Beyond Deconstruction: Sixth Term
Billy Joel once wrote, or at least once sang, a song called “Honesty” with these lyrics:
If you search for tenderness
It isn't hard to find
You can have the love you need to live
But if you look for truthfulness
You might just as well be blind
It always seems to be so hard to give
Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you
Honesty is a lonely term. Church should be a place where honesty reigns. The Deconstructors who become Reconstructors want a space where the bull is dropped and the truth is told.
Gathering with others in a space called “church” has created a false world of performance played out on a platform. People used to put on what my mom called their “Sunday go-to-meetin” clothes and where the starch in their shirts was compatible with the starch in their deportment. To act out in church, to say a no-no or to entertain some idea frowned upon was to get yourself into first class trouble with an angry God behind an angry adult overseer or pastor.
So we have learned by social habit to act as we are supposed to act at church regardless of how we feel.
Families sometimes tear into the preacher going home or over dinner but at church you just don’t do that. Church was the place where conformity is practiced with the religious power of approval behind it. Good Christians act good at church.
The deconstructors in our Christian world think this is all “fake church.” They know there’s strategy driving it, the strategy of being accepted. But deconstructors have put paid to fake religion and dishonest Sunday behaviors.
They want a space of honesty. Church ain’t it.
Honesty about what? I suggest there are at least three tension points in honesty for the deconstructors/reconstructors.
First, about who you and they really are.
There was some relief for many when in the 1980s the seeker movement mushroomed into non denominational churches outside the mainstream and mainline and common denominations. They sensed a relief of starting all over again. Pastors quit wearing suits and ties, and people wore casual clothes to church, and religious lingo was dropped and ordinary language become the way to say things.
The word authenticity gained a foothold. That was promising.
But some of those performing on the stage with authenticity were proven to be frauds or at best occasional fakes. Honesty became the hidden virtue of the deconstructor who stayed in bed and found friends with whom she or he could be genuine and authentic and honest and share a meal and maybe pray a bit or even sing something together. I saw a brief video of Donald Miller the other day that expressed what I’m saying here.
The message of God’s transforming powers and the call to discipleship and the Spirit-empowered life – the ideas of the Christian life – have made honesty and authenticity unwelcome in many churches. They want stories of conversion and transformation. Stories of doubt and struggle challenge the way things are supposed to be.
In our weekly gatherings we confess our sins. I’m glad it’s a quiet confession though we do say aloud “we have not loved You or our neighbors as ourselves” and that we have sinned “in what we have done and we what have left undone.” I’m not one who wants to hear someone’s private sins in public spaces. The silent time we are given is welcomed, if we can avoid distractions, to assess and acknowledge our sins. Sinners gathered together is what church needs to say about itself.
But the reconstructors want a space that is safe enough for people to know things are not all well. They want fakes to be unmasked and fraudulence to be exposed. They want a place of grace for those who need it and want it, not a place for those who act their way through it.
Second, about what you and they really believe.
What churches articulate in their faith statements is not something the people in the church were part of. They are written by pastors and their friends, perhaps some elders or deacons, and are more often than not swiped from other nondenom churches. The Creed itself is fine, no matter how antiquated it may sound.
Those statements of faith often aren’t the distinguishing mark of that church. What seems to rise to the surface more than doctrinal statements, and if you doubt this you’re gonna get it wrong, is political partisanship. If you want to get a rise in a church, atonement theory or even inerrancy are unlikely to be the trigger. Trump or Biden or Clinton will trigger people.
Plus, some positions taken in church are not adhered to by the de/reconstructors and some of what they adhere to the church denies.
What churches articulate as theological confessions and creeds is a long way from what many in our pews think is important. Deconstructors into reconstructors, in other words, would like to see statements about justice or peace or economics. I’m not convinced the church is a political caucus for the hot-button topics driving social media, FoxNews, and CNN, but I am saying reconstructors want space for what concerns them so deeply. At some level, then, honesty compels the reconstructors to admit that doctrine is not what concerns them or what unites them to others. I believe this is a challenge churches either cannot meet or may choose not to meet.
Worship of God and the passions driven in culture are rarely on the same page.
Third, about what you and they are actually accomplishing in church.
What deconstructors want – often a transformed culture and society and nation that looks more like the kingdom – and what the reconstructors would like to build are often not high on the church’s agenda. A church draws people together to worship God, to fellowship with one another on the basis of being in Christ, to hear the Word of God in instruction and sermon, to participate in the Sacraments, and then to embody a Jesus-like life throughout the week.
Such a life means serving the community, and serving will be determined by the local community.
How what the church actually accomplishes what the deconstructors find most important is the big concern here.
I have heard more than one say to me, “What is the church actually accomplishing?” or “What are we doing?” and “What impact do we have on our local community?” These are entirely fair questions that often come with what the one offering the questions has already considered worthy of accomplishing. Deconstructors may well conclude that what the church wants to accomplish has little to do with what they want to accomplish. The reconstructors will ask for integration and interaction of church vision and culture/social vision but honesty makes the chasm between these two clear, perhaps too clear.
The reconstructors’ non negotiable is community and even national. They’re challenging many churches to think once again about the mission of the church.