I have been a Christian long enough to remember when Christian gatherings or “rallies” were common, and I have been around long enough to see them go out of fashion. These rallies seemed to be great times of affirmation. Valuable for those who felt alone and out of step with many around them in their day to day lives. The more “fringe” they felt, the more they loved being in a crowd of like-minded people.
Now greater distances are the norm in the new pilgrimages (see my earlier post about Toronto, Pensacola and Todd Bentley in Florida) at the start of the 21st century.
Now though, the motivating appetite seems different from those evangelical rallies of the second half of the 20th century. Now it seems the travellers are looking for locations where they can expect to experience a moment of intimacy with God, but not intimacy as a lifestyle, rather an event of intimacy is sought.
I am not wanting to be unkind in my attempts to unravel what is going on as I have friends who are going on these pilgrimages. This makes it even more fascinating to observe. I see people I know and respect who have these great and sincere longings to meet with God in an authentic way, and will travel to achieve it. An added puzzle for me is that hype and emotionalism does not flick my switches ( I don’t think I even have those switches to be flicked) so I often look at others wondering what it is they are getting. I am usually reluctant to travel for special blessing unless I expected Jesus to be there in person, and walking on water too!
Why is this happening? What is going on? What is wrong with church, or the individual, that people are having to travel so far for a moment with God?
What is the problem with the church in the West now? At one time, proceeding from a relationship of intimacy, workers went out to mission. Missionaries travelled with their coffins, never expecting to live long or return to their homes. Now the journeys travelled and sacrifices made are not to take the message to the lost, instead believers are travelling to events for what they can get, where they can find a moment, an event of intimacy.
Are these pilgrimages selfish, self-absorbed, the symptom of a “me” generation showing their true nature? I think the reply from the pilgrims would be that their special experience will equip them to be more productive as servant of their Lord. Should church leaders address this problem? Is there a problem to be addressed?
I think there is a problem. Scripture and church history down the centuries tells us that intimacy with God is the normal Christian experience. The encounter with Jesus that results in the “new birth” is something that lasts and survives the Wednesday morning test. The one who saves is the one who keeps down the years. If believers are not experiencing this birthright of theirs, then church leaders have failed them, are failing them. And I must ask myself how much I am part of that failure.
Christianity is unique of all the faiths in that instead of mankind trying to reach up to God, Christ’s message is that God has reached down to mankind, freely and without cost to us. That is the meaning of the song “Amazing Grace”.
I encourage my friends to enjoy their pilgrimages, but remind them that the King of kings can be found in their homes or workplaces, in the shops and in the streets.