I WENT TO APPLE CHURCH
I went to Apple Church today. It looked like many of today’s churches, the TED Talk style sermon, multiple graphics on big screens, the smooth presentations, the claims that something important was happening. They began with the words of the founder of their faith, Steve Jobs.
Let me say up front that I use to be an Apple hater. But I now I am much more positive about Apple products. I have an iPhone and an iPad that I pretty much cannot live without. I like them, and I would not want to own any other smartphone or tablet. I have even become a minor fan of the Mac, though I still only own a PC and it will probably stay that way for several reasons. I wanted to say this so that the reader will understand I am not belittling Apple or people who use or like Apple products.
However, I heard a kind of religious language as I watched the media event that revealed the new iPhone 8 and the new iPhone X. It was the first time that I watched an Apple new product presentation. It seemed to be filled with a lot of excitement and expectation that came across as odd, well odd to me. It was like a religious presentation.
There are several innovations that were introduced that, while a technical marvel, don’t really seem to matter. Their value was more entertaining that useful. Maybe it’s my age, but I really can’t see how an emoji that shares my facial expressions is really useful.
What made it like church was the use of transcendent language and the expectation that this is world changing. With technology, “we can change the world,” with technology, we can “push the world forward,” I believe are Steve Jobs’ words. I have grown a bit skeptical anytime someone says they are going to change the world. I take it that those words mean what they are grammatically designed to do. Literally, change the world. Usually the change that comes is simply a rearrangement of things as they are, not real change.
Ok, I realize good things have come. We can feed more people. More people have been lifted out of poverty. And we have wiped out a lot of diseases. But in the last ten years, since the advent of first iPhone, can we really say the world has changed or changed for the better? Do we have less crime? Have murder rates dropped? Do we have fewer wars or has medical care become cheaper?
Apple has a new multi-player game that can “bring unity and change the world” or some such claim. I grew up in the sixties and that “change the world” and “lets all get together” message, was part of culture then and I am sure it goes back many generations. Do you remember “I Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony) Coca Cola commercial? It was a bunch of bead-attired flower children, singing such sweet music. It made us feel warm all over and that bubbly brown liquid brought the world together. It was so good that later the song was rewritten and the New Seekers and The Hillside Singers made a hit out of it. But, alas, the world has not changed. There is, if anything, less unity. Flower power and soft drinks, and even an iPhone could not do it
In my younger days, I took seriously the idea of changing the world. I understand then, and I still believe it is true, if you want to change the world, you must change human nature. I answered God’s call to preach like thousands before me. I understood that call was to proclaim the biblical message that real change comes from God alone. The kind of change we really need is the kind that changes the soul. You cannot change any culture if you cannot change the soul of humanity. Certainly, technology cannot change the soul.
Technology may make work easier or it might put millions of people out of work. Smartphones might make communications easier or it might destroy relationships and make enemies as we text and message, unfiltered, whatever is on our minds. We have new conditions where smartphones cause bad posture, neck problems, loss of vision, wrist problems, numb fingers, depression, and even the hint of cancer caused by radiation admitted by the handset. We are addicted to our devices and every new update, every new model creates a demand to upgrade making the technology pushers very wealthy. People have stopped talking to other people. We create a false sense of “community” on Facebook and Snapchat. And some actually think you can go to church via the internet. Technology may make certain functions easier but it has not made the world a better place. In fact, the opposite is true. It is nuclear technology that threatens to destroy us. Data mining technology, made possible by our smartphones, may lead to a new type of slavery or a more effective kind of societal control.
The problem that technology cannot conquer is human nature. Human nature will take the most promising technology and turn it into a weapon or into another social threat. As a Christian, I am convinced that the only positive change that can be made is one that changes human nature.
Changing human nature is the central focus of the Bible and the Christian church, or it should be. It is a message that often gets lost in all the clutter of cultural affectations which churches seem to think they need to communicate to the world. If you are too busy looking like the world that needs to be changed, how is it possible to proclaim the message of Christ?
World change has come several times at the hands of Christians. Christians invented science that now, sometimes, sees itself as the enemy of religion. Churches invented hospitals, schools, universities, and orphanages. The spreading of the Gospel has often brought order and structure to societies. It has changed lives of men and women caught up in addictions or destructive behavior.
Jesus sent out his Apostles and they turned the world upside down, set it on fire. The great biblical scholar F. F. Bruce, described the advance of Christianity as a spreading flame. And it spread by word, not by the sword. When nation states co-opted the church, and used it as a political tool, Christianity lost its power. But the power of God cannot be restrained by any political movement and it soon breaks political restraints and continues to spread.
Mission minded men and women went out burning with a desire to share the Gospel of Christ and literally changed the world. Throughout history, amazing stories are recorded of men and women who abandoned everything so that they might proclaim the life-changing message of Jesus. And to this day, when this message is faithfully proclaimed, it is still changing lives.
The biblical analysis of the human condition is that we are sinners. We are in rebellion against the God who created us. Our bent toward sin skews everything we as humans do. We always miss the mark. Every thing we do will is marred because of our fallen nature. However, we don’t want to take the blame. We try to blame it on God with all sorts of arguments. But the Writers of the Bible, written over a 1400-year period, are remarkably consistent, we are sinners, rebels, separated from God, who are in need of redemption.
God’s solution is both simple and complex. He saves us by becoming our substitute. God became flesh, died for us, paying the penalty of our sin, so that we can have a new life. The Apostle Paul described the new life this way, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20 ESV)
It is true that one single verse cannot tell us everything. This new life begins when we come to faith in Christ. This means that we put our complete trust and hope in Christ, who makes us new. But this newness happens over time. From that moment, we participate in the struggle to become a better person, to become the new humanity. We have a lot of our old life to unlearn and a lot of the new life that takes a lifetime to master. But from that moment of faith, we are always being changed into a new and better person, and in many ways, a different person. The promise is that the change will be made complete when we Jesus in the resurrection.
So, the only way to really change the world is to change human nature. There is no technological way to change human nature. The only way to change human nature is by means of a spiritual means.
We can make the world a better place by sharing the Gospel of Christ and believing in Jesus as our savior. We gather in churches to encourage and build up our new life in Christ. But Christianity is not utopian. We will never have heaven on earth in this life. Some religious societies have tried to form a utopian society with very sad results. The only utopia the Bible recognizes is when Christ returns and restores creation to what it was meant to be from the beginning.
I hope Apple does well with its new iPhone models. I hope they keep their enthusiasm high as they promote their brand. But, we need to come to terms with what it really means to change the world. It comes only when we seek Christ.