The Sophisticates/Everything Imaginable
Tags: Church Growth, Church Growth Movement, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, Medieval Church, Michael Horton, Agony of Deceit, Romanesque, Gothic, Cathedrals, Dwight L Moody
We live in a very refined
society. All around us we see the results of technology designed specifically to entertain
us everywhere we go. Plasma TVs, DVDs, satellites, digital effects and animation, computer
technology, mp3 players and the like bring the wonders of
Pastors desiring to emulate those congregations who they deem successful are now insisting that the Sunday morning service must be inundated with the same technology that surrounds the average American in his home. As a result of this angst they run to their financial committees with the claim that unless the church invests in technology that will enable them to create a weekly Sunday morning multimedia show to dazzle todays audience, the church will fade into oblivion.
As a result of this relentless drive towards the dictates of the surrounding culture, their congregations are now exposed weekly to a wide variety of videos designed to encompass everything imaginable. The traditional announcement time, where one of the pastors simply opens up the bulletin and informs the congregation of up and coming events, has become a thing of the past. Now weekly homemade videos are used as promotional devices just as Madison Avenue inundates our screens at home with innovative commercials. It is hoped that these creative works will inspire people to get the ball rolling and the church growing. At one time the preacher would simply open up the Bible and preach. Now the message is punctuated by a wide variety of multimedia presentations designed to make sure that the congregation gets the point. In many cases this new found dependence on technology has replaced the reliance on the Holy Spirit to communicate to Gods flock. Hence we are commonly left with a church that is built upon the ingenuity of people rather than the power of God.
The anxiety to keep up with the culture is also reflected in the musical realm. Long before I was a Christian I can remember back in the 60s going to concert after concert to hear my favorite bands play. The setup was pretty simple. You had a band on stage playing through a huge PA designed to make the music as loud as possible. Other than the fact that there was the smell of marijuana in the air along with a few college exhibitionists, that was all there was to the show. Now when you go to a concert, in addition to all of this, you see lasers dazzling your eyes, pyrotechnics terrorizing you, while images projected on multiple screens leave you wondering if you came to see the band or the technology.
In the same way within the church, just a few decades ago it was acceptable to sing out of hymnals or songbooks. Now as result of this technological explosion it has been deemed necessary to purchase a computer loaded with PowerPoint in order to flash the text along with a graphic downloaded from the Internet on a rear-projection screen conspicuously located in the front of the sanctuary.
Just a few decades ago congregational singing was simply congregational singing. It didnt really matter what the musical setup was as long as there was someone competent at the podium who could lead the singing. In fact, in