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Smartphone As Cathedral

Take a look at that short promotional video for “Churchome Global,” a new initiative from a church pastored by Judah and Chelsea Smith.

“Churchome is a way for you to fully experience church on your phone,” says Chelsea Smith, in the video.

No. Just, no.

Churchome Global is the apotheosis of Protestantism. Just you and God, mediated through your smartphone. No sacraments. The simulacrum of community and connection. An emotional experience of the divine. The world fully inside your head.

It’s worth spending some time on the Churchome website. Clearly these folks are touching a lot of people.

Take a look at their “About” page.  [1] There are no creeds there, no “statements of faith,” nothing to indicate what the people in this church believe. There is this, though:

Luke 15 has become such a hallmark passage for our community. The idea and concept of home is centric in scripture. It is the idea that every human is a sojourner and he/she is returning home. Home is not so much brick and mortar, an actual space or place or room. Home is a place and a posture our soul discovers in Jesus – where the created returns to a loving relationship with the Creator. Bringing people home is what God does. Whether prodigals or prodigies, artists or intellectuals, rebels or rejects—God’s arms are open to all. God is making Churchome a community where everyone is welcome, not just to a physical building, but to an emotional place of refuge in Him. Home is God.

“…to an emotional place of refuge in Him.” Not to Truth, and transformation through an encounter with that living Truth, but to an emotional state.

“Home” is a big theme with this church. In this video sermon on the website [2], Judah Smith, its a very charismatic co-pastor, offers (around the 35-minute mark) his model for the church: a place where everybody gathers to celebrate. He goes on about how much he opposes divisiveness. It becomes clear that the point of Churchome (formerly known as “City Church”) is to feel good about yourself, and to feel good about feeling good about yourself in the presence of others who feel good about themselves.

This is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism without much moralism, frankly. I discovered, via this MTV News profile [3], that Judah Smith is Justin Bieber’s pastor, and indeed is proud to be known as “Hollywood’s A-List Pastor.” The writer, who identifies herself as Jewish, talks about going to a Smith church event in L.A. right after Trump was elected, hoping to find reason to hope:

We expect City Church’s atmosphere to be similarly solemn and tortured. Instead, it’s more akin to Church Coachella. Everyone is extremely hot and serene and mostly white, milling about and chatting offhandedly between rows. We spot approximately 16 fedoras, dozens of carefully tousled blowouts, and at least one of the actresses from Twilight. While none of the aforementioned A-listers appear to be in attendance, everybody looks like a derivative of a celebrity, a famous-face stunt double. Leah and I ask each other, “Wait, is he on Teen Wolf?” about no fewer than six men.

And then there’s the hugging. The beautiful, blithe constituents of City Church greet each other with such intimate, lengthy, erotic hugs that it becomes abundantly clear that at least half of them are Here To Find Somebody To Have Sex With, Perhaps Long-Term. Though the few congregants I speak to expound animatedly on how City Church drew them in by fulfilling promises of real friendship and “feeling good” (one tells me she came to church because “I heard Pastor Smith was really funny, and makes you feel like a friend”), the pre-service socializing vibe is a little more Tinder than Touched by an Angel.

Pastor Smith is a fashionable 20 minutes late to the stage. While we wait, a cavalcade of Bieber hits tumbles from the speakers, and eventually, a sexy Christian rock band — made up of other non-famous, very hot Jesus followers in backward hats and the apparently required distressed denim — sets up and begins to jam languidly.

“I am full of faith for the community, you, the future,” Smith begins earnestly, the rapt congregation following his emotional lead. “And I am full of grief at the same time, because of so much pain and division in our country. No matter what you believe about policy, tonight we’re in an elevated conversation. This space is about people, it’s not about policies. Policies come and go; people are eternal.”

Abruptly, and without warning, he changes lanes. “My name’s Judah, I’ve been married to my wife 17 years as of November 5,” he yells, to raucous cheers. “It was an awesome anniversary celebration and there was just a lot of sex. Chels and I have determined that we literally have had sex more than 2,000 times. We actually counted. Can I say something about sex for a minute — can we elevate the conversation?” More cheering, loud laughter. “If you had sex with the same person 2,000 times, you get good. I’m just saying. I’m having a lot more fun than you are. I can guarantee you that, buddy. I love you guys. I adore Chelsea. We have three kids — a 10-, 12- and a 7-year-old, and they love life and they love God. You know God makes sex, right? So if we’re God worshippers, Jesus followers should have the best sex on the planet because it’s sacred sex and it’s dedicated sex and it’s in the context God intended sex, so it’s the best sex.”

Without missing a beat, Smith veers right back into the sermon, which is long — almost an hour — and peppered with exclamatory “wows” and “amens” from the crowd. He begins by sharing the biblical tale of Paul and Timothy, which deals with the concept of poor leadership, and what Christians should do when faced with leaders “puffed up with conceit.” According to Smith — who projects the word “FIGHT” on a PowerPoint behind him for much of the sermon — the correct course of action is “fighting the good fight of faith.”

So that’s Pastor Smith. The writer continues:

Though his intentions are honorable — to comfort, to relieve pain — it appears Smith “genuinely won’t go here” regarding the very real dangers of a Trump presidency, either. After spending two hours with this man, I’m not completely clear about whether he’s a progressive who’s too afraid to speak out about Trump and risk alienating his audience, or quietly supportive of our president-elect. His is a nice idea, though, especially seductive to an overly anxious person like myself: the idea that politics are debasing and temporary, that we should elevate ourselves by focusing on the long game of our eventual death. Smith is so charismatic and compelling and convincing that I imagine it would be easy, as a young Jesus follower, to listen to these words and feel soothed.

