Church is the new coffee house. It is now the trend. And why wouldn't it be? Coffee houses are all the rage among the young and hip as gathering places to sit for a chat, network, and build relationships. It's a perfect fit for much of modern American Christianity where going to church, faith, and the gospel itself is all about “relationship”.
The evidence is everywhere. If you go to your local Christian bookstore you will be hard pressed to find portraits of a suffering Jesus or a crucifix with a corpus. You will, however, find plenty of portraits to hang on your walls that depict Jesus with his arms open for an embrace, you will find Jesus with his head back and mouth open in a full belly laugh, and you might even find Jesus with children playing soccer and swinging on tire swings.
And what of the books? You will likely find a copy of The Shack, Wm. Paul Young's novel about a man who meets God face to face(s). He gets to spend a weekend with God in the woods baking cookies, fishing, going for walks (even on the water), looking up at the stars, and having deep heart to heart conversations.
You can pick up a copy of Love Dare and its companion movie Fireproof so that you too can “fireproof” your marriage. And if you really want to shore up things with your spouse, head on over to Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas where Pastor Ed Young will tell you that the best way to get closer to God and your spouse is by seven straight days of sex. The Christian faith has become all about "relationship".
Not that relationship is bad. Nor is it unrelated. The Bible has lots to say about Christian relationship - both the relationship of the Christian to God and the relationship of the Christian to the neighbor. The thing is, the picture is not pretty. It's like we say in church. "I have not loved God with my whole heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself." That sets the stage for a pretty poor relationship.
The Old Testament people of God had a relationship with God. God lived literally in the middle of the camp. He invited them to come spend time with him every day. However, every time they stopped by God's tent for a visit something had to die. A lamb, a bull, a pigeon if you were poor had to give up its life for your relationship with God to continue. Doesn't really put you in the mood for the taste of a latte or the smell of freshly baked cookies...
The New Testament people of God get in on the relationship too. The New Testament calls it koinonia. We often translate that as "fellowship". Sometimes we think fellowship is what we get when we all get together and enjoy each others' company. It's not. Fellowship, koinonia is not about us. It's not about our interpersonal connections. It is what we get when God joins us to himself, (1Cor. 1:9) to his own mystical body, through His sacrament so that through Christ we are joined to one another (1Cor. 10:16).
Just like our Old Testament counter parts, this doesn't happen without there being a death. We can't go over to God's place without someone loosing His life. Unless there is first a death, a sacrifice, a propitiation (1 John 4: 10) there is no relationship. So that's what there is. And the picture is not pretty. There is a cross and a bloodied figure on that cross who cries out to a God who has forsaken him (one relationship broken) and disciples who have abandoned him (12 more relationships broken) and his own people who have despised him (a whole slew of broken relationships!) But his failure is our victory. The koinonia can begin, first between you and God and then, through Christ, between you and your neighbor.
With all this misplaced talk of relationship, the result is a real tragedy. We are supposed to do things that benefit the relationship. We are supposed to spend time with one another, be "vulnerable" with one another, see the positive in one another, do nice things for one another. While these are (or can be) really good things, these things do not fix the problem.
If the problem is sin and if sin is that we are turned in on ourselves, the solution is not to follow a plan, a prescribed set of behaviors. These might open your eyes to help you see things are not right, but they cannot fix the sin. Sin is fixed through the Gospel. Sin is fixed through a Spirit-directed confession of sin that empties the self of rights and reasons and excuses. Sin is fixed when we confess our sins to each other and when we forgive the sins that have been committed against us. Sin is fixed when we confess our sin to Christ and He absolves us through his called and ordained servant.
The Bible has lots to say about relationship. It is God's to give, ours to ruin, and then God's to restore. He does this. He does it in Jesus.