I recently read an interesting article, Is the Mega Church the New Liberalism. It focused on culture, gospel, megachurches and compromise with a focus on the issue of homosexuality.
As I'll summarize here, I don't think compromise on the issues of homosexuality or liberalism is the issue for the contemporary megachurch, rather the over-arching issue is American consumerism and individualism. That in turn affects sexual identity, politics, and many other personal habits which may or may not be healthy.
My argument is that one reaches that conclusion by taking a close look at the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and frankly, how one defines the word gospel.
In Mark 1:15 Jesus says, “The time has come, The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
In this passage, the "good news" or gospel is directly tied to the Kingdom of God. In turn, a critical reading of Christ's teachings on the Kingdom of God tends to create revolutionary changes that go beyond personal salvation. On numerous occasions Jesus avoids giving a singular narrow definition of the Kingdom of God, but instead says, "The Kingdom of God is like..." and then goes on to share a parable which often included radical transformation and sacrifice. Consequently, the Gospel or "good news" should not be defined narrowly by some selected writings of Paul (for example, what some have called the Roman Road, or Four Spiritual Laws), but in combination with the whole teaching of Christ, which is generally not in contradiction with Paul, but rather gives depth and width to those short summaries.
The whole teaching of Christ is summarized well in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5, and by Christ's own teaching on what he was "anointed" to do in Luke 4:14-28. (good news to the poor, release of the captives, the end of oppression) As John Piper put it, "God is the Gospel." Or as I would put it, Christ is the Gospel, and the teachings of Christ are far reaching and not just personally and individually life altering, but systemically disruptive. Jesus did not intend for people to swear allegiance to him while supporting systemic oppression that fails to reflect the Kingdom of God. When Jesus shows up, he throws the money changers out of the temple and takes on the religious leaders of his day. He engages in creative destruction. He says things like, "you have heard it said, but I say unto you..."
Christ was not put to death simply because he claimed to be the Son of God, though that was clearly the pretext and part of the reason. Rather, he was put to death because he sought to radically upset the status quo in which the powerful and the wealthy, including the religious leaders, benefited at the expense of the poor and down trodden.
The good news of the Kingdom of God is that while the world is not as it should be, there is one who has come to make things right--calling us to repent, believe, and be a part of the transformation. For us political junkies, it is one in contrast to both a liberal perspective and a conservative one.
The question then as it relates to churches becomes, does my church reflect the values and concerns of the Kingdom of God, or has it capitulated to the marketing, excess, consumerism and individualism of the prototypical American experience?
The article referenced above points out some of the places where the church has capitulated to a uniquely Western/American reading of the gospel. A Gospel concerned with personal salvation to the exclusion of Christ's mind bending and disruptive teachings on the Kingdom of God.
As the article put it: "The urgency to reach people with the Gospel can, if the church is not faithful and watchful, tempt us to subvert the Gospel by redefining its terms."
While the article suggests that is a risk on the issue of homosexuality, and while it pointed out that it has largely already happened on the issue of divorce, (rendering the churches teachings on homosexuality less than authoritative) I believe the real risk is that we only here that part of he gospel which concerns the "other" wile we screen out that which challenges us. If the gospel is being subverted, the subversion is to a self-centered world view, not necessarily to a liberal or conservative one. Those are merely indicators. (An argument for another day is that a singularly liberal or conservative gospel is an unexamined and self-centered gospel, concerned more with the "other" than with ones self.)
The good news is that if we are aware of the challenge, if we choose to confront our own systemic prejudices, we can embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Then, recognizing our own failings, our prayer can be like that of father desperate for the salvation of his daughter, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief."
As a side note, while this piece could be read to to suggest that all
megachurches are problematic and even subversive to the gospel, that
is not my position. If thoughtful and careful, both the message and
systemics of the mega church can reflect the Kingdom of God, but it is
not easy. As the article noted: "Theologian David Wells leveled a massive critique of the doctrinal
minimalism, methodological pragmatism, and managerial culture of many
megachurches. And accused the megachurch movement of "flirting
with modernity" to a degree that put the Christian identity of the
massive congregations at risk." On the other hand, the article also pointed out many of the positive aspects of mega-churches as well.
For more on the values of Christ and the Kingdom of God in no particular order:
The Jesus Way by E.H. Peterson
Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by J.B. Green
Kingdom Ethics by G.H. Stassen
A Theology of the New Testament by G.E. Ladd
The Kingdom of God in the Gospels by J.C. Yen Ni
Understanding the Kingdom of God by G. Harkness (this one is fairly dense)