Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The San Andreas Fault of the Church: Covid (Part I)

It's been a long while since I blogged.  I was hired full time at my job in a more demanding capacity.  I feel like I have been drinking from a fire hose, but I love teaching.  Thank you for your patience.  

If you live in California, you have heard of the San Andras Fault.  It is a subduction zone, where the Pacific Plate is going under the North American Plate.  I once traveled for a geology class to observe the manifestations of this fault in the surrounding areas along the fault.

One such place was San Andreas Lake, where the soil at its bottom has been ground to such a fine powder by the horizontal motion of the two plates that water cannot permeate it, and the lake remains.  

I saw how a fence that once sat straight across the fault now stood at a zigzag, thanks to the 1906 earthquake where one side moved further north, taking some fence posts with it.  

In the desert north of Los Angeles, I visited some formations called "hogbacks," and they are aptly named.  They are pink colored rocks that have been pushed up by the force of the earth slowly moving, and then erosion has rounded them and they look like pigs stuck in the earth.

Geology lesson?  No.  But if you didn't know about the San Andreas, you'd have no reference point for all the weird geological features prominent in California.  The 1906 quake in San Francisco (and in Santa Rosa, north of S.F.) would seem like an aberration, a fluke, a one-time event.

Wrong.  The fault remains and it locks up in places. When the fault finally slips, the release of energy is huge, and big quakes (and perhaps even The Big One predicted by geologists) hit California.

I used to live there and the question after every quake was, "Is this a prelude to The Big One?"  I lived through the Sylmar quake (1971) where 50 or so people died when a hospital collapsed on itself and the Loma Prieta quake, (1989) that hit the Bay Area without mercy.  Both quakes were not preludes to The Big One. What were terrifying moments were then filed under, "Living in California."  

But the fault remains.  Active yes, in a quiet way, until that day when the San Andreas fault slips, and the earth moves.  

There has been a fault running through the evangelical church for a long time. It started with a simple question, "How do we get people into church?"  

In the 1970's, evangelism was huge--Billy Graham's Crusades, Evangelism Explosion, the "I Found It" campaign, and many others. I remember being part of that exciting time, because Hal Lindsey's book, The Late Great Planet Earth had predicted Jesus' imminent return. So, our church rolled up its sleeves and sought to evangelize.  

The 200th anniversary of our country also rolled around in 1976. Our church went all out, and we did a very patriotic salute to America in addition to doing a cantata dedicated to Jesus' return.

The 70's passed.  Jesus did not return. Every church I attended talked about evangelism, but I never again attended a church that organized such campaigns or showed such fervor.

Then I witnessed some new phases where "How do we get people into church?" took on new directions.  One was an emphasis on the Holy Spirit, and the gifts--tongues--dominated the services. If people were awestruck by His work and His presence, as evinced by signs and wonders, then people would be attracted to church. 

We found the chaos and the heavily biased sermons about tongues and how spiritual you will be if you speak in an unknown language (no interpretation was done) that we didn't return to that church.

Then came the Recovery Movement, with its emphasis on reaching  abuse victims and trying to help them overcome their broken backgrounds.  I attended seminars and went to 12 Step groups which had reclaimed Christ as the "Higher Power."

It made sense.  If you want to really reach people, you must meet them at the point of their truest need. 

Then we experienced was the mega-church. It was in southern California, and the first time I ever saw a cell phone was in the hands of the pastor, who stepped out of his Mercedes.  You had to audition for the worship team, and the leader was really talented. I later found out that this church was the result of a split, and half of the church had followed the pastor. Later, the pastor embezzled money to fund his affair. 

Overall, the tactics to encourage people to attend church--programs, gifts, large gatherings in large buildings--seemed to not work, for we are now facing a society that seems to be moving further and further away from Christianity, the church, and I fear, Jesus.

The fault in evangelical Christianity was locked, with pastors and churches trying everything they could to get people into the building and stay in the building, week after week: big worship teams,   multimedia, branding, vision statements, mugs, banners, coffee bars, bumper stickers, t-shirts, all with a spiffy logo, social media, big programs with big budgets. 

Then came new church plants.  Churches style themselves as one church with many locations that are now called campuses. Big name pastors, who speak, write books, conduct seminars and have huge followings seem to be the church model of today.

Then the fault slipped and the quake that hit was called not The Big One but Covid-19.

Covid-19 hit the churches and all their weaknesses were apparent.  Just as an earthquake will test the structural integrity of a building to its utmost, Covid-19 tested the structural integrity of this reworking of the church to reach the unsaved.  

The church collapsed in the minds of many, for it had replaced its foundation of making Jesus central, to creating a place where people could laugh, be happy and walk out feeling good about themselves.  

Many of the people who walked out of the churches were Christians and they haven't return.  Unlike 9/11, where people flocked to church to find peace in a time of turmoil, the church now seems to be attractive to some, but rather repellent to others. 


I will explore that in my next blog.

Happy Thanksgiving to you !

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