Bruxy Cavey’s (Re)union: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints and Sinners gave me a glimpse into megachurch theology attempting to work itself out within Anabaptism. Cavey is the teaching pastor for The Meeting House, a multisite congregation of the Be in Christ Church of Canada (formerly Brethren in Christ) with an average weekly attendance of 4,400. I read that they mostly meet in movie theaters.
Megachurch theology goes something like this (quoting Cavey’s blog): “the good news of the kingdom meets our fundamental human need for purpose and meaning in life.” Cavey is a pastor with a penchant for people who don’t like church. His first book is a retooling of Christianity (reiterated in chapter 9 of this volume) that distances itself from the rules and regulations of religion.
Cavey’s alternate vision for the Christian life is relationships — passionate, sumptuous, intimate relationships between God and individuals that flow into the lives of people. As a matter of course, the primary metaphors and stories Cavey uses throughout his book are of marriages (sorry, single people!).
He works out a new-wave apologetic chapter by chapter. He explains how the kingdom of God is no longer about physical spaces and monarchies but a way of living that “exists within the hearts of individuals and is expressed through the relationships between those individuals.” It emerges in “our lives, our relationships, and our priorities.”
Cavey’s Christianity is an updated, laid-back form of evangelicalism’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ, without the heavy moralistic hand of a Franklin Graham. He is also a lot funnier and makes better use of alliteration. He makes Christianity attractive. “Simply loving others as Jesus does,” he muses, “is our highest form of worship and the central ceremony of our religion.”
I told a friend about this book. She’s left the church we grew up in — a Maranatha-praise singing, secular-CD-smashing evangelical church that was mostly interested in us not having sex as teenagers. It’s the kind of church Cavey likely has in mind when he excoriates “religion.” And this book is for her. It’s for people who wanted to meet God and found out that some petty stuff got in the way. It’s updated evangelical doctrine for those on the spiritual mend.
Bold ideas like this are what megachurches offer. A common trait is a conviction that their pastor’s message is completely new, something never heard before. Cavey offers this gentle bravado. “Piety-smashing,” “fresh” and “radical” are the descriptors that pop up again and again in ads and reviews.
I can understand why. The competition is stiff for “meaning making” in the world of TED Talks and Crossfit. A few years ago, I met a couple of megachurch-hopeful pastors who referred to themselves as “communicators” and “creatives” instead of preachers and pastors, both to soften up their approach for “seekers” and to more accurately describe what they do. That’s one approach — make the old seem new and interesting, to communicate something in a way no one has ever heard before.
But I’ve been a Christian long enough to know that’s going to be tough. Paradigms are dogmatic because they’re systems, whether it’s the Romans Road, the Four Spiritual Laws or Cavey’s new four-point metric. You can’t escape rules and boundaries; we simply shift those around as we encounter new questions. We are constantly negotiating piety because Christianity happens in bodies that act.
But Cavey wants to downplay the parts of church life that are central to bodies that are priests to one another. He’s dismissive of rituals as mere “reminders.” Absent from (Re)union are churches that act as interpretive communities for Scripture, who proclaim the word to one another. It fits Cavey’s model of church, where he is the authoritative voice of proclamation, to use hierarchical metaphors for Jesus: mentor, shepherd and king.
Cavey increased my suspicion that megachurches and Anabaptism are incongruous. Anabaptism emerges not as a set of ideas applied to various denominations. We are here as a gathered local body that proclaims, confesses and shares around the communion table. We are here because of a reinvigoration of scriptural practices that take place in churches (which should not be confused with small groups).
I’d guess my congregation, Raleigh Mennonite Church in North Carolina, is a lot like most Mennonite churches of our size. Year after year the same passages press into my life during Advent and Lent. We sing familiar hymns, occasionally learn a new song at camps or conference. We cobble together a band from whoever can play on Sunday morning. We have preachers who are sometimes good and sometimes not. We baptize and share bread and cup.
As the church, we aren’t here to communicate the gospel. We’re here to enact it. To embody it. The body of Christ is an attentiveness to the other bodies sitting beside you in the pews. It is vital for me that our Sunday morning worship happens with us facing one another. I need to see you.
At the end of (Re)union Cavey asks, “Now what?” The answer is an updated sinner’s prayer. “It’s the heart that counts,” he writes. From here there are instructions, things like rereading the book and getting into a church.
The idea is that this book leads to conversion, to an intellectual or spiritual “a-ha” that puts the ideas in the right order to make a decision to be a Christian, an idea that leads to an action. It has been the joy of my life to see the opposite at work — to see people come to know Jesus because it isn’t a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of bodies, our bodies bound together, learning from Jesus what to do with these bodies in church, what we do and make and become together.
Melissa Florer-Bixler is pastor of Raleigh (N.C.) Mennonite Church. She has a forthcoming book with Herald Press.
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