That is until I read this column by Paul Proctor on News with Views. Mr. Proctor has been rattling cages for several years about contemporary methods of "doing church." I have not always agreed with him, but he has had my attention. While I am personally okay with contemporary worship, I have recently gotten concerned about the church becoming too relevant, too seeker-friendly and too much like the secular world.
Mr. Proctor discusses some of the more outlandish ways churches are recruiting new people nowadays. The one that caught my eye was a church here in Metro Denver that I have attended on and off for several years. He refers to a New York Times article on the use of this Halo game to attract teenagers.
I watched a few Halo videos on YouTube. This is violent stuff! What is it doing in church? Christians are famous for crusading against excessive sex and violence in entertainment. They remind us time and again that life imitates art. (After Columbine -- 10 miles from Colorado Community Church -- much was made of the killers' penchant for violent video games.) However, if violent material gets kids into church, who cares?
Pravda-on-the-Hudson stated "those buying (Halo) must be 17 years old, given it is rated M for mature audiences." I stopped by Circuit City and, sure enough, all the Halo games were locked in a special cabinet and marked with a big honking letter M.
Christ told His followers to be light in a world of darkness and salt in a world of decay. (Matthew 5:13-16) What better way to do this than to pander to teens with gratuitous violence?
"Witness the basement on a recent Sunday at the Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, where Tim Foster, 12, and Chris Graham, 14, sat in front of three TVs, locked in violent virtual combat as they navigated on-screen characters through lethal gun bursts. Tim explained the game's allure: 'It's just fun blowing people up.'"
This church doesn't suck, Beavis!
What's next? Free bottles of Jack Daniels to the first 100 high school students through the door? Howard Stern as a guest speaker? (1) Again, what should it matter as long as it gets kids into church?
I once heard a pastor say he would rather have a congregation of 200 people firmly committed to the inerrancy of Scripture than 5000 people warming pews and writing checks. Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to the world. I used to walk into church and feel that, however imperfect, I was walking into a true refuge from the world outside. This has changed over the years -- especially the last three.
Christians need to stop their frivolous top-down moralizing and political campaigning and have a good hard look at what is going on in their own houses of worship. Way too many churches have become little more than elaborate tax shelters and Sunday morning social clubs. Forget whether or not people are growing spiritually; forget whether or not people hunger for righteousness and thirst for a deeper relationship with Jesus; forget what people do during the other166 hours every week. This new time religion is all about the numbers, baby!
Jesus kicked the money changers out of the temple because they had defiled it. (Matthew 21:12) How many pastors have defiled their houses of worship because they sold their souls in the name of church growth? It don't mean a thing if your church ain't got the bling.
There is nothing wrong with a big congregation. If God wants 30,000 people in a church, He will make it happen. That is His Will not ours. People became Christians for centuries on the strength of His Word and the example set by His People. It was not necessary to "package" Christianity.
I have even graver concerns above and beyond these cheap appeals to teen thrill-seeking. Namely, what happens a few years down the road after Beavis and Butthead have graduated from high school?
Bloodlust is all over the contemporary American evangelical church. The most rabid support for the Iraq War comes from evangelicals. What says Christian love like invading a country that has done absolutely nothing to you and killing God knows how many thousands of innocent people? What part of Proverbs 6:16-18 don't people understand? God HATES hands that shed innocent blood! But millions of evangelicals love such hands!
The same scenario will play out again in Iran. Evangelicals will be the biggest cheerleaders. The Prince of Peace has been morphed into the prince of war.
It's just fun blowing people up, dude.
(Recently, a neoconservative web site directed toward "security moms" was compelled to take down an article calling for the nuking of Iraq and for Dubya to declare himself president for life. This site was not run by Bigdog479 or some other obscure blogger. Rather, the board of the organization running it consists of some very well-placed neoconservatives. These people have huge influence with evangelicals.)
It's just fun exterminating a nation.
Concerning domestic affairs, most evangelicals I talk to have no problem whatsoever with:
It's just fun tasering people. It's just fun locking people up for victimless offenses. It's just fun doing warrantless searches. It's just fun kicking down doors on no-knock raids. It's just fun arbitrarily arresting people and imprisoning them indefinitely without due process. It's just fun torturing people.
The only time Jesus ever initiated force was when He kicked the money changers out of the temple. His purpose was to purify His Father's House, not to rule His society from the top down. With this in mind, why do so many Christians support this reckless use of force?
In 2004, Pastor Gregory Boyd of St. Paul, Minnesota, delivered a series of sermons entitled the Cross and the Sword in which he discussed, in great detail, the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of man. As Christians, he teaches, we belong first to a Kingdom that is "not of this world". (John 18:36) And the more we become involved in the kingdoms of the world, the more we become like the world in the very worst way.
Today, a neighborhood church lures you in with M-rated video games. Six years from now, you spray bullets into a crowd of innocent civilians in a place you had never heard of when you were chasing pixels around a computer screen in a church basement. And all the while you thought you were doing the Christian thing.
Matthew 5:16 commands us to "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." I became a Christian in 1986 because of friends who set a godly example with their lives. While they certainly were not perfect, they had a peace and a joy about them that other people did not. They just seemed like they knew something that I desperately needed to know. They had fruit on their tree that I wanted.
I am profoundly grateful that I came into the Kingdom of God this way. It sure beats going to church for years because it was "marketed" to me oh so slickly, and then realizing years down the road that I had missed Christianity altogether.
Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman