In the last post, I acknowledged that there’s really nothing more I can add to the volumes of critiques written about the phenomena known as the contemporary church in America. Having been recently challenged, however, to evaluate a local gathering of a seeker-friendly, culture-relevant youth group in terms of an adherence to biblical standards, I’m writing this series of articles in the hopes that, as the title of this blog suggests, those who are thirsty for God, the truth, and His way of salvation and holy living, may be similarly challenged to weigh their involvement in such groups according to the standards of the Bible.
It is also my intent to try to avoid any arguments that may provide a young person the opportunity to claim that I don’t like his youth group simply because of my age and any perceived generation gap. The goal will be to earnestly evaluate any group or meeting based entirely on whether or not it can be said of it that it honors God because it meets and acts in ways endorsed, prescribed, and/or dictated by the Bible, which is our entire rule of life.
Where does one begin? There are several aspects of such a meeting that should be examined individually, perhaps, but certain aspects overshadow others. By itself, the preaching at this youth group had some very good points. The young man who is the pastor jumped right in by saying that his was not a “drive-by” message. By that, I presume that he meant that what he was going to say should be taken simply as a spiritual “fix-it-and-make-it-feel-better” kind of therapy talk, but would deal with a transcendent topic, “Who God Is.” This subject, the person of God, should inform every other area of our lives, and in fact, God, because of who He is, demands and deserves control of your life. The content and delivery of the sermon, however, will have to wait for an upcoming post so as not to make these posts huge.
We’ll have to begin with the medium in which the whole experience occurred, for in our culture especially, the medium IS the message. What do I mean by, “The medium IS the message?” Essentially, it is that whatever medium is used to deliver any message becomes the foundation of the message itself. For example, imagine you were in the middle of Iran and witnessed someone like Kenneth Copeland or Benny Hinn show up to conduct a “crusade.” You would see them arrive in their personal,
multi-million dollar, private jet, be shuttled to the arena in their hired limosine, and take to the stage dressed in their $3000 suits. Now, to make the picture really complete, imagine that before the sermon, there was a testimony time and the speaker, giving her testimony of how Jesus is her savior and Lord, was none other than Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California who blew her opportunity to become Miss America because of her politically-incorrect answer at last year’s top beauty pageant.
Why have I conjured up such a ridiculous scenario? Well, before I get to the biblical evaluation of such meetings, I have to first establish that the format and the container of any message will convey something important about the message. In such a situation, it wouldn’t matter at all what the message was. Miss Prejean and the preacher could preach a very sound message, but the container of that message would convey something entirely different to the Iranian audience. In fact, it would actually be worse if they connected the preaching of God’s word to the container I have presented in my hypothetical situation because it would further ingrain into the minds of the hearers that Christianity is immoral, covetous, sensuous, and wicked. If the message were doctrinally sound, would they perceive such a thing by the words spoken? No, it would be gained from the way it was presented.
Unfortunately, our culture is really in the driver’s seat right now when it comes to dictating how the church’s messages are delivered, and, as Henry Van Til said, “Culture is religion externalized and made explicit.” What does that mean? It means, simply, that that which man worships in his heart is made evident by the things he values and does. A culture is the ideas, customs, arts, and skills of any people which are transferred and communicated to the next generation.
We’ll examine the medium used to deliver the message to the contemporary, seeker-friendly, culture-relevant church and see if it aligns more closely with our culture or with scripture in Part 3.
Thanks for reading.
Dozens of authors and bloggers have already weighed in their opinions on “what’s wrong with the American church,” and it really seems that any further additions will be superfluous. Last week, however, I happened to see this video parody, and it made me curious.
25 years ago, I began attending a local church which, at the time, had about 150 people. Today, it is a full-blown megachurch, boasting 14,000 members (though in actuality, those numbers probably take into account anyone who has ever been there, not those who currently attend – IMO).
Since it’s been about 16 years since I attended this church, and I have since been in very small, and very conservative assemblies, I thought I would check out their “young people’s group” on Friday night. Even though I felt like I could have probably scripted the entire meeting just from having attended there for 9 years, and from seeing the volumes of videos on the Internet, there were 2 reasons compelling me to attend. One reason was for my own personal amusement. I wanted to see how closely this group’s meeting aligned with the parody video I referenced above. The other reason was to be able to speak intelligently to any young person, especially my own 6 children, about what I think is good and what is wrong with such a meeting. Or, to put it more correctly, what I see that is biblical, and what I see that is not biblical. It didn’t seem right to be confronted by someone saying, “Oh, well you’ve never been there, so you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Wrong. Been there.
Admittedly, I have not been there consistently, and I don’t plan to be a regular attender, so there is the potential that what I observed could be “out of context,” but, I’m pretty confident that what happened there last Friday was representative of a typical Friday night’s meeting. All in all, though, I hope to engage young people on a scriptural basis. Hopefully, there may be some young people out there who are willing to sift through scripture to see if their meeting lines up with what pleases God and with what He has established as a pattern for us in our worship and service of Him. This should, in theory, avoid the accusation, “You don’t like it because you’re old,” or “It’s not part of your generation, so you won’t be able to relate.” Since the Word of God transcends generations, and concepts of young and old, we should be able to evaluate a meeting like this, or any other meeting, for that matter, even a very small, very conservative one.
To be continued in “Biblical Evaluation of ‘church’ in America, Part 2.”
Thanks for reading.
The church our family attends recently studied a book which they have made available to those of us who missed out on the study. The book is entitled, The Hospitality Commands, and I have been reading through it the last few days. As is the case with much of what the Lord is putting across my path to read lately, this book definitely challenges some long-held notions of my own privacy I have not wanted to let go.
Following is a brief excerpt.
“A cold, unfriendly church contradicts the gospel message. Yet unfriendliness stands out as one of the most common criticisms people have of local churches. It doesn’t take people long to figure out that there is a ‘churchy’ love among Christians that ends at the back door of the sanctuary or in the parking lot. It is a superficial, Sunday-morning kind of love that is unwilling to venture beyond the walls of the church building.
Brotherly love, however, entails intimate relationship, care for one another, knowledge of one another, belonging together, and sharing life together. We cannot grow close to our brothers and sisters by meeting for an hour and fifteen minutes a week with a large group in a church sanctuary. The home is the ideal place in which to build relationships and closeness.”
Thanks for reading.