Saturday, November 11, 2017
In the dark. . .
Churches have become blank pages upon which every Sunday gets written in music, image, and sermon. The buildings are often vast warehouses with few finishes. In them form and function are more important than art and beauty. Where once the church building was a sermon in stone and glass and wood, now churches are open spaces with grand stages for worship which has become performance oriented for a people whose role in worship has become as passive as it once was prior to the Reformation.
Walther once famously suggested that the churches he encountered in America had become lecture halls. Now the lecture hall and the holy of holies have both been replaced with theater with the best production value money can buy. Furniture, if there is any, is made out of lucite so that it blends into the backdrop. Front and center are people. The musicians of the praise bands stand out front and center. The "pastor" performs with a modern day costume of current style and a casualness that belies the scale (especially in the mega churches).
It is no wonder why misconceptions about worship are all around us. People come to buildings that look like shopping malls on the outside and on the inside look like theaters so it is no wonder that they expect to be entertained and define what happens there less by orthodoxy than by preference, happiness, and enjoyment. At the same time, it is unmistakable that such venues emphasize the centrality of the worshiper more than the means of grace.
It is a strange time in history. The Christian faith is under duress both from those who think it is wrong and those who think it is weak and worthless. There are those who think the Church is failing because the Church has not kept up with the times, with the changing values of the people and the changing mores and morals of society. And there are those who think the Church is failing because the Church has paid too much attention to what people think or want and too little to what God says. There are those who complain that the Church is too churchly to gain a hearing or following form people and there are those who complain that the Church is not churchly enough to be distinguished from people. Lifeway once surveyed those who do not attend church and they wanted church buildings that looked like churches but that has not deterred those who want to eliminate just about anything that would mark churches as anything but mere gathering spaces for people.
In the end, the Church will not be judged by people but by God. We will have to own up to Him our sins and failures and it is clear from Scripture that God values faithfulness more than anything else. After all, the Word remains His and its outcome and accomplishment remains His domain, not ours. If we fail because we have faithfully confessed and taught the Word, the failure is not ours. But if we fail because we have rejected the Word and chosen to grow the Church our own way, then the failure is all ours. I hope that we will reject relevance for faithfulness but I acknowledge the temptation is great to believe that we make the Church grow and prosper instead of God working through the means of grace by the power of the Spirit. In the end, we may be more in the dark than even our modern church buildings.