For the past months I have been nearly obsessed with following the operations of a strange new church in my area called The Vintage. Located in Metro Paris, the church was started by missionaries from a company called Christian Associates International based in Amsterdam and Southern California, respectively. The aim of The Vintage Church is to bring the gospel to unchurched Parisians, not American ex-patriots mind you, even though their entire website is in English, barring the occasional "tonight's meeting at 'Chez' Parker" thrown in more as a bad joke rather than an attempt to be inclusive. I first found out about this church when last January, on Superbowl Sunday I ran into their worship leader at a Sport's Bar along the Seine. He described the operation to me, the church had a "blog," it was a "grassroots organization" an "alternative" church that ministered to people through dinner parties and had no staff, but a "team," and no pastor, but a "team leader."
The next Sunday night my husband and I went to one of the dinner parties put on by this church. It was interesting to be at a party put on by people who's job it is to put on parties, making sure that the room had at least one good conversationalist while two of the other team members went to pick-up the very French dish of the night: pizza. But conversation about Jesus was at a minimum since the dinner party is more a "soft sell" for non-Christian seekers. In all, the team made quite an impression, they were hip and very good-looking, like American rock stars. They had cool haircuts, trendy clothes; they had their IPODS, their skateboards, and their mac laptops were sitting out on the table. I don't want to judge them based on their trendiness, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that their "stuff" was very important to them. I know that there are many Christians who know what the trends are--but think about it, trendy missionaries? Something about it didn't sit quite right with me, and was more disconcerting than comforting. As for my husband, he couldn't put his finger on what was so strange about them except for some reason they reminded him of kids that he used to do drugs with in Vail.
The apartment where the party was staged was HUGE, right on Boulevard Montparnasse near the Luxembourg Gardens, a very posh Paris neighborhood, and it was decorated like every American's dream: big leather furniture, big TV, big DVD collection, nice sound system with a Christian music playlist cycling through, candles everywhere...very Pottery Barn meets MTV Real World House--I probably could have asked for a Cappucino. Raised an evangelical myself, I admit, in the height of the 90's coffeehouse culture I once thought that it would be cool to start a "coffeehouse church," but since then I have realized that may not have been such a selfless, or service-oriented vision to have. It was more about holding onto my fashionable lifestyle and trying to fold Christ into it. More about my own comfort than about transformation and sacrifice. I guess I wasn't ready for those things in my life yet. So it was then that I starting asking questions like, what is this Christian life about, and, what are we really called to do here? So what does a bunch of rich American twenty-somethings with cool haircuts getting together in a model-home just "hang out" have to do with Jesus' mission on the earth? I mean, Jesus *did* walk among the prostitutes, the sinners, the lepers, but he said "I am the way, the truth and the light," not, "I love Death Cab For Cutie!" I tried to approach this matter with them, but I came up dry. It seemed that in that context they didn't really know how to describe their mission either, but they threw some Christianese cliches at me, told me to read my Bible, and then they told me that they didn't like to hang out with people who question and debate all the time.
There is something that I find pretty consistent about a lot of Christians in the churches that I've attended and worked at as a worship pastor myself; even though they say that they welcome, "the poor, the hungry.." sadly, the majority of the members are people with MONEY, people who can afford big nice apartments in Montparnasse and have so much leisure time in their lives that they mostly want to attract others like themselves who can afford to spend hours on DVD binges, meet up with them at Starbucks, buy music from the itunes store, and of course, putter around on myspace.com.
So about a week ago I sat before my screen, appalled to see that Vintage had finally done the unthinkable, and yet, the next logical thing: they had signed up for a profile on myspace.com
. In my last post on this blog I discussed what I feel to be the problem with myspace, in that, instead of working to bring people together it only serves as a tool to pigeon-hole people's consumer habits. The myspace concept is brilliant when it succeeds in convincing some that they can actually express their true selves there when they are doing the opposite: demeaning their very humanity by reducing themselves to a list of things that they consume: music, television, books, movies... The page opened with a comment by said worship leader saying, " I am so glad that we finally can join the rest of pop culture and have a myspace page!"
What does the actual page look like? For starters, Vintage decided that their collectivity should be personlified as a 35-year-old Gemini who is "in a relationship. " But then in the "Who I'd like to meet" category it diffuses any thought that those criterion should exclude anyone. Under "who I'd like to meet" it lists:
"the broken, the rich, the poor, tall, short, man, woman, needy, giving, lonely, popular, artistic, can't carry a tune...you get the idea...bienvenue."
Sounds pretty welcoming, right? But as it goes on it begins to read like a marketing strategist's playbook for the demographic that Vintage would feel comfortable attracting. Favorite movies: blockbusters such as The Matrix and Gladiator, but then, they also align their tastes with such cutting-edge films as Napoleon Dynamite and Uptown Girls. OK, so Uptown Girls, starring Brittany Murphy is not exactly cutting-edge, but for some reason it's got something that the Vintage Church wants to project. Under the "television" category they have listed three shows that make up their "best television line-up ever!": 24, Lost and The Office. By the way, so far, I'm not looking like a candidate for the Vintage church at all. It's not that I have anything against 24 or Napoleon Dynamite, I would just prefer not to be a "Napoleon Dynamite Christian," or to commune with other Christians based upon that criteria. There's a lot more to life, and sue me, but I contend that faith and pop culture are not healthy bedfellows. And if they are, I think we're in trouble. There are favorite bands, a whole list of Christian pop literature and even a catchy banner that anyone can lift and attach to their own myspace page that reads, "It's about being real. It's about being together. It's about being creative. It's about being with God."
OK, so is it really *that* wrong? It is evangelism's highest aim to bring the gospel to as many people as possible, but in a society that knows too well how to lure people into doing things, how far will evangelical churches allow themselves to slide down that slope? It's the aim of a consumer society to get as many people to buy buy buy as possible. If Christians are willing to appeal to the same basic human urges of materialism that advertisers use what makes Christians so different from a slimey salesman? For all they know, the world already views them that way. It comes down to this: what kind of a face are churches willing to slap on Jesus in order to "sell salvation?" And furthermore, is Jesus's face the face of materialism, of consumerism, of gross desire--ask a single mother stricken by poverty if she thinks that's a comforting image. But by defining their church by what kind of things they like to buy that is what they have done. There are many ways to create interest or desire in people, many of them unethical, many of them come with the lavish trappings of sin, and, call me biased, but I believe that there should be an impeccably high standard of ethics for those who act as the hands and feet of Christ on this earth, and I doubt whether anyone at the Vintage has actually given the moral implications of this a thought.
Is there a line that can be crossed when we "recruit people for Christ?" Telling people that your church is about "authenticity," "grace," cafe, cake and good food, just sounds to me like this church has lost the plot. But at least they're not leaving us guessing.
Decide for yourself...www.myspace.com/vintage_church