I can’t help but notice, though, that these words are only applicable if you know you’ll always have food and clothing and all of the the basic rights and protections that a decent government should provide — in other words, if you look like Smith. Smith’s good fight of faith is a privileged one, an exhale that can really only be expelled by those fortunate enough to have the choice to let go, to put it all in God’s hands, to turn off CNN and spend the next 50-odd years having sacred sex and tasting artisanal beers and smelling the roses [4] and calmly waiting to die. Most of us — including the not-insignificant number of women and people of color and queer youth scattered through Smith’s audience — can’t just exhale for the duration of our natural lives; we’ve still got to breathe.

Though I wouldn’t have come at Smith from an SJW angle, or from a narrowly political angle, the writer is onto something. She observes from the point of view of a secular progressive, but she sees accurately that there is no there there with Smith. It’s all about soothing emotions. What, exactly, does it mean to be a Christian within the Churchome community? There seems to be no firm connection at all to anything — only a vague sense of progressive millennial non-denominational uplift. Of course they believe that you can “fully experience church” on your smartphone! “Church” is nothing but an emotion, or, to be precise, “an emotional place of refuge in Him.”

When I call this “the apotheosis of Protestantism,” I’m not at all saying “this is how all Protestants are.” By no means. Most of my Protestant friends would roll their eyes at this hipster holiness. And I know that many, even most, contemporary American Catholics and Orthodox essentially regard their own churches with Smith’s therapeutic deistic mentality. Church is the place where they feel at home — and God is the wallpaper there.

No, what I mean by that phrase is that insofar as Protestantism is a general approach to God that downplays or even dismisses the mediating artifacts, rites, and institutions — sacraments, liturgies, traditional churches, etc. — and that, in many expressions of contemporary Evangelicalism, upholds the subjective experience of God as the end point of the temporal Christian life … well, why isn’t Churchome the ultimate expression of that rootless, placeless, disembodied, radically subjective approach to Christianity?

Would Ignatius of Antioch [5] recognize it as Christianity? Ignatius, who succeeded St. Peter as bishop of Antioch, died a martyr in the city of Rome around 107 A.D. He left behind a series of letters [6] he wrote to the churches as he was being led to Rome to be killed. Is there anything in Churchome’s version of the faith that would give a Christian condemned to be eaten by lions in front of an audience the strength to persevere? If not, why waste your time with it?

Yesterday I wrote critically of the crackpot sex-obsessed progressive Christianity of the Pornstrix. [7]What she represents is not the greatest threat to authentic Christianity, not by a mile. What Judah Smith represents is far more toxic. A reader named Joseph, in another thread today, wrote:

Regarding the erosion of traditional morality even in Christian circles: I served in a church of mostly Millenials for a few years, and we saw this as well – not necessarily total acceptance of same-sex marriage, but 1) a rush to soft-pedal the Bible’s teaching on homosexual practice, and 2) a sense that this restriction is arbitrary.

A parallel belief we saw, that I think informs the first belief more than I realized then, was a growing distaste for the idea of having children. It wasn’t articulated clearly; but my wife and I both saw, in women particularly, almost a growing disgust with the realities of bearing and having children.

Where these beliefs merge, I think, is the loss of a sense of responsibility to past and future generations. Traditional cultures see individuals as having obligations backward in time, to honor one’s parents, and forward, to provide for one’s (hoped-for) children. I don’t know what’s played into it, but my generation (Millennials) is losing a sense of both goods: the goods of honoring past generations and creating future ones. Or at least we’re valuing other goods that render those less desirable. [Emphasis mine — RD]

A big part of both Old and New Testament Christianity is the good of becoming parents, being blessed with children; but as that becomes less desirable or even undesirable, it’s harder to see what’s wrong with sexual practices that are by nature sterile (instead of due to accidents of age, etc.).

There’s even a stream of evangelicalism that’s particularly bad about rushing to condemn “traditional” Christianity over “gospel” Christianity, and quick to put anything that our parents or grandparents did under suspicion. This stream still does see childbearing as a good, from what I see; but generational responsibility probably has to flow both ways, or it will flow neither.

There is no temporal flow at all in Churchome. There is nothing in the past that matters, and nothing to carry through to the future, and if there were, there’s certainly no means by which to carry it. It’s all about the everlasting ecstasy of Now. You and your smartphone, and the simulacrum of connection, and of God.

On the other hand, here is Orthodox theologian Dumitru Staniloae, standing up for the old way of seeing things as Christians [8]:

Salvation isn’t obtained in isolation, but in a cosmic frame. This value of the world as a road to God is explained by the fact that man must have an object of giant proportions for strengthening his spiritual forces, but also from the intrinsic structure of the world as a symbol of transcendent divine realities. A symbol (from the Greek symballein, to throw together, to unite two things without confusing them), is a visible reality which doesn’t only represent, but somehow makes an unseen reality visible. …  A symbolic consciousness of the world, “sees everywhere in this world the signs and symbols of another world, and perceives the divine as the mysterious and infinite, beyond that which is finite and transitory.”

Whatever else this does, it takes you out of your head. As Martin Benda, who grew up as a Catholic under communism, said to me in explaining how his family endured without surrender: “We felt responsible to something outside of ourselves.”

The older churches taught that you can experience the fullness of the Church in the Eucharist, which liturgical Western Christians may hold in their hands before consuming it. (Orthodox Christians receive wine-soaked bread in a spoon, taken from the chalice.) Now, these postmodern Protestants have a pseudo-Eucharist in the palm of their hands, via their smartphones. What is the sign that the smartphone church points to? What is the unseen reality it makes visible?

The sacred, sovereign Self.

I believe it was Churchill who said that we make our buildings, and our buildings make us. So it is with our tools, like the smartphone. This is a warning.

UPDATE: To be completely fair, Pastor Smith’s approach is a slicker version of the RCIA instruction (catechesis for converts) I endured during my first approach at Catholicism in 1991. Three months into it, I found myself lying on my back in a dark room with a bunch of other catechumens, while Sister Stretchpants led us in a guided meditation in which we were trying to find our authentic selves. I realized finally that all of us were going to get to the point of being received into the Catholic Church without knowing anything about what the Catholic Church taught, or expected of us, other than to be pleased with ourselves, all together. I gave it up.

