Friday, July 28, 2006

Worship Service or Pep Rally?

Maybe we've been going about things the wrong way. Maybe what we need isn't more Christ-centered worship or expositional preaching or even sound, biblical doctrine. Maybe what our churches need are more mascots. From the satirical
    MONTEREY, Calif. — First Nazarene Church used to start Sunday services with announcements and a generic welcome from the associate pastor. Now service starts with whirling spotlights, stadium music and a cougar mascot bounding down the center aisle slapping high fives and making "raise the roof" gestures.

    "Adding Christian Cougar was a great move for us," says the pastor. "No one calls our church boring anymore."

    Churches across the country are adopting mascots to pump up Sunday mornings and rally people in worship.

    "Our new mascot energizes things," says pastor Del Richards of Valley Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., which just introduced Lift-Him-Up Lion.

    On Sunday morning during worship time, the Lion rushes on stage and does the running man dance to "Blessed Be Your Name." He then makes "I can't hear you" motions and broad clapping gestures, then kneels with his hands raised when the songs turn slower. Worship team members play along with his antics. During the offertory he pulls out an oversized wallet and dumps wads of fake cash into the offering plate. During the sermon he stands to the side and makes rah-rah gestures and encourages people to applaud.

    "I tell him to go with the Spirit and raise some heaven," says the pastor. "By the time I get in the pulpit, the people are so amped up they can hardly contain themselves." ...

    ... Mascots are also an affordable option compared to larger projects.

    "We couldn't afford a new youth center, but we can afford a wolverine costume," says a Michigan pastor whose attendance has risen considerably since they added Worship Wolverine, who does trampoline flips, handstands and runs across the platform with a banner that says, "Praise!" ...

    ... Some churches experimented with live characters like Samson or the Apostle Paul, but people "thought they were weirdos or homeless people." Most stick with animals. (Full story)
Now, if people dressed up as animals can be used to get the congregation fired up for the Lord, just think of how much more excited people would be about going to church if we added cheerleaders!

Oh, that would be too much? I suppose. After all, we wouldn't want anything to take our focus off of Christ, now, would we? Unfortunately, looking at everything churches do to get people through the doors, we can't be too far away.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Should Christians Be Optimistic, Part III

I’m finally returning to the question of how Christians should view history, particularly the future.

I want to turn very briefly to the humiliation and sacrifice of our Lord and ponder just how it should change or shape our outlook of the future. Jesus suffered greatly, both as man and God, for the sins of His people.

First, he laid down His divine prerogatives to take the form of a humble servant. Paul writes that Jesus "made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:7-8)

Second, not only did Jesus die for us, He lived a perfect life for us, too, in the face of great temptation. As the Second Adam, Jesus had to face and overcome the temptations and machinations of Satan (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). The author of Hebrews says that, "we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). Jesus had to face and conquer temptation on behalf of His people as a man, to win victory where Adam had fallen.

Third, in His physical being, Jesus had real, human, physical limitations. He hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:28), and became physically tired (Mark 4:38). Additionally, Jesus had real human emotions. At various points, Jesus is described as troubled (John 12:27), sorrowful (Matt. 26:38), and compassionate (Mark 1:41).

Fourth, before going to the Cross, Jesus suffered slapping and scourging by His Roman tormentors and was mocked and cursed by His own kinsmen of the flesh. He endured harsh physical and emotional pain on our behalf.

Fifth, on the Cross, He became Sin for us. The Bible says that he became "a curse." "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'" As God, Jesus was without sin, and yet He willingly became sin to save His people from the coming wrath and judgment of God. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21).

Finally, Scripture says that the only begotten Son of God, who shared perfect fellowship as the second member of the Godhead, was forsaken by the Father. “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

Christ's suffering begs the question, was it all in vain? Did Jesus do all of this so that only a small percentage of men would be saved? Did he suffer so that the world would fall increasingly under the reign of Satan? Moreover, is Jesus’ victory at the cross and His ultimate exaltation primarily, if not exclusively in the spiritual realm?

It seems reasonable to assume that because His suffering, humiliation, death, burial, and ultimate triumph occur in rather than outside histor--and as a real, physical man--that His ultimate victory likewise will be visible and on earth, in history, not as the result of a post-historical discontinuity.

W. G. T. Shedd puts it this way:

It is utterly improbable that such a stupendous miracle as the incarnation, humiliation, passion, and crucifixion of one of the Person of the Godhead, should yield a small and insignificant result. On a priori grounds, therefore, we have reason to conclude that the Gospel of the Cross will be successful, and the Christian religion a triumph on the earth and among the race of creatures for whom it was intended. But this can hardly be the case, if only a small fraction of the human family are saved. The presumption, consequently, is that the great majority of mankind not the small minority of it, will be the subjects of redeeming grace.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What Is Most Damaging to the Body of Christ?

Marc Heinrich poses an interesting question on his site, Purgatorio: Which of the following is most damaging to the Body of Christ?:
    1. The Anglican's naming a woman Presiding Bishop who supports ordination of practicing gay clergy:

      Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman elected to lead a church in the global Anglican Communion when she was picked Sunday to be the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. ... In 2003, the Americans shocked the Anglican world by electing the first openly gay bishop—V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Placing a female bishop at the head of the denomination may further anger conservatives overseas and within the U.S. church. And Jefferts Schori voted to confirm Robinson.

    2. The PCUSA's allowing the renaming of the Trinity to "compassionate mother, beloved child, and life-giving womb" instead of "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit":

      At the recent 217th General Assembly meeting, PC(USA) commissioners voted to allow the denomination's churches to use the phrase "compassionate mother, beloved child, and life-giving womb" instead of "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" when referring to the Trinity. This was just one of the 12 phrases approved by the Assembly as permissible substitutions for the traditional names of the Godhead, another being "rock, cornerstone, and temple."

    3. The SBC's resolution on alcohol:

      RESOLVED, That we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.

      RESOLVED, That we urge Southern Baptists to take an active role in supporting legislation that is intended to curb alcohol use in our communities and nation ...
While I believe all three positions are unbiblical, it is my contention that #3 (i.e., the issue of liberty vs. legalism) is the most damaging to the Body of Christ. Why do I say that? Because those churches who agree with #1 or #2 have already demonstrated that they are not part of the Body of Christ.
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