Apparently, worship, and strictly speaking all that we say and do as churches, ought to be adapted to and aimed at the felt needs of Joe and Mary Bloggs and their 2.4 children. In recent times, this notion has been seen, most clearly, in what is known as ‘Seeker-sensitive worship.’ For too long, goes the cry, church has been all about us as believers to the point that we cannot connect with the Bloggs. Initially then drama, puppetry, dance, video, story, and testimony became common fare in worship services in the hope that the Bloggs would come along. In recent years, however, as those still claiming to be evangelical have noted the inability of even mega churches to keep their membership, newer and more racy efforts have been made to attract and keep the Bloggs. Being ‘Post-modern and Emergent,’ or ‘cool’ are the new buzz words. As Brett McCracken1 says,
There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated ‘No Country For Old Men.’
For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metro-sexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and Helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.’s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan). “Wannabe cool” Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., for example, have online church services where people can have a worship experience at an “iCampus.” Many other churches now encourage texting, Twitter and iPhone interaction with the pastor during their services. But one of the most popular – and arguably most unseemly – methods of making Christianity hip is to make it shocking. What better way to appeal to younger generations than to push the envelope and go where no fundamentalist has gone before? Sex is a popular shock tactic. Evangelical-authored books like “Sex God” (by Rob Bell) and “Real Sex” (by Lauren Winner) are par for the course these days. At the same time, many churches are finding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church. (Sadly, I find myself unable to finish McCracken’s quote as he describes some of the ‘tactics’ that so-called churches are engaging in to attract the Bloggs – they are too despicable to even mention! Ephesians 5:12)2
Jettisoned for Comfort
And it almost goes without saying that on the other side of all this, sin, guilt, confession, law-readings, liturgical forms, 30 minute (!!!) sermon monologues, anything like this is jettisoned lest people feel uncomfortable and threatened.
But it is not only in worship that basic presuppositions are being challenged. How we evangelise and defend the faith are also two areas that have been under the spotlight. The idea that we call men and women to repent for homosexual sin, for instance, or the notion that we begin to share the gospel by exposing the sinfulness of sin in people’s lives, or refusing to allow visiting non-married couples to share a bedroom in our homes are now seen as old-fashioned, judgmental, and out of step with the times.
Even the language of worship and theology is under threat with the demand for simplicity and variety so everyone can understand what is going on and not grow bored (for example – calling a sermon a ‘talk’). After all, perhaps the worst sin churches can commit today is anything that people might get bored with! So let’s cleanse our vocabulary of things like propitiation, double imputation, justification, and benediction. And at all costs, be sure that thee removest all thy thous from thine songs, lest the Bloggs be left to wondereth what thou meanest!
What is being ignored in all of this, though, is God. 1 Corinthians 10:30 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” And it is precisely because of a verse like this one that the Westminster Shorter Catechism begins by calling our attention to man’s chief end – “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” In contrast to this, and faster than a bullet train with busted brakes, the modern church’s mantra has become ‘whatever you do, do it all to get the Bloggs in the door,’ or ‘man’s chief end is numbers on the floor.’
Failing to Learn from God
What is continually ignored is the warnings of God’s Word. When God spoke to Israel about how they were to worship, He said in Deuteronomy 12:8, 29, 32:
You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit ... Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God ... See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.
And the lesson of seeking to honour the Lord in worship according to His command, both as we gather on Sunday and in our weekly life of worship, as seen in the stories of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10), and Uzzah (2 Samuel 6) is a lesson that many are still failing to learn.
Borrowing from another to make an appropriate and salutary warning about what exactly is at stake here, McCracken notes. In his book, “The Courage to be Protestant,” David Wells writes:
The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God ... And the further irony is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.3
Living in an ADD Culture
The key then, whether it is worship, evangelism, or defending the faith lies not in the direction of catering for the Bloggs, but in one of the verses quoted above. In calling on His people to worship driven by God’s commands, whether they be explicit or by good and necessary deduction (WCF 1:6), God calls us to do “what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord.” And this means taking hold of the truth of Romans 1:16, where Paul declares, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” It is being emboldened by the truth of Hebrews 4:12, which says, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” It is resting, content, in the truth that God is pleased “through the foolishness of what (is) preached to save those who believe,” and in the power of the Word, heard (Romans 10:14), despite the fact that we live in a video-saturated and attention-deficit-disordered culture. It is enabling the Spirit to apply God’s Word into the hearts of those whose lives are darkened by sin as we get busy with what these words demand: “Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.” This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:13-14). And in all of these things, as we engage with neighbours, workmates, visitors to church, and classmates, it is remembering the call to hospitality (Romans 12:13), speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and being “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have ... with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Yes, we must proclaim the gospel to people living in the Western world of the 21st century. But that gospel demands an intimate knowledge of man’s sin and misery, a knowledge that only Jesus Christ can deliver us from that misery, and a knowledge of how to thank God for such a deliverance, just as it always has done. It is the same gospel that was preached by Paul, Augustine, Calvin, and every other faithful servant of the Lord whose names are long forgotten.
Christ delivers from Sin and Misery
We have been entrusted with a rich heritage in the Reformed faith. Because it is biblical, it has answers to the problems which vex young and old alike, today. As McCraken says,
Calvinism is about certainty ... Calvinism emphasises sin ... Calvinism views God in the highest way possible ... Calvinism has a beautiful picture of grace ... Calvinism fears God ... Calvinism grounds itself in the Bible rather than sugar-coated feel-goodisms ... and Calvinism is less about hugs, Sunday School pink lemonade and ‘God loves you’ than it is about discipline, deference, and ‘God hates you in your sin, you are a wretch who needs God’s grace.’ It’s not for the faint of heart or easily offended. Kids like this.4
Let’s be bold, then. Let’s be faithful and winsome proclaimers. Let’s be unapologetic in our apologetics. For a God-ward focus is good and right in the eyes of the Lord and it is what He will use to bring the Bloggs to faith, in His time.