom."
This act of so-called Love is more sacred than the church. Stronger than death.
As disgusted as we may say we are by this message, what if this song is also a cultural expression of much of evangelism? What if, like Daniel Siedell says about the painting The Scream, this song is interpreting and interrogating us? It's disturbing how many articles and interviews I have seen just this week by professing Christian pastors and writers that are singing the message, "Love is god." Even more disturbing are the droves of followers singing along. There's this sense that doctrine divides and love unites. And as much as we may be hearing about a love for God's people and a love for God's Word, it seems that we are looking to larger than life people to unite us. The message is that Love unites.
"Take Me to Church" points to something that draws us all: the self-destructive worship of a person. We like the idea that we are the authority of what is good and loving. And so we use words like love and unity, and we decide what that means.
But in God's Word, we have Jesus praying for the unity of all believers. In his prayer for his disciples, Jesus says, "Sanctify them by your truth, your word is truth." This is a very theological prayer. We see that God's people are set apart by his Word. While we easily talk about our unity in Christ, love for him and for one another, it is more difficult for the church to be theologians of the cross that he carried. Love can't be separated from truth, and God's people are set apart by that truth.
Hozier's song does provoke a response. But we are seeing that many who are considered popular evangelical leaders are responding in the same way as the lyrics to the song. They have left God's church to worship their own self-destructive way. Kevin Miller's recent article in Christianity Today exposes this. How many are following in their footsteps? And then there are some of the pastors of mega-churches, who have been exposed here on Ref21, telling us how to do church and how to love. Love is god. Carl, Todd, and I have an upcoming Bully Pulpit podcast lamenting yet another mega-super-star pastor with his own message of Love.
It's almost as if looking at the wide spectrum of what is called the evangelical church is the same as looking into the despair of The Scream. To repeat Siedell's description in the July/August 2013 Modern Reformation issue:
The Scream forces us to recognize that this is not merely the product of a neurotic avant-garde artist, but a disclosure of the human condition we work feverishly to cover up, often by going to museums to look at art or to church to listen to sermons. This vulnerable little pastel, in its hermetically sealed silence, crowded by tourists in a museum in New York, calls a thing what it actually is.
God lovingly exposes our true condition. We find it in his Word, but we still don't want to look. We need to be new creations to even understand. Death isn't laughable, but necessary for true spiritual life. No neon lights, disco balls, trendy sermons or feel-good writing is going to change the devastating reality that apart from God, no one is good. No one wants to be the messenger that without conversion we are all children of wrath. But Jesus has overcome death! He has done this through the cross, the bloody cross of God's wrath on our sin. The cross of justice and grace. He held on while he was mocked to get himself down. What kind of God is this? One that enters our own humanity, who lives a righteous life that is utterly offensive to the self-righteous, and dies a cursed death in our place.
And so when we take ourselves to church for true worship, we are set apart by an amazing message:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:5-11)
God is love, and his love is holy. It exposes us for who we really are, and it demands our true worship. The church seems to love to say we are alive to God in Christ Jesus. But we must also consider ourselves dead to sin. How can we do this if we are promoting the culture's message that Love is god?
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Fallen: A Theology of Sin
Systematic Theology, Volume 2
Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction