The Enlightenment project, begun centuries ago and coming to full flower in the 17th with the primacy of reason and the scientific method, still exerts a potent hangover effect even in these post-Enlightenment or postmodern times. Without going into a complete history lesson (which I will tackle another time) we can say that the church bought into much of this project in the 19th century. We are still experiencing its effects today. Just as the factory system with its focus on efficiency and specialization was the fruit of applying certainty and objective principles to manufacturing, so the church has this continuing and nasty tendency to operate as though people ought to move through the teaching and ministry of the church and come out the other end as products ready for shipping to heaven. Whenever we focus on certainty in process, confidence in a particular project, and the expectation of people’s production as the highest of goals in the church then we are allowing Enlightenment philosophy and not biblical Christianity to shape our lives.
The essence of biblical Christianity revolves completely around the person and work of Jesus Christ. The most profound theological and practical statement I could make is that God the Father loves us through God the Son by means of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The work of Jesus has made deliverance from sin real, the restoration of the world possible, and it is the Spirit’s work to apply Christ’s redemption to us.
Ideally, therefore, church ministry teaches us this good news of Jesus, and everything is done in order to worship and exalt the Son and bless the world. But a warning must be given here because Christianity may be perverted into a form of Enlightenment-type idolatry through substituting the Church, the Bible, Christian service, spiritual experiences, or a list of do’s and don’ts for the person of Jesus Christ.
The Church is an idol when we miss the truth that Jesus is the Head of Church (Ephesians 1:22). The Bible is an idol when we neglect the truth that Jesus is the Living Word (John 1:14). Our Christian ministry and service is an idol when do not acknowledge the truth that Jesus is Lord of all, including the harvest (Matthew 9:38). Pursuing a spiritual experience or certain emotions are idols when we pass over the truth that Jesus is our sanctification, the one who sets us apart as holy (1 Corinthians 1:30). Living ethically and morally is an idol when we avoid the truth that Jesus is Messiah who has delivered us from the power of sin (Luke 6:46).
All of these ways put the onus on process and production, thus eroding the true foundation of Christianity, which is the person and work of Jesus. The source, content, authority, and provision in Christianity are all found in the Holy Trinity, made available to us through the work of Christ and revealed to us in the Word of God.
So, any church ministry that is worth its salt is continually seeking, submitting, and obeying the Word of God and responding to God with faith, hope, and love. It is to be a dynamic relationship and not a spiritual factory making expected people products. Sometimes we might get so discouraged over the lack of results, church conflict, apathetic people, or the paucity of spiritual growth within Christians that we end up unwittingly substituting some idol in the place of Jesus. Adding more bells and whistles to existing programs or starting new ministries because we think the objective factory system needs tinkering are not good options for church work. Instead, try reading through the Gospels again to get a fresh perspective on Jesus – who he is and what he did. Let the re-invigoration of the church, Christian organizations, and the Christian life be centered in Christ, and not in a curriculum or strategic plan, as if the assembly line has broken down.
We must return to Christianity and church ministry as the incredible relational and spiritual interaction between God and his people through worship, fellowship, and personable outreach. This is not a cerebral emphasis on reason in order to make the church factory run more efficiently, but a plea for fostering relationship with Jesus the Son, exaltation of God the Father, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. We serve and glorify a God who transcends Enlightenment reason and is not limited to the scientific method. Let us, therefore, live like it.