The lights dimmed over the congregation, spotlights flooded the stage, smoke began to rise and the musicians beat an almost hypnotic rhythm. The audience quickly fell in with the beat, their bodies swaying with hands stretched to the sky. The worship service had begun.
Before I begin, let me say that I am not opposed to good music, or lights, or swaying, or…you name it. What I am wrestling with is the question, “What have we turned Jesus into?” What started me on this journey (again) was seeing church signs posted at the corners of every town advertising their services and inviting people to come. Our own church is currently designing signage. My question is, “Why?” Is that what the church should be about? Are we merely there to attract bodies into a building so we can do a head count each week and boast about the numbers? (Sounds like a sin David committed!)
The great commission in Matthew 28 specifically says, “Go”, “Baptize”, “Teach”. It says nothing about gathering in order to save the lost. The gathering was specifically for the body to come together and encourage/strengthen one another to then “Go” once more. Yet, in our modern view of church, we seem to have gotten our commands mixed up. Instead of going out to reach the lost, we expect them to come to us. And with that mindset we make our services as attractive as possible, even mimicking the world at times. After all, we want the non-believer to feel comfortable.
Signage is not the only advertising that has my ire up. Recently I witnessed an event that made me ashamed to be associated with the churched. In order to raise attendance at a youth gathering, the director basically bribed people to come. Youth were offered $200 CASH to the person who brought the most new kids, along with games, free pizza, and $20 gift card prizes. The youth director also promised to get a mohawk if a certain number of people showed up. Oh…that wasn’t all. Someone would win a new SAMSUNG GALAXY TABLET 2! Well, people did show up. And the numbers were high. After the event, all involved praised God for how He had moved in their midst and brought souls into their flock. 0_o
Ok, what was obvious to me MAY NOT have been obvious to them. Somehow I doubt it.
Does the church today look like the church in the New Testament? Is the church today functioning in the manner that Christ intended it to? Or have we sold out for cheap grace? Dietrich Bonhoeffer worded it best when he defined cheap grace and costly grace. “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son”
I fear that the church today has indeed sold out to cheap grace. Congregants want certain styles of music, preaching that doesn’t offend, but always encourages and programs for every member of their family. We seem to be a group that is more interested in having our ears tickled than in being on the highways and byways compelling men and women to enter the kingdom. Serving Christ is not glamorous nor entertaining. It is hard work, dirty work. And that is why it is offensive to so many believers. We live in a culture of instant everything. We want our wants met before our needs. We want people to flock to us on our schedule so that we may enjoy the rest of the week doing our own thing.
The end result of this is not that we cease holding worship services. It is merely that we take a good, honest look at why we do the things that we do. Who are we doing it for? Are we going about it in a manner that would please Christ? Do we mirror the early church or the American culture? Is it possible to preach the word without a gimmick?