Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Trying to Pull It Off

Rick Warren is a mega church pastor in California that has reached a level of acclaim and notoriety almost unrivalled in contemporary history. He has done so using the momentum of his New York Times best seller's list work known as "The Purpose Driven Life".

Notoriety, popularity or whatever you want to call it, can be accompanied by many things; wealth, fame, favor, sometimes even scorn and criticism. Be that as it may, it at the least calls attention to one's self, desired or not. One of the interesting things about notoriety, escpecially in Christian circles as I observe, is that it gives the notion that the popular person is a source of knowledge that is to be sought out, listened to and followed. This is a common North American attribute of the famous.

In one of Rick Warren's latest emails to subscribers he communicated some things that at first glance are timely, practical and current. After some not so deeper examination, call it a second read, I find his comments empty, lacking and void of God's wisdom. I think he misses the point of Christianity and the Body of Christ and indicates erroneous thinking. After reading the quote I'll explain.

"It takes enormous amounts of energy, creativity, commitment, time, money, and preparation to pull off a worship service that will attract visitors and focus them on Jesus. Why go to all this trouble trying to bridge the cultural gap between the church and the unchurched? We do it in service to Jesus and we do it because we care about the lost people Jesus cares about."

Rick Warren

1. Like many North American pastors, the 'worship service' has been relegated to an event. No longer a corporate expression of the Body of Christ together, no longer an experience by all who gather to be edified together, the worship service is a show that is put on by the professionals or the ones who have auditioned and been deemed 'competent enough' to lead worship.

This thinking flies in the face of scripture and the writings of the apostle Paul when he wrote 'offer yourselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, this is your spiritual worship." (paraphrased). He encouraged the believers when they came together to speak to one another with spiritual psalms, making melody in their hearts. Worship was not reduced to a few pros on a platform, it was how you lived your life. Based on the teachings of scripture, a worship service isn't just something you 'pull off'.

Based on the teachings of scripture, a worship service isn't just something you 'pull off'

2. Attracting visitors. This is where I believe most people simply just get it wrong. It's not even their fault. We have inherited a Christianity that doesn't look like early Christianity and do the things we do without even knowing why.

The purpose of a worship 'service' is not, nor should it ever be, to attract visitors. A look at the New Testament writings of Paul would explain this fully. Ephesians 5:19 states, "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord," The gathering of believers for corporate worship was for them and not to attract and impress unbelievers. The expression of worship to God in both Old and New Testament contexts was to always be from a place of holiness and concecration. Even in the Old Testament Tabernacle time, unbelievers could be permitted in the outer court, but, for worship and sacrifice they could not enter the inner court.

Philippians 3:3 explains it this way, "For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh..." Worship was for the believers, those of what Paul called 'the circumcision' referring to the covenant relationship between God and his people.

All of this added to Rick's comments on how it takes a lot of time, creativity, commitment, money etc. etc. all point to even more things wrong with this philosophy. A worship service of showmanship will always be meant for impressing/attracting unbelievers. True worship will cost you nothing and you won't have to have a planning session or rehersal to 'pull it off'.

Bridging a 'cultural gap'. Many North American churches believe, teach and pursue this thing called 'cultural relevance'. I need to be frank here. I don't see Jesus, the apostles or even the early church fathers concerned about this. Jesus' parting words were to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature and to make disciples. I would contend that being culturally relevant can be fun, creative, and attract attention to religious organizations and personalities, but it is not on Christ's top listing of priority. Why? I write this because when one examines what people do to be 'culturally relevant', we see nothing more than mimicking a worldly, earthly pattern of finding significance. Some try to have dramatic presentations, others focus on current music styles while others incorporate the arts. I do not forbid the use and enjoyment of any of these as I firmly believe that they are good and given to us to be enjoyed. But that's it. They are not given to make disciples because they cannot. That is what believers do in relationship with other human beings. In the end, vast amounts of budgeted monies are spent on religious entertainment to validate paid professional positions in churches and organizations.

Final thoughts

As I walk my journey of faith I am challenged to, instead of accept the inherited Christianity we've been handed, read the scriptures and find out what they mean and try to live it. Sometimes I don't like the answers to my questions. Sometimes I don't like the fact that I have to change what I used to believe. Sometimes I don't want to change how I live. Yet, in all of this, it's the living Word of God that transforms all of us. The Holy Spirit is our teacher to help bring understanding to it all.

I have no personal vendetta against Rick Warren, nor do I write this as a personal attack. I do however have a personal passion for the correct and paramount regard for the teachings of scripture, not the mere interpretations of man. Counting myself among the company of imperfect, flawed humanity, I encourage you to re-examine what you do and why you do it and ask the hard questions. Re-read the scriptures and find their meaning and understanding. That's the one thing we all need to know how to pull off.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

"Happy Easter"

"Happy Easter" the stranger said as he greeted dozens of families at a hockey tournament. Sounds so nice and polite, so sanitized. "Happy Easter" is what a couple of parents said to me as we all left our dinner party and headed to our hotel rooms. Happy Easter. "Easter" is the title of all kinds of photo albums on Facebook depicting little ones and their 'second Christmas' of the year. Happy Easter. "Got the kids a puppy for Easter" was another post I read online. Happy Easter. "What is your favorite part of Easter" I asked my own kids. "Candy" was their answer. My God where have I gone wrong? Where have we gone wrong? Happy Easter.

For he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed.

Happy Easter. An innocent man was murdered. He claimed to be the Christ and after death, rose again. While we have claimed that Jesus is the only way, truth and life, we have mingled the common with the holy. We have done so as an attempt to make the taste of Christianity more palletable to non-believers. Have we really remembered the significance of what Christ did? Do we really commemorate it and if so, how? With eggs? Chocolate? Bunnies? Bonnets? Have believing parents discussed the scriptures with our children? Have we opened the pages of holy writ, read it to them, questioned them and reiterated the truth we hold dear or have we reliquished this holy time to the infiltration of counterfeits?

The only way to commemorate 'Easter' is with the cross and I don't mean by displaying one. I mean, and spiritually, getting on one. This symbol of death does not look good or make us feel good. It should make us feel uncomfortable. It reminds us to put to death the deeds of the flesh, something we've forgotten in North American Christianity. It reminds us of the wages of sin. It reminds us of our human condition and the need for a savior. There no place for fun and games at the cross...it's all business; God's business. He's in the business of judging sin and giving grace and that's exactly what he did when Christ became sin and God's wrath was satisfied on that day.

It's a solemn occasion when someone dies. It's a special occasion when someone gives you a gift. "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life" are the very crux of what happened on that first 'Easter'. Do we understand the deep meaning behind all of this?

May you experience the deep appreciation of knowing sins are forgiven and the liberty of God's grace while never forgetting what had to happen to make it all possible.

Happy Easter.