UPDATE.2: A reader points out that Churchome is Church O’ Me. 

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50 Comments (Open | Close)

50 Comments To "Smartphone As Cathedral"

#1 Comment By Chris – the other one On November 7, 2018 @ 1:59 pm

Churchome Global is the apotheosis of Protestantism. Just you and God, mediated through your smartphone. No sacraments. The simulacrum of community and connection. An emotional experience of the divine. The world fully inside your head.

No, what I mean by that phrase is that insofar as Protestantism is a general approach to God that downplays or even dismisses the mediating artifacts, rites, and institutions — sacraments, liturgies, traditional churches, etc. — and that, in many expressions of contemporary Evangelicalism, upholds the subjective experience of God as the end point of the temporal Christian life … well, why isn’t Churchome the ultimate expression of that rootless, placeless, disembodied, radically subjective approach to Christianity?

I for one would be interested in reading a longer critique in this vein, which seems to be a hidden criticism in The Benedict Option and one which might explain why many conservative Evangelical Protestants have had a rather cool reception towards your book.

To what extent is The Benedict Option a critique of Protestantism in general? To what extend did the Reformation itself pave the way to MTD-Christianity?

#2 Comment By Dan R On November 7, 2018 @ 2:01 pm

Let’s be fair to Judah Smith…he’s kind of a doofus but is he really worse than the Catholic priests who are clearly bored but showing up because reciting mass is a job, or the evangelical minister who is in it mostly because it gives him status as leader of the community, or the folks whose religious identity is mostly based around Donald Trump (and George W Bush before him)?

(sorry for the double post but the lack of ? was bothering me…please don’t approve the first comment)

#3 Comment By Roy Fassel On November 7, 2018 @ 2:10 pm

The Lord’s Prayer

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their reward. But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father,who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard.…
Berean Study Bible

King James Bible

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

#4 Comment By Richard On November 7, 2018 @ 2:39 pm

Wow, no ministering to the wretched? No icky-sticky afterbirth or blood or thorny crowns or sacrifice or hard choices?

Sigh.

I’m not a Christian, but it seems like Pastor Smith’s main concern is making sure you, the prospective congregant, are well aware how much God loves…Pastor Smith, so you can be like…Pastor Smith. It’s nothing more than re-packaged Gospel of Wealth horse crap.

#5 Comment By Elijah On November 7, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

“Just you and God, mediated through your smartphone. No sacraments. The simulacrum of community and connection. An emotional experience of the divine.”

Actually, this kind of thing has been around for a while, just on streaming devices through TV and whatnot.

For a certain type of Protestant, the message takes precedence over everything (it’s how you end up with celebrity preachers) and people will go to ridiculous lengths to find ones they like. Evangelical friends of ours left their church for some live-streamed megachurch god knows where, and they go to a local church once a month for communion.

Even for low church Protestants, it’s hard for me to imagine how you build any kind of community. Maybe that’s a feature, I don’t know. It’s all about the self, baby.

#6 Comment By Captain P On November 7, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

“No, what I mean by that phrase is that insofar as Protestantism is a general approach to God that downplays or even dismisses the mediating artifacts, rites, and institutions — sacraments, liturgies, traditional churches, etc.”

Well, now you’ve just assumed your conclusion. Protestantism is an identifiable set of theologians and churches, not just some vague “anti-mediationism.” In any event, this “church” is some postmodern nondenominational invention that would be unrecognizable to Christians as of 100 years ago – no need to imagine to the ancient church’s response here.

#7 Comment By DennisW On November 7, 2018 @ 2:52 pm

More from the about page: “Judah is known for his fresh, anointed, humorous messages that demystify the Bible and make Christianity real.“

As opposed, I guess to the “fake” Christianity that prevailed for most of the last 2000 years (which probably contained some mysticism too, God forbid!). Thankfully, Judah has finally discovered “real” Christianity in Hollywood and eliminated all traces of holy mysticism. And what on earth does “anointed” mean in that sentence? Anointed by whom, and by what authority? Since his church recognizes no authority beyond the individual self, I can only presume he has been self-anointed in some magical way.

Not only is this the apotheosis of Protestantism, it is naturally also the apotheosis of Americanism (and both are utterly nauseating).

#8 Comment By J On November 7, 2018 @ 2:52 pm

Re your comment on RCIA, a Roman Catholic priest once told me that among his colleagues, the program was known as “Roman Catholics In Agony”.

#9 Comment By grumpy realist On November 7, 2018 @ 2:54 pm

Given that a heck of a lot of Catholic priests didn’t worry about what they were doing to the younger generation, why are you so taken aback that Christianity is losing its transmissive capabilities? No wonder parents aren’t handing on the faith. They’ve seen how much respect the priests have for them and their children; i.e., none at all.

#10 Comment By Matt in VA On November 7, 2018 @ 2:55 pm

A parallel belief we saw, that I think informs the first belief more than I realized then, was a growing distaste for the idea of having children. It wasn’t articulated clearly; but my wife and I both saw, in women particularly, almost a growing disgust with the realities of bearing and having children.

I just want to draw extra attention to this passage and to the bolded text and say to conservative Christians that if you do not start finding ways to deal with this reality or, hell, even *acknowledge* it, you are going to continue to be in trouble. The commenter Joseph is absolutely right, here, and I see little evidence that conservative Christians are even *aware* of this. They are still on “We need to get *men* to commit and marry” autopilot. Listen to Joseph, here, and, for that matter, to Hoellebeqc!

#11 Comment By Adam On November 7, 2018 @ 3:09 pm

I’ll be really bummed if this app doesn’t deliver coffee to my bed.

#12 Comment By Jack On November 7, 2018 @ 3:11 pm

Judah Smith looks slightly like a young Jim Jones.

#13 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On November 7, 2018 @ 3:15 pm

It always comes back to sex, doesn’t it.

Really liked that Larry Chapp essay earlier. This is a variation on the same theme. In particular is strikes me as a point in favor of his avowal that the future is Huxley’s Brave New World. What we have here is spiritual soma, the drug that Huxley’s characters take in order to be happy.

