If this is the first post you’re visiting on my missional journey, feel free to start at the beginning here
The Christian Associates church planters’ assessment in Den Haag Holland was very interesting, unique and comprehensive. One illustration really stuck with me and was very formative.
“How do you kill a disease?”
Really. That was the question.
“How do you kill a disease?” he repeated. He paused before finally proceeding leaving just enough time for our brains to start turning.
He answered his question: “Either inoculation or quarantine.” I failed to see the relevance until he made the connection. “How do you kill Christianity?” The parallel puzzled me until I remembered that Christianity used to be huge in Europe and somehow it all but died out. “How do you kill Christianity? How do you keep it from perpetuating? Same answer: either inoculation or quarantine”.
Christianity can be eroded through inoculation. This happens when people have just enough exposure to Christianity to think they are fine. It doesn’t have to be the real thing just as a vaccine isn’t the living virus. It can be a selling of the Christian culture instead of a sharing of salvation. It can be a watered down version or an overly religious version – just so long as people think they have enough or know enough – enough to reject the real thing without ever encountering it.
This has been an issue in Europe where Christianity became a cultural thing. European Churches have now become museums and have lost their purpose and impact. I wish I could say that is just the case in Europe, but Christianity is being increasingly marginalized in Canada and the US. To re-popularize Christianity isn’t the solution as if we can make it cool again (see quarantine below). Rather, we need to teach the Word clearly and with present world application so that the gospel can be incarnated – lived out in our day. The real impact is believers living out the truth in the work place – being a good employee and a good witness.
Perhaps for Europe, the occurrence of liberal theology provided a significant dose to develop immunity – where the gospel that they were given no longer had the bite of a truly human divine Savior dying a real painful death for actual sin. They were given a Bible of good stories with good morals to put them to sleep.
But applied to the US, the Christianity that most people are exposed to is often pop-Christianity – a rockstar or sports hero thanking God for helping them win (really?), or the radical Westborrow church picketing in the name of Jesus. This exposure is just enough for people to think they know what Christianity is about without actually hearing the real message. Media is not our friend in these cases where what sells is just shock value and perhaps that just underscores the point. There is no healing in the message anymore…. People have had enough… of a watered down or polarized message to be thirsty for the real thing.
The other way you kill a disease is through quarantine. This is where the infected is isolated so as not to harm the rest. While a church can be geographically close to a population, keep the believer isolated and separate from that population. Make the Christian social subculture so increasingly weird to create a barrier to unbelievers. Let them have their own phrases and lingo so as to create a communication barrier with the rest of the world. Keep the Christians away, in their own social circles and make those circles difficult to penetrate. Let them believe that they are making a difference all wrapped up in their own world and unbelievers will be insulated from their message.
When I see the big Baptist churches with their church softball league, or the Christian hockey league I see the quarantine in effect. They keep cloistered to themselves so the darkness doesn’t get exposed to the light even in a social context. And perhaps this is for the best because sometimes Christians are the sorest of losers. Of course you can act like a heathen in those leagues because since it’s a Christian league everyone knows you are good – there is no reason to act like it.
So what is the way forward? For me spending time outside the culture made me realize the odd lingo I had developed. I became aware of Christian norms which didn’t relate to the general population and became aware of other societal norms which are actually healthy, worthy of picking up and which helped me connect with people.
The integrated life – the lack of quarantine – creates challenges. Seeing things from their perspective makes it harder to provide pat answers (thank goodness). It has also made me ask different questions of the Bible and has made me see the Gospels in a new light.
So, this inoculation-quarantine illustration really stuck with me. It would come to mind during my next two ministry locations (see the next two posts). It would haunt me every time I’d hear someone in these churches promote some really cool outreach event which was rooted in a weird Church subculture (I’ll explain later). I only wish I had shared the poignant question that maybe we were killing a blessed disease.
Live it Out: How are you and your Christian friends isolated from the world, or diluted in the world?
What are some social circles which you find uncomfortable? What is it about it that you find uncomfortable? What differences are atmospheric vs moral? To what degree do you think people are uninterested or anxious about outreach events based more on culture or atmosphere vs a real encounter with Jesus? How would you compare encounters with Jesus in the New Testament vs typical North American outreach events?