We hear a lot of conversation today about whether or not to have a “seeker” form of worship. Some say worship should be “seeker sensitive” while others talk about “seeker driven.” Some congregations have both “seeker services” and “believer services,” most notably the renowned Willow Creek Community Church. A hard example to take exception to, until you realize that Willow Creek is the prime example of the Boomer church in the bridge between Modernity and Post-Modernity. And it may not be the prototype of tomorrow, since Modernity is on its way out. It’s not gone yet, but it’s on its last legs.
So maybe a different question fits the true situation: “After Modernity, does any of this talk about ‘seekers’ mean anything?” Before answering this question, I need to share with you (1) my read of current and near-current events and (2) a brief history lesson.
My Read of Current and Near-Current Events
“Current and near current” refers to the next thirty years. With the slow collapse of Modernity (1600s-?), a new world is emerging in North America (and other places), built on an opposite view of reality and way of life from Modernity. Neither a better nor a worse world . . . just very different from the one into which most of us were born. Not wanting to belabor this point, I will simply include this chart and move on.
Modernity After Modernity
One God Polytheism
Ultimate truth Truth is relative
Grew up in church Grew up outside of church
Knowledge of Christianity Little to no knowledge of Christianity
Based on the above comparisons, I have concluded (along with many others) that the 21st century will resemble the 1st century more than the 20th century. If this adequately describes our times, then it stands to reason that we should examine the “seeker” issue from a 1st century perspective. What can church history tell us about this situation?
A Brief History Lesson
In the first few decades of Christianity, Christians were called “Nazareans” because people considered them one of the many sects within Judaism—such as the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, and others. Christians worshiped in the Temple, studied in the synagogues, and kept the dietary laws. First-century
Christians viewed themselves as simply a new segment of Judaism. Christian and Jew alike worshiped together with little thought at first of separation.
We also need to remember that Judaism had turned inward over the centuries, like much of North American Protestantism has. The Jews had a “bunker” mentality in which they kept themselves pure from the rest of the contaminated world. In the first century, Judaism was little more than a regional religion.
Jews no longer saw theirs as a faith mandated to be a blessing to the world. Rather they spent most of their time trying to keep the world at arm’s length. Sound familiar?
Several events transpired to drive the early Christians out of the synagogue and Temple and into a movement that would change the known world.
Acts 6 chronicles for us the first hint that Christianity would be a worldwide movement. Stephen was appointed to look after the Hellenists. Thus the community of believers expanded to include the Diaspora Jews (those who lived beyond the area around Jerusalem). Soon after, Stephen condemned Temple worship for its hypocrisy and institutionalism and was subsequently stoned to death. Slowly, Christians began to separate themselves from Judaism.
The second big outward push toward an understanding of Christianity’s worldwide impact came when Peter was forced to witness to Cornelius, a centurion who ate pork. The Holy Spirit thereby challenged the Jewish dietary laws. Not long after that, many Gentiles began accepting Christ in Antioch. So many did so that the disciples in Antioch began to be called “Christians,” further separating them from Judaism.
The third big push outward came (see Acts 15) when Jewish Christians challenged Paul for allowing Gentiles to become Christians without being circumcised. After a passionate plea by Paul, the Jerusalem Church decided that Gentiles did not have to give up their culture when becoming Christians. The Christian faith, no longer tied to Jerusalem, did not require people to be uprooted from their culture. Christianity was becoming a universal movement — just the opposite of what Israel had done.
The fourth big push outward came with Paul, who on his journeys encountered hostility from both Jew and Gentile. By the time he finished the fourth journey, Christianity had fully turned to the West, positioned to become a worldwide faith.
The fifth big push outward came when Nero’s persecution in A.D. 64 caused most Christians to flee Jerusalem. The Temple’s destruction in A.D. 70 succeeded in totally breaking Christians from Jewish customs. By the end of the first century, what we now call the New Testament was being formed. There was no turning back to the old ways. Christianity was no longer considered just another sect within Judaism. A new faith had been born, one that would sweep the known world.
What Has All of This to Do with Seeker Anything?
Everything. If this reading of Christian history even comes close, then it does not make senseanymore to haggle over whether or not we should be “seeker” anything. As in the 1st century, Christians and non-Christians today worship together. We cannot see the lines, either then or now, drawn as clearly as Modernity would like to have them.
We are learning about Postmodern evangelism that people today need to belong before they believe. In most of our institutionally driven congregations today, people have to believe before they can belong. Do you see where I’m going now?
Not long ago, one of our listserves had a heated debate about whether or not worship bands could have non-Christians playing in them. The debate showed that there are many Modernists on that listserv. They just don’t get the fact that the world of institutionalism is fading away.
But I can hear some of my conservative friends asking, “But what about Holy Communion? Should non-Christians be allowed to take part in Holy Communion after what Paul says about eating unworthily?” Again, they ask these questions from the standpoint of Modernity. If you ask those questions from the vantage point of the 1st century, they don’t make sense. People experienced the Passover in the home, not in an institution. Today, we have institutionalized Holy Communion and celebrate it in public worship. Catch my drift? Some won’t because it is too painful.
So What Should We Do?
We should worship together—seeker and Christian. Remember, Postmoderns have to belong before they believe.
I know I’ve told the following story in a previous Net Results article, but like many good stories it bears repeating. . . . On one of my early speaking tours I took a band with me. One time the drummer could not go, so we had to pick up a local drummer. Turned out he wasn’t a Christian. It didn’t faze our team. The band rehearsed each of the three nights of the daytime seminar. Each night they prayed, shared life’s experiences, and had Bible study. The new drummer was present. At the end of the last night of practice, the drummer asked the group what they had that he didn’t have. In awe of their intimacy with God, he also was as impressed by their close community and how they included him.
Did the drummer become a Christian? Not that night. But who knows . . . The seeds were sown. He witnessed Christian community in action and liked what he saw.
Many more such stories could be told. Our world is full of seekers, searching for something more to life than what they have found . . . so far. Our role is be there for them . . . to reach out with acceptance . . . to provide safe places for them to experience authentic community . . . and to help them BELONG SO THAT THEY WILL BELIEVE!
So you see why I say that all of this talk about “seekers” is becoming passe. Like so many other important things, its importance is fading away. So let’s move on and provide authentic 1st century worship in a 21st century world.
Postmoderns have to belong before they believe.
As in the 1st century, Christians and non-Christians today worship together.