#14 Comment By DRK On November 7, 2018 @ 3:19 pm

Reminds me of Pat Robertson et al. TV church doesn’t work and neither will smartphone church. And for the same reason; Jesus said, “when two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”. He didn’t say he would be similarly with a person staring at a device, did he?

This is one of the many reasons I don’t believe the Singularity will ever occur. We evolved to have physical bodies, with all their flaws, needs and desires, and to be around other humans with physical bodies. Ironically, for the sake of one’s souls, one have to be physically present with other humans to have true fellowship. TV and smartphones are no substitute.

#15 Comment By Catholic Movie Guy On November 7, 2018 @ 3:19 pm

I just want to point out that it’s better to transcribe “Churchome” as “Church O’Me”

[NFR: You win the thread! — RD]

#16 Comment By Leslie Fain On November 7, 2018 @ 3:21 pm

In my first attempt at Catholicism, I asked a deacon what the Catholic Church teaches one must believe and/or do to be saved, and he said basically that the Church believed people in all religions will be saved, but that if I wanted to become Catholic, I needed to take a class once a week for 9 months. I was just like, nah, I’ll just stay where I am and not bother with the class.

#17 Comment By Joey D. On November 7, 2018 @ 3:28 pm

“a general approach to God that downplays or even dismisses the mediating artifacts, rites, and institutions — sacraments, liturgies, traditional churches, etc.”

I suspect the Lutheran Church would disagree a bit with this summary. It works much better as a description of MTD in particular than of Protestantism, and as you have written MTD sadly isn’t confined exclusively to Protestantism.

#18 Comment By Ted On November 7, 2018 @ 3:31 pm

Smith is beyond help. The poor benighted people who think there’s some good in this…

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, it’s all screw the laity all the time:

[9]

Not only don’t they care, they don’t care how bad they look any more. Love that cappuccio, Sean.

#19 Comment By Mister Pickwick On November 7, 2018 @ 3:32 pm

I agree with Chris-the other one. Rod has always been fair to us Prots. But more and more, there is an undercurrent in the discussion of the BenOp which is very critical of Protestantism (even beginning to sound like “What a fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Martin Luther!”). I think many of us who read this blog would appreciate a fuller discussion of the issue.

And as for this app: perhaps you recall Garrison Keillor’s hilarious “online worship service” routine from quite a few years back (perhaps a couple decades). So that’s one Protestant who saw this coming, and ridiculed it.

[NFR: I welcome a fuller discussion of the issue. I don’t know nearly as much as I should about classical Protestantism, so please help me out here. If you read “The Benedict Option,” you know I don’t blame Martin Luther so much as I blame William of Ockham. As I believe I put in the book, the Catholic historian Brad Gregory (or perhaps the Reformed theologian Hans Boersma, I can’t recall) points out that most of the theoretical basis for the Reformation was in place before Luther, having been accepted by changes in Catholic thinking. Anyway, I know the Lutherans have sacraments too. It’s not the old-school Lutherans that concern me. It’s the idea of losing sacramentality — which you might loosely call the conviction that matter matters. — RD]

#20 Comment By cermak_rd On November 7, 2018 @ 3:34 pm

At least Rev Smith seems to have realized that the hardest thing about spreading Christianity (or any religion most likely) is getting peope to actually gather.

I live in Chicagoland. Lost of church plants. Many of them fail and the ones that survive wind up getting members at the expense of the churches those members used to attend. This is because there is a limited percentage of people who are actually willing to attend services. But if you could break outside that prism and get those people who aspire to be Christians but don’t want to go to a building, you’d get further.

[NFR: Catholicism and Orthodoxy can’t do that, by our nature. What does it mean to “get further”? I’m not being snarky. For Orthodox and Catholics, at least (and perhaps for classical Reformation Protestants), affirming belief is only the beginning of the Christian life. We Orthodox say that the point of everyone’s life is theosis, to become divinized. An ecclesial gathering that brings 10,000 people together for the sake of feeling at home with God might have some minimal value, but it’s not theosis, and is if anything an obstacle to it. — RD]

#21 Comment By Evw On November 7, 2018 @ 3:34 pm

I got as far as the phrase in the second paragraph “the publicist representing him.”

If only Jesus had proper representation, just think how far he could have gone.

#22 Comment By Xenia Grant On November 7, 2018 @ 3:42 pm

Rod:

As an Orthodox Christian who is also autistic,I news to be in church physically for service. It doesn’t matter if it is a liturgy, vespers or another kind of service. I need to see the icons, the priest, the choir, and smell in incense and be in that physical space of the Embassy of Heaven. I know that the Church Triumphant with the angels, Saints and God Himself is there. It is not the same when I am not in church. Life itself is empty without the Medicine of medicines (the Eucharist). Quite honestly, this sinner physically can’t live without church services! May God have mercy on me a sinner.

#23 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 7, 2018 @ 3:56 pm

Nothing Protestant about it. You can’t find God without the fellowship of fellow communicants. (We do have two sacraments).

There have been times in my life when Sunday afternoon was the most depressing time in the week, because I had spent the morning with a lot of people in an important corporate event, and now I was all alone. Seeking God on my cell phone wouldn’t have been a solace.

#24 Comment By Eliana On November 7, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

Gee, Rod, that RCIA experience you describe sounds so awfully pedestrian to me.

You shoulda been at the RCIA gathering I was at once where a priest wearing a blue velveteen replica of Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice hat from Fantasia led those preparing to enter the Church in a march around the room to the tune of that perennial Disneyland favorite, “It’s a Small World”.

True story.

By that time I was already Catholic, though.

#25 Comment By suburbanp On November 7, 2018 @ 4:05 pm

Is it possible to be an Orthodox Christian at a Churchhome reading level?

Every time you quote from Orthodox theologians, I find my eyes glazing a bit–and I believe this stuff.

