Altamont Reformed Church

From the Pastor's Desk

June 2018

Dear Members and friends,

One of the challenges facing the church is being seen as irrelevant. And this reputation isn’t completely unearned. The consumerism of our culture has, for too long, infected the church and has turned the church into a purveyor of religious goods and services on the open marketplace. As “cultural Christianity” has declined, there has been less market for religious goods and services. This is the center of the program-based church that I often talk of, the program-based church that is a relic of the past and not its future. So, then, what is ahead for us? Is it just a slow and gradual decline into death? Into irrelevance?

For many Christians, the way to respond has been to oppose culture. Decry the declining social religiosity. Point out everything that they think is wrong. Christians, then, are those who are against a host of things. But I don’t think this is a faithful response. It is true the church has lost influence in the social realm. But the question that remains on my mind is whether or not we ought to have had that power and influence in the first place.

Let us never forget that we follow an incarnate God who died naked on a cross. The way of Jesus is the way of victory through sacrifice, exaltation through humility, life through death.

And so if the above response is not the way to respond to the changing cultural contexts, then what do we do? Engage with the change. Lean into it. Engage the changing culture not as an enemy to be vanquished, but as a world which is deeply loved by God. A world which is hurting by broken relationships,
loneliness, economic injustice, discrimination, chronic busyness, fear, prejudice, being overworked and worn out. This world is not an enemy of God, it is a part of God’s creation, and we ought to engage this world and the cultural shifts not as an opponent, but as neighbors, friends, families.

But what is the role of the church in all of this? What is the role of the church if we are to be neither the legalistic morality police nor a purveyor of religious goods and services on the market? The church is to be an agent of wholeness, transformation, and justice. The church is to be an agent to heal divisions, to end injustice, and to point the world to God’s coming reign of justice, peace, and wholeness. The Prophet Isaiah writes, “you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in” (58:12b). Indeed, the church can help people to be more fully human, the humanity for which God created us. The church is called to be a light shining in the darkness.

This is the future into which we are invited. This is the way forward for the church. It is not to stand alongside all of the other things competing for ever-shrinking time in our oppressively busy lives. But what we have to offer is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that liberates, that frees, that includes. The Gospel of Jesus Christ heals; it affirms; it challenges. We are called to be a prophetic voice to the world that values people, that values the creation that God has given to us. We are called to find our place in the Altamont of 2018, and 2020, and 2030, the Altamont of 1888, or 1920 or 1970. And I hate to break it to you, but this has nothing to do with worship style or music style. That’s surface level. We need to go deeper. We need to be transformed from the inside out.

And as a step toward this, I want to experiment with something over the summer. For seven weeks, Marie and Hendrik and I would like to host dinner and conversation at the parsonage. This won’t be a well-organized dinner invitation. This will be much more like a big family gathering. We will share a meal together, potluck style, we will sit at the tables, or on the couch, or on the floor, or the porch. And then we will talk about a topic related to how our faith informs our daily lives, whether we are at work, or in school, or at the golf course. Serious topics, contentious topics. The things that you’re never supposed to talk about at a party. Because if we can’t talk about these things in the church family, then where can we? We will address a single topic each night but different topics throughout the summer. So it’s less of us hosting you, and more of the church gathering at our house. So come and be
prepared to help set up and clean up, and come with an open mind and an open spirit, come with the courage to speak and the humility to listen. Come expect to be challenged, changed, and transformed. If you have questions, please contact me.

If you’re interested in coming, it’d be nice to know approximately how many people might be there, but come regardless, even if you don't RSVP. And bring a dish to pass. We will share whatever God provides for us. Sundays (June 3, 10, 17, 24; and July 15, 22, and 29) from 5-7 p.m. Hopefully this will also be a welcoming space to others, as well, others who are not a part of our church but who might be interested. So feel free to invite others.

With deep and abiding love,