In our media and popular culture, there has been a heightened interest these days in a once largely ignored population. Suddenly, movies and books and video games and television shows are popping up left and right all with this one “people” group at the forefront.
I’m talking about Zombies.
Shows like The Walking Dead, video games like Dead Rising, movies like World War Z, and books like The Loving Dead have all seen widespread success in the past few years. We are utterly fascinated with the idea of creatures existing in an undead state terrorizing the townspeople as they try and feed their appetite for human brains.
And so, with this in mind, I’d like to propose that the church jump on the zombie bandwagon!
If we are really honest with ourselves though, haven’t we been on the zombie bandwagon for a while? And not just at church either; throughout the country a lot of people are longing to reanimate the dead. Let me explain.
A few years back, when I was serving as the pastor of a church in Buffalo, NY, I tried to make a home visit to every family in the congregation. During these visits I would hear about the lives of the congregation members; their jobs, their hobbies, their stories. And then, towards the end of my visit, I would ask each and every person what their hope was for the future of our congregation.
Sometimes people would offer tangible suggestions: “I want to see a bigger Sunday School program,” or “I want to see a more robust choir” or “I want our church to have more members and more young families.” These are all admirable hopes, but in a way, all of these hopes are just elements of the broader statement that I heard most often. You see, when I asked about an individual’s hopes for the future of the church nearly every time they would eventually say...
"I just want the church to go back to the way it was.”
People love their churches, and they have fond memories about “the glory days” when 5,000 people showed up each Sunday, 8,000 children participated in Sunday school, and the endowment fund was larger than the budget of a small country. Every weekend there were 10 infant baptisms, 20 adult baptisms, and 30 new members.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to go back to days like these?
And it's not just at church where this is happening. As we watch the drama and absurdity of the current political landscape unfold, we hear the language of reviving America, or rebuilding the American dream, or making America great again. All of these campaign slogans are just hoping for a return to “the glory days”, and while there is nothing wrong with thinking fondly of the days gone by, the theological issue is that God is never all that interested in reanimating the past.
God is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). God is a God of resurrection - not a God of reanimation. When Jesus was raised from the dead, the disciples didn’t recognize him. He was alive again but somehow different - something new was beginning in the Resurrected Christ.
When we long for the future church to look exactly like the church of the past, we’re hoping for a Zombie Church. And when we long for America to go back to the way it used to be, we're asking for a Zombie America. We’re hoping for that which is dead to be reanimated into a world that is vastly different than it was 50 years ago and I have no doubt that if we actually get what we’re asking for, much like zombies, the results won’t be pretty.
God has something so much better in store for us. The Good News is that God is breathing new life into the church, and into this world and so the future is filled with hope and possibilities that we haven't yet imagined, because God is a God of resurrection.
Nate Preisinger is the Director of Admissions at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (soon to be United Lutheran Seminary) and works with students to help them better engage the challenges of ministry and church leadership in a Brave New World.