We’re missing the “USA Today” stylebook for explaining the faith. It’s possible that all traditional Christians are.

Until we seriously consider how to explain the essential depths of our faith at a 7th-grade reading level, we can’t catechize our children beyond MTD. We can’t offer the poor and homeless a place in our communities because we don’t have a way to communicate Christ to non-college graduates.

Pastor Judah knows his audience, and they don’t have to have a PhD to agree with what he teaches. We Orthodox could learn from the language, if not the content.

#26 Comment By Joseph On November 7, 2018 @ 4:12 pm

I’m glad my comment from the other post was helpful in this one!

I agree that the smartphone could be considered the paradigmatic technology of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – the “symbol,” to borrow that language, of the worship of the Self.

If I could offer a nuance of your argument that smartphone-based “church” is the apotheosis of Protestantism, I’d say two things:

1) Confessional Protestantism (historic Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, etc., even some Reformed Baptists) weren’t the ones who emphasized personal experience over everything else: they believed the Catholic tradition had gone astray, but – in their minds, at least, and I think they were – sought to develop traditions that were more faithful to the Bible. They were more like Federalist Society types with the Constitution than rabid re-inventors. The “me and Jesus experience” type comes more in the revivalism made famous by Charles Finney.

2) While I am drawn to encouraging traditionalism in formal worship (i.e., the forms we use in worship services), one of the big Protestant emphases was that Christianity is an “obediential” religion at least as much as it’s a formal one. The forms our worship takes matter – and they do shape us – but, as passages like Romans 12:1-2 and James 1:27 remind us, worship is the submission of our whole selves to God. It means ordering our personal relationships, our time, and our use of resources around the kingdom of God, in whatever particular circumstances we inhabit. “Worshipping God” means “obeying God” as much as it means “experiencing God.”

A biblically and traditionally robust Protestantism would stand and condemn the Churchome practices too, and would say that missing worship forms are part of the problem; but it would also say that a failure to encourage obedient submission to God (or a failure to condemn disobedience) is as much of a problem.

To bring it back to smartphone-based “church,” we’d say that smartphones are a generally neutral tool; but also that submission to God requires giving ourselves to relationships and practices that one cannot do through a phone, and addictive screen use makes us more likely to serve momentary pleasure than God or our neighbors. If we make those goods preeminent, both in our corporate church worship and in our personal lives, it would relativize our seeking to be entertained more toward the level where it belongs.

#27 Comment By Antonio On November 7, 2018 @ 4:12 pm

Rod, I share your skepticism but think you’re being too hasty.

When it comes to thinking through how cellphones can be used for spreading the good news, the topic is rather large. I don’t see cellphones as an essentially “Protestant” (in effect), nor do I think they necessarily create narcissists.

And I actually found it remarkable that Smith described married (non-contraceptive?) heterosexual sex as “the best,” which it certainly is.

Yes, he’s trying to evangelize the wealthy. Yes, it looks like a ridiculous charade. Yes, it says little (that I can tell) about the Cross, the poor, and sacrifice. It also doesn’t appear to say how “Churchome” is related to brick-and-mortar parish life. I didn’t see any reference to Christ either, but I didn’t look very hard.

But Jesus had no problem speaking to rich people, and even loving them. Nor should we. Even on the phone.

[NFR: My objection is not to using mobile phones for evangelization. It’s to saying that you can fully experience church via the mobile phone. — RD]

#28 Comment By joshua On November 7, 2018 @ 4:30 pm

I agree with the sentiment. I belong to the ECLA Lutheran church. I was raised there and saw the moral quagmire of LGBT as it occurred. I watched many good people leave. Recently in a life group a new member to the church started talking about LGBT events in front of our 2 and 3 year olds. The rest of the room including myself pretty much fell silent and thank G-d the little ones amped up the ruckus drowning out the person. I brought it up to the pastor and we both essentially agreed. We know the views expressed by some in our church are absolutely against what Jesus taught. My pastor made the comment that you don’t lead with damnation. He asked me if I knew a better way to make converts. I recommended lots of prayer but admitted I didn’t. We both agreed the reason we stayed is because further division of the church isn’t going to solve anything. Living as an example is probably the most christian thing you can do. I also know that my children are going to eventually come in contact with this filth and its better that I’m there to talk to them about it. He assured me we would never have unorthodox ceremonies in our church. We left it at that. I’m reminded of the MIT whitehall case study of returning GI’s. They found political views of individuals would change over time to more closely match that of the majority. So if people of truth and faith separate themselves what does that accomplish? It turns the larger majority away from truth. This convert has not read a lot of the bible. Over time she will hear scripture and sermon and through the grace of G-d it is my hope she will be brought to the truth but that is impossible if people such as myself and the pastor give up and leave.

The elephant in the room of course is the treatment of sex in general. Not just gay sex but all sex. Our society has made sex the primary mover of the human spirit. To say as much will, even on these boards, incur the wrath of weak spirited men and women as if you’ve attempted to castrate them by saying there is more to a man then his genitals. They’ll lob emasculation’s like, ‘Neo-prude’, as if to recognize a higher ideal of the mind and the heart is to deny masculinity itself. Well I enjoy sex and I’m no more prude about that then I am about enjoy whiskey or a good cigar but I also recognize all things in moderation and nothing in excess. Sex in our society has become excessive to the point that it has replaced the meaning everything else. To much drink is bad just as to much lust deteriorates and disorders the soul. Without addressing this excess, without addressing the root purpose we cannot fashion a reason that one form of sex is good while another for of sex is bad.

