Thursday, November 12, 2009

Whitewashed Tombs

I'm going to rant a little today. I'm tired of people comfortable in traditional churches looking down upon and opposing those attempting to reach the lost and unchurched by means of contemporary worship and practical teaching, as if these two things are immoral.

Jesus was clear that rules and traditions of men kept the Pharisees, Saducees, and Scribes from inheriting the Kingdom of God. The spirit of the Law, not the letter, was God's heart. Jesus condemned the Jewish leaders for usurping His law with rules surrounding the Sabbath, prayer, relationships with our parents, divorce, swearing practices, tithes, and cleansing rituals. All of these rules led to false theology (good works [following the law] will save you) and burdened the people with more than they could bear. Instead of looking like the Messiah, people were told to look like the Jewish leaders, the "whitewashed tombs!" Yet, isn't this same Pharisaical spirit alive in the American church today? Don't we, perhaps inadvertently, require the lost world to come in line with what our churched members prefer rather than require our churched, supposedly saved, members to demonstrate Christ's sacrificial spirit?

Time and time again, the church has changed with culture. I think of the first pianos in churches. They were not welcomed because pianos were saloon instruments! Now, just try to take the piano out of a traditional church! This molding to the culture is not in itself a bad thing. I believe that Jesus worked within and without His culture to win the lost. Culture is amoral. By using amoral cultural norms, a church is not being blasphemous or even ignorant, it is being relevant so that it can reach people where they are at. Wasn't Jesus about meeting people where they were at? Paul explicitly endorsed this as well.

In I Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul talks about becoming all things to all men so that he might save some. In studying these verse, John MacArthur makes an enlightening point. Paul isn't saying that he is free to do whatever he wants so that people will come to know Christ; he is saying that he will give up all his individual freedom so that people will come to know Christ.* Paul will refrain from exercising his preferences so that other won't be distracted by him and will be uninhibited to be saved. Now which of these sounds like Jesus and which of these sounds like the Pharisees?

Now, I'm not saying that those who prefer traditional church are unsaved like the Pharisees (although some definitely are!); rather I say this that I might challenge them to consider their discouragement or opposition of anything "contemporary" within the church. Is their opposition based on any biblical principle or command? Most of the time it is not. Rather it is based on personal preference. And because of their personal preferences, because of their lack of sacrificial spirit, people all around their communities and even within their churches are dying and going to Hell.

Let me make this personal. We are planting a church right now in an area where what I have said is not popular. Traditional worship abounds. I don't think there is one other Baptist church in our Association that offers contemporary worship. It is also in an area in which only 23% of people attend church on any given Sunday. What are willing to sacrifice in order to get the other 77% in church?! I like traditional worship. I already miss singing in the choir and we have only been on the field 4 months. Yet, I am willing to sacrifice my preferences of having a blended service in order to reach the unchurched and dechurched. We are planting a multi-ethnic church. I prefer a type of music that will not speak to all ethnicities. I am willing to sacrifice that preference in order to reach a multi-ethic group of people. Jesus taught me that He is bigger than any one type, beat, or style of music! It is just music! As long as the lyrics of the song praise Jesus Christ and are true to Scripture, I can worship my King!!

Maybe those of us in the church need to heed Paul's advice and set aside our own freedoms (preferences) and do what it takes to meet the lost where they are so that they might be saved! Maybe if we started doing this, just maybe the American church would come alive, maybe just maybe our churches would start seeing record numbers of conversions again, maybe just maybe we would look a little more like Jesus.

* I think American believers in particular have a hard time with this concept because individual autonomy itself is worshipped in our country. We are indoctrinated at a very young age that we are free and can exercise that freedom unabashedly, no matter what. Our wants reign supreme in our decision making. This is directly contradictory to Christianity, however. So, many believers have a hard time truly getting this American philosophy out of their hearts and minds after salvation.