Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston explaining the popularity of Chuck Knows Church” in a “Behind the Scenes” video on Vimeo (link).
Commentary by Rev. Matt Gorman, Pastor at Lakewood United Methodist Church
In the last year or two, a new resource has been popping up in various places within United Methodism and beyond. The “Chuck Knows Church” video series (LINK), distributed by the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship, is a great resource for introducing people who are unfamiliar with “the way we do things in church” to…well, the way we do things in church! Topics range from the use of colors in liturgical worship to why the initials I-H-S are engraved on many of our crosses and furnishings.
Let me be clear—I think “Chuck Knows Church” is a good resource for helping people understand the confusing and often arcane ways we do worship, church, and talk about God. In fact, it’s produced by a good friend of mine from high school, Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston. So, “Chuck Knows Church”—good thing!
There is a problem with CKC, however—one that is inherent in the very fact of its existence. The way we do church is hard to understand—especially for newcomers. People can be really, really confused when they begin to connect with us. There are all sorts of symbols, language, rituals, and arcane practices that perhaps used to make sense in a particular cultural context—but that no longer connect with the cultures in which we currently live. Helping people understand these cryptic things is a start but it’s really, when you think about it, an odd workaround.
What if we changed our symbols and practices so that they made sense to the world around us today, without any need for interpretation? This is what Jesus did. He communicated the old story of the saving, gracious nature of God through completely new means. From his repeated “You have heard it said…but I say” in the Sermon on the Mount to his “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), Jesus recasts prevailing beliefs and stories in order to show the essence of who God is to the people he meets. This illustrates what I am coming to believe is one of the absolutely most important aspects of God in Jesus Christ—incarnationality. God comes to us, meets us where we are, and calls us to do the same to others. When we instead rely on (albeit well-intentioned and occasionally helpful) tools like CKC, we are not meeting people where they are—we are telling them we’ll help them meet us where we are.
I am not anti-tradition. A part of helping people connect with God and God’s people will always be teaching them about our traditions and practices—this is a valuable part of the experience of becoming a part of something bigger than oneself, and is good and necessary. I believe, however, that tradition must always be in service to the communication of something much more important—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes our traditions will help us with this, and other times they will get in the way.
If we know church (like Jesus did), we will know that our job is to do everything we can to help people meet Jesus right where they are (and then go wherever he takes them from there!). I believe we will do this best by finding new ways to help people understand the gospel from their own context, rather than by trying to “educate” them in the ways that made sense to earlier generations.