Simply put if you cannot use reason to explain why gay sex and gay marriage is wrong then you cannot convince anyone that it is. G-d created us with a rational mind as St. Augustine said. Without addressing the purpose of sex, it’s role in reproduction and fortification of the family you cannot reason the ill effects of homosexuality upon society or the positive effects of ordered intercourse upon the nation. Until disorder sex of all forms is addressed you won’t reason homosexuality ill effects. Those ill effects are man and woman objectify the other till man and women no longer contain a cognizant being but a commodity to be used and abused and disposed of as a dirty rag. That which is bent cannot be made strait. Man inherently senses that disordered sex is wrong. No amount of propaganda will change that as it is innate in the human psyche. That can be observed on any playground in any school across the entire nation. I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

#29 Comment By charles cosimano On November 7, 2018 @ 4:32 pm

“It’s all about the everlasting ecstasy of Now. You and your smartphone, and the simulacrum of connection, and of God.”

Excellent! That is the way it should be. Just the individual and the divine with no froo froo in the way.

#30 Comment By Marie in Vermont On November 7, 2018 @ 5:32 pm

This is the Muzak of religion.

No one should be surprised by this. For years universities and colleges have been dumbing down coursework, fearing that thinking hard about anything challenging or uncomfortable might be offensive to some student somewhere; this just seems to be the church version of that.

#31 Comment By TR On November 7, 2018 @ 5:35 pm

Ted: forgive my ignorance. What’s wrong with Cardinal O’Malley?

(No need to tell me what’s wrong with the Papal Foundation: I’d already read the story.)

#32 Comment By grumpy realist On November 7, 2018 @ 6:06 pm

For those who claim that this society’s driving force is sex, I would disagree. I would say that this society’s driving force is greed and lust for wealth. Sex, but only when it’s been reduced to a nicely bound up package, sufficient to stamp a $9.99 sticker on it and heave-ho into the stores.

The reason Christianity doesn’t worry about greed is because it needs money to run things, and donations from rich individuals who chuck money into the collection baskets on Sunday while acting as rapacious robbers the rest of the week is what keeps the whole shebang going. If Christianity really wanted to provide a life-giving philosophy that would attract adherents it would stop obsessing about sex and gay marriage and start REALLY going after the greedy and the rich. There’s certainly enough ammunition they could use from the Bible. More families are going to be stressed by financial hardship than they are by adultery. The young, with their razor-detection of hypocrisy, know that, and know that too many of the traditional religions are only pretending to care about them. (And I aim my diatribe at the liberal side as well–Ms. “Ethically-Sourced Porn” is exactly what I’m fulminating about.)

#33 Comment By Joey On November 7, 2018 @ 6:22 pm

A bit off topic from this post’s main point, but that last paragraph of the MTV report interests me. It seems to be saying that from an SJW perspective, even this level of MTD is bad for being “privileged”―and implicitly, that minorities don’t/shouldn’t have any interest in religion, unless it’s actually just a front to #Resist. I can’t help but wonder how common that idea is among progressives, and what the implications are, given that women and racial minorities tend to be more religious on the whole.

#34 Comment By CAM On November 7, 2018 @ 6:40 pm

This critique is wrong-headed, I think. How do you know that “Churchome” (which is a church name that sounds stupid, to my ears) teaches MTD doctrine? How do you know that they don’t teach conservative Evangelical theology? In fact, most non-denominational churches do teach Evangelical theology and are deeply Biblical. Perhaps that’s why Evangelicals consistently report higher knowledge of the Bible and belief in basic Christian doctrines than other Christian groups.

Simply assuming of Churchome that this isn’t the case because this church offers an app that allows its members (and others) to access sermons and different activities online seems to me like a lazy product of somebody who’s prejudiced by the way they like church to be. Along the same lines, you count the observations and expectations of a progressive writer who was looking for some sort of political consolation against this church while ignoring that the reason that writer didn’t find what she was looking might have been because the church isn’t all about MTD. In fact, this church’s way of presenting itself is the only reason this woman attended in the first place, even if she apparently had sex on the mind and wasn’t very interested in a message that wasn’t about Trump.

If this church is “the apotheosis of Protestantism,” it only is in the sense that while you or I might not want to attend such a “hipster” church, that simply doesn’t matter if lots of other people do and this church is preaching the gospel. What we ought to ask isn’t whether their branding and use of technology is annoying to our aesthetic sensibilities, but whether our annoyance really has anything to do with winning people to Christ. I’m not entirely sure that it does, which is why, while I probably wouldn’t attend this church, I’m not all that interested in telling other people not to (which I guess is also a Protestant attitude).

This does make me wonder what you’d consider to be an “apotheosis of Catholicism/Orthodoxy.” Would this be a church where everybody revered and participated in specific “mediating artifacts, rites, and institutions” that few know the meaning of and nobody actually believes in? Because, unfortunately, this is closer to being true of actual Catholic and Orthodox churches than it is of being true of actual Evangelical Protestant churches.

[NFR: I reached this conclusion after spending time on the church’s website, and watching its pastor’s videos. As to your reasoning, the absence of evidence is not evidence. — RD]

#35 Comment By CAM On November 7, 2018 @ 6:44 pm

I’ll also add that I didn’t see anything on their website that suggested that their app was anything other than supplemental to what their church was already doing. I don’t think they intend for it to be used to replace church attendance.

Also, you sort of left off the more significant section of their “About” page (which I still think is a little thin, and too syrupy-sweet):

“We are a Community Built on the Life and Teachings of Jesus.

We believe Jesus perfectly reveals the true heart of God. He’s not a distant or indifferent dad, who scowls with arms crossed as he considers all you’ve wasted and everything you’ve broken. Instead, He’s a God who loves you, whose arms are open wide to welcome people home.

Why would God want to hang with people like us? There’s only one answer: love. Extravagant love. Love that is on a level beyond time and space. Divine love. And this is the kind of love that is towards us today.

The big idea behind our community, every woman, man, boy and girl – every age, every race – would find a home in God. A home where they belong. A community that functions as a family. We are a family and God has made us a family. This name change is this moment for us where we believe that we are going to be a church that functions like a home, that looks like a home, that loves like a home. And ultimately, what we experience on earth will look a lot like heaven.”

#36 Comment By Jefferson Smith On November 7, 2018 @ 7:05 pm

@Evw:

If only Jesus had proper representation, just think how far he could have gone.

