Traditionally we have taken many metaphors for the church from the New Testament, such as flock, body, vine, temple etc., and down through church history we have employed many other metaphors of models by which we can thing about church, such as fortress, family, company etc. Good metaphors help us see things that might not otherwise see, and they help us to think creatively about church.
In a paper presented at a conference on ”Missional Forms of Work in Old Churches in a New World” in Haslev, outside Copenhagen, Stefan Pass from the Free University in Amsterdam, discussed what metaphor we might use for the church in a consumer culture. It might at first sight look as a provocation, when he proposed “restaurant” as metaphor for thinking about the church. “There seem to be interesting parallels here. Especially in the cities, churches have become restaurants in that people go to church out of felt needs (but not out of obligation); they may enjoy the experience and love ‘their’ restaurant, but this does not mean that they feel an exclusive bond; they may (and often do) bring friends, but they will not become members, etc.”
One of the objections against the use of the metaphor of “restaurant” for the church that he addressed was that it might seem as a surrender to consumerism. Of course accepting the culgure of consumption may turn religion into a commodity that may be used or sold in the interest of economics. But Pass notes that “Consumerism is a phenomenon of late-modern societies, but it is not the inevitable result of a shift from obligation to consumption.” “On the one hand, the metaphor fully accepts the deep and dramatic revolution toward (individualized) choice as the main motivator behind human behaviour in Western societies. On the other hand, restaurants are not simply based on the motto ‘the customer is always right’. Restaurants represent traditions. If you ask for a hamburger in a French restaurant, it will politely refuse to cook it for you. Restaurants try to ‘initiate’ and ‘educate’ their customers into flavours and dishes that they did not know or even like before. In short, in a restaurant the needs and wants of customers encounter a traditional kitchen and professional pride. This creates a fascinating interaction or even ‘play’ between different interests and expectations, which may lead to deep and lasting changes in people.”
Might imaging the church as a restaurant be seen as legitimate way of contextualising the church in a modern western consumer culture, where we consciously use elements of the culture of our society to express and communicate the gospel in this society? Will this lead to compromising the gospel, because cultural elements of the restaurant may implicitly convey values contradictory to the Gospel, or has it always been the challenge for the church – while balancing on the edge of syncretism – to take over elements from a non-Christian cultural context and bring them to express the gospel?
Haslev, Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Mogens S. Mogensen