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Dissidens’ Church, Missionaries, Football, and Culture

Admitting to reading Dissidens is almost like confessing to a bad habit. But I do read him. Actually, much of what he says appeals to me. Much bothers me. Much of what he says seems to indicate that he would be too cultured to hang around Jesus if He were to appear in the flesh again. Nor am I yet persuaded that calling names in derisive condemnation by one who carefully conceals his own identity is ethical. But that’s beside the point. It is usually not Dissidens that disturbs me when I go to his site. It’s his loyal minions that drive me batty. While they are drooling, some of us are actually reading the sources that Dissidens references, or – – shock of all shocks for the Dissidens Divines (as I derisively call them) – – have been reading them long before we ever heard of Dissidens. Nonetheless, Dissidens’ recent post, “The Little Brown Church in the Wasteland,” spurred a thought in my mind that has been brewing for some time.

He (Dissidens) complained that pastors watch football “to relate.” I sympathize with the complaint (and I watch football). I would concur that the ministerial obsession of “relating to the people” is killing authentic ministry. While we should know how to relate to the people, our goal is to help people learn how to relate to us. Our tastes, our loves, our ambitions, our goals, our focus as ambassadors of reconciliation should be most in tune with the nature and person of THE ONE we represent and therefore it should be our ministerial ambition to learn how to relate to our people only insofar as it enables them to relate to us as ambassadors and representatives of the only relationship that ultimately matters to them: their fellowship with God.

This juxtaposes with my recent post on France and Ball-of-Fat. Professional missiologists have for so long indoctrinated missionaries that they are supposed to “learn the culture in order to relate,” that most missionaries have caved in to a more subtle and delusive mentality: they make the studious effort to exalt the local culture a missionary virtue. The truth of the matter is that we are supposed to clash with pagan and ignorant cultures. Pagan and ignorant can be very refined and sophisticated, by the way. France illustrates that.

The rubber meets the road, however, when American home-boy pastors who are as red-white-and-blue as apple pie realize that theirs is a culture that they must clash with as well. They too must become missionaries. Not the kind of missionaries that fawn over the indigenous culture with uncritical love, but the kind who are prophets of contrast. How this fleshes out in each ambassador-prophet will vary.

In my case, watching football on Sunday is sacriligious, and I don’t mind saying so to anybody. This clashes with American culture, too many pastors, and most of the NFL schedule. My conscience is not easily bound, nor am I superstitious about the Lord’s Day. In fact, if I’m in another person’s home on Sunday afternoon and they have football on, I comfortably comply. I can relate. It’s a great sport. However, my personal practice for the Lord’s Day is different. I’m vocal about it, and I want as many people within my small sphere of influence to hear.

Why? Because not only do I relate to them, but I want them to eventually learn to relate to me. Sunday is a great day for rest, for spiritual rejuvination, for reading good books or long passages of Scripture. AND if they learn how to relate to their pastor’s counter-cultural way of making Sunday a day for spiritual rejuvination, reading good books and long passages of Scripture they will be brought into closer fellowship with God.

If this were multiplied in every single church in America and real fellowship with God was restored or made real, millions would watch football on Monday night (if they even cared to watch) instead of Sunday, and the NFL would have to consider a schedule change. Culture would change. Not because pastors were determined to change culture, but because they were determined to clash with culture. And that not for the sake of culture itself, but for the sake of their ambassadorial objective – the reconciliation of people to their God.

Nonetheless, our ambassadorial and priestly work of reconciliation requires by definition that we relate to the people we minister to. That relation varies from person to person. In my case, I don’t mind relating to everybody that I love and minister to that, like them, I get pooped. When I’m pooped I like seeing men in helmets run into each other. On Monday night.


4 Responses

  1. Hmmm, interesting thoughts. I haven’t read much on what missiologists believe missionaries should do about culture. Maybe I should read them, since I am a missionary. I am facing strong cultural currents that go against doing what is right. Pagans? Yes, in a huge way. Missionaries (whether foreign on not) much deal with a pagan culture.

    Keep writing about this. I want to hear what you have to say. I know that your parents were missionaries in Africa and France. I know that you grew up in France, and went back to France for 10 or so years as a missionary. I’m interested in what you have to say.

  2. Bob,

    Good post – I hate to admit to this – over the last several years I’ve almost given up football on Sunday’s altogether. I love College football on Saturday – even on a Thursday night (time to time – when I’m not out on a Thursday night visit). I will watch the second half of Monday night every now and then.

    In my case, it hit me about two years ago, the major dispensational carry-overs from the Old Cov’t to the New for the corporate Day of Worship – (for me) is “Worship” and “Rest.” Football frankly was undermining both on Sunday. For the guys who can watch and still come away with significant focus of Worship and Rest – great. I’ve also given Sunday football (for the most part)up. Which is really unbelievable if you knew how much I used to love Sunday Football. A neat thing has coresponded with this – I don’t really miss it. (Not hard to imagine when you consider football for Phoenix is the Cardinals – Oh brother! We are wanting to trade our football team for Hungry’s national waterpolo team – but Budapest wouldn’t take Bidwell – Oh well!)

    This is not to say I would never, never, never watch a set of downs on Sunday. However, for the most part I can’t. So, I appreciated your note. I hadn’t really heard of too many other guys that would admitt to this same sort of thing.

    Hey does this mean you and I have a “standard” that Doran doesn’t? Do you think he watches Sunday Football? If he does, does this make us more militant than he? Maybe this makes him more newevangelical in his view of “The Sabath.” You should ask him!

    Straight Ahead!

    Joel Tetreau

    PS – I also appreciate your comments about relating to men and culture.

  3. Joel,

    If you really want to liven a conversation, suggest that many of the current practices (not necessarily views) of separation by too many fundamentalists are more sociological than theological, more contextual than biblical, more grounded in culture than principia.

    The American Fundamentalist is very disinclined to see himself as a product of his culture. In other words, maybe what we need is some foreigner to land on our shores and tell us, yes us!, that our culture is skewed, thus our practice.

    In the meantime, recovering Sunday as an entire day for the Lord’s Church is a good place to start!

  4. Bob,

    Great point. It actually might be fun to do a comparison of the accepted “absolutes” of fundamentalism and ask the question is the root a Biblical one or a Cultural one. That would be fun!

    Blessings Bob!


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