I get that you’re being ironic, but in fact Jesus had the greatest “publicity machine” (as we might now call it) in world history. That’s how Christianity spread from a tiny fringe movement within Second Temple Judaism to have upwards of two billion adherents worldwide. The original “publicists” (aka apostles) are still known and honored as saints even now, nearly 2,000 years later.

Mister Pickwick:

But more and more, there is an undercurrent in the discussion of the BenOp which is very critical of Protestantism (even beginning to sound like “What a fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Martin Luther!”). I think many of us who read this blog would appreciate a fuller discussion of the issue.

I have felt this too. Posts like this one seem based on a kind of stupefied incomprehension that anybody could ever have good reasons or motives for wanting what Protestants want. We’re all supposed to assume that it’s just obviously so much more spiritually enriching to hear the Lord’s Prayer sung in Aramaic. I mean, I personally thought that video a few weeks back was beautiful too, but I can also at least sympathetically imagine why some people would find such a thing, or the imperial garb of Orthodox priests, or other Very High Church, über-liturgical forms and practices, to be alienating and, in fact, the opposite of drawing nearer to God. For a lot of Protestants, those approaches amount to making Christian faith a museum exhibit — maybe an interactive one in some limited way, maybe one with excellent production values, but not something living and current.

Conversely, making it living and current means bringing it into close contact with the daily and even minute-to-minute experiences of ordinary life. These days, that would necessarily include smartphones. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of particular ways of doing this, but here the whole notion just seems to be scorned.

#37 Comment By Anna On November 7, 2018 @ 7:09 pm

@suburbanp:

Check out “The Law of God” by Seraphim Slobodskoi. This is the most clear, thorough, understandable explanation of the Orthodox faith I have seen, suitable for middle-school to adults.

[10]

#38 Comment By Pius X On November 7, 2018 @ 7:29 pm

Gnostics. The logical end of American Christianity.

#39 Comment By Lee (in KY) On November 7, 2018 @ 8:28 pm

“Until we seriously consider how to explain the essential depths of our faith at a 7th-grade reading level, we can’t catechize our children beyond MTD. We can’t offer the poor and homeless a place in our communities because we don’t have a way to communicate Christ to non-college graduates.”

I believe that I understand what you’re getting at, but I’ll respectfully disagree. The original students of Christ were poor fishermen in a Roman backwater, after all.

The Apostle’s Creed: very simple, very concrete.

Lord’s Prayer: same.

Ten Commandments, “Do unto others…”: also simple.

I am LCMS, and took my Confirmation classes as a middle schooler, finishing the classes and taking my first Communion as a 7th grader. We studied Luther’s Small Catechism. It’s essentially the Reader’s Digest of Lutheran theology. Very brief, very concise. But packs a lot of theological heft in its few pages.

Let’s look at the first part of the Apostle’s Creed:

“I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;”

Very simple and concrete. Easily understood by an average middle-schooler. Now compare to the following:

“The idea and concept of home is centric in scripture. It is the idea that every human is a sojourner and he/she is returning home. Home is not so much brick and mortar, an actual space or place or room. Home is a place and a posture our soul discovers in Jesus – where the created returns to a loving relationship with the Creator. Bringing people home is what God does.”

Break it down. What does that even really mean? It’s melodious, but what does it actually *say*? “Home” is good and how good it is to be “home,” and God is good also, therefore home is good so home = good = God?

It’s vague and nebulous and fuzzy. Which makes it so attractive.

Not that there aren’t some complexities in traditional orthodox Christianity (the nature of the Trinity being an obvious example.)

The concreteness of orthodox Christianity is it’s strength, but also a barrier to overcome.

“Two thousand years ago a Jewish woman who never had sex gave birth to God in a human form. That person was killed under false pretenses, but three days later came back to life, so regular people can have life after death.

Want to know more? See you Sunday?”

#40 Comment By jp melville On November 7, 2018 @ 8:47 pm

Evw says:
November 7, 2018 at 3:34 pm
I got as far as the phrase in the second paragraph “the publicist representing him.”

If only Jesus had proper representation, just think how far he could have gone.

Hi EVW
There appears to be a whole Bible put together to publicize the guy.

Seems to me they were pretty good at it.

How many Gideon Bibles later?

JP

#41 Comment By sb On November 7, 2018 @ 9:40 pm

“Orthodox Christians receive wine-soaked bread in a spoon, taken from the chalice”

wine? bread? Do Orthodox not believe in transubstantiation Rod? Or are you talking form of wine & bread?

[NFR Orthodox wouldn’t use precisely that language — [11]— but yes, we believe that the bread and the wine mysteriously become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. — RD]

#42 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 8, 2018 @ 6:26 am

Protestantism’s Westminster Confession says that the object of man is “to know God and enjoy Him forever.”

“We Orthodox say that the point of everyone’s life is theosis, to become divinized.”

#43 Comment By creekmama On November 8, 2018 @ 6:36 am

“a growing distaste for the idea of having children. It wasn’t articulated clearly; but my wife and I both saw, in women particularly, almost a growing disgust with the realities of bearing and having children.”

This is alarming but certainly not what is happening everywhere. Our church is full of millenials, and we are starting to see more and more families with four or five children. We are not a Family Integrated Church where one would expect to see larger families. We are just an ordinary nondenominational Gospel Coalition church in a rural area on the brink of becoming an exurb. Ordinary.

As for Churchome, I showed my two kids, ages 11 and 14, the promo video without comment just to get their response. When Chelsea said “a place for you to fully experience church on your phone,” both kids said “WHAT???” At the end, my older child said, “That seems cool. I can see how that might appeal to someone who is not theologically grounded.” Our kids are growing up in a church home that worships, prays, studies the Word, serves, and has lot of fun TOGETHER. They already know that discipleship only happens in community and that community only happens face-to-face. So Churchome may be happening somewhere but church homes are happening, too.

#44 Comment By anon On November 8, 2018 @ 7:37 am

“Smith’s good fight of faith is a privileged one, an exhale that can really only be expelled by those fortunate enough to have the choice to let go, to put it all in God’s hands, to turn off CNN ”

This is completely ridiculous. It’s like the opposite of reality. It is only privileged people who can afford to live their lives constantly freaking out about politics and having their heads explode due to being non-stop wired to CNN propaganda. The approach of rendering unto Ceasar and instead focusing on your faith and personal life is prototypically the approach of poorer and less privileged people who understand the reality that in this world they are subject to earthly power that they cannot really control..

#45 Comment By JonF On November 8, 2018 @ 9:06 am

So, we Orthodox do not necessarily use the Thomist language and metaphysics of t
ransubstantiation, but we very much believe in the Real Presence

#46 Comment By Richard On November 8, 2018 @ 9:41 am

There was a funny scene from Woody Allen’s film “Sleeper” which takes place in a totalitarian, Brave New World-sh dystopia (Allen play s a guy who was frozen for several centuries and wakes up in it). In the scene, Allen’s character goes to a robot confessional, is instantly absolved by the computer, and gets a kewpie doll from the machine as a bonus.

#47 Comment By Chuck Anziulewicz On November 8, 2018 @ 9:49 am

It took me forever just to get a cell phone. Back in 2006 I had to drive from West Virginia down to Florida for a wedding, and I thought a cell phone would probably be a good thing to have in the car in case of an emergency or something. It’s a little Tracfone LG, just a flip phone, and pay $20 every three months to keep the service going. I use it for long distance calls, otherwise I just have it in my backpack just in case. I very rarely carry it with me.

I drew the line at smartphones. I’ve seen what they do to people. They are eroding our basic humanity. The digital devices that were supposed to keep us better connected are instead isolating us from one another. I see parents paying more attention to their Twitter and Facebook feeds than they do to the kids they have with them. It’s tremendously dismaying.

#48 Comment By Ryan W On November 8, 2018 @ 11:32 am

The talk about Churchome as “home” reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s comment that the best lies are 90% true. What they’ve done is taken the profoundly Biblical theme of exile and return (found throughout the Old Testament prophets, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the image of the “New Jerusalem” in Revelation), and slightly changed it. In traditional Christianity (I think I can use that catch-all term in this case), this “home” is both present and future. In its fullness, it won’t be experienced until the “Age to Come”, but the present life of the people of God provides a real foretaste of it in the here and now. What Churchome has done is to debase the foretaste by turning it into the thing itself. Furthermore, as Lewis also observed, when you pursue a “second thing” (in this case, the foretaste) over a “first thing”, you not only lose the first thing, but the second thing as well. So instead of a glimpse of the Kingdom to Come, you end up with nothing more than an emotional buzz that’s not really different from what a lot of people get from yoga or banal motivational speakers.

#49 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 8, 2018 @ 5:28 pm

When their churches depart from the faith and leave the faithful with nowhere else to go, don’t be surprised by those who reach out through personal media to try to make connections.

“[NFR: My objection is not to using mobile phones for evangelization. It’s to saying that you can fully experience church via the mobile phone. — RD]”

#50 Comment By Thomas On November 8, 2018 @ 9:59 pm

“Churchome” is the apotheosis of Protestantism.” As a lifelong Protestant, Rod, that comment prompted me to say – you’re on to something.

There are two great mistakes, two erroneous ideas we Protestants have that lead inexorably to the smartphone church: 1) that the gospel can be reduced to information content, and 2) that inviting people to service on Sunday is the primary method for evangelism. Mistake #1 is the reason we have church buildings that look like convention centers, auditoriums (with no crosses displayed!) in place of sanctuaries, and praise bands that resemble rock bands playing music that is meant to sound like light rock music – only with different lyrics. It all makes perfect sense, if the goal is to deliver information (albeit life-saving information) to the unreached.

You’ve spilled a lot of ink – digitally, that is – criticizing Andy Stanley and his Northpoint Community Church. Some of the criticism is deserved, but much of it isn’t. A couple months ago I saw a video promo for Northpoint Online, in which one of their pastors said, “The thing I love about Northpoint Online is that you can experience Northpoint before you try it out.” I scowled, having basically the same reaction you did to Churchome – No. Just, no. How in the world are you supposed to experience God’s presence online? How are you supposed to proclaim the Lord’s death? And then it hit me after seven years of watching services online – Northpoint never takes Communion! Well, not quite. Turns out they do, but they never show it on their webcasts. Why? Protestants recognize the two sacraments instituted by Christ himself – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They show baptisms all the time on Northpoint Online, always preceded by a testimony. Why not Communion, which is so dear to us as Christians? Surely they’re not actually ashamed of it. The best explanation I can find is that they think putting baptisms on video will help evangelize, but Communion won’t.

And that’s where we see mistake #2 at work. Church leaders are wracking their brains trying to figure out why no one wants to come to church – men especially. Well, I’m a man, in my mid-30’s, a Christian, and I don’t like coming to Church because it isn’t for Christians! Everything at Evangelical church is geared toward the un-churched visitor. There are pastors who do a great job serving their flocks – my church has one – but everything is done to be welcoming and non-off-putting to non-believers that may be in attendance. But think – did the Apostles ever invite anyone to temple, to synagogue, or to an early church gathering? It’s a very American idea, using corporate worship to evangelize.

I wish Luther and Calvin could have come to some agreement about the meaning of the Eucharist. They both agreed that Rome was wrong about the Real Presence, but they couldn’t agree about what does go on when we take the Lord’s Supper. Now, five hundred years later, here we are, at an online church that thinks sacraments get in the way. After twelve years of “new” church, I thirst for transcendence! I know not what, but something holy happens when I proclaim the Lord’s death by taking the bread and the cup. I want my church to affirm that.

I can’t switch to Orthodoxy or Catholicism – the ask is too big. I won’t give up penal substitution or the five solae because they’re in my heart and my heritage. But, it didn’t have to come to this. Forget Ignatius – Wesley wouldn’t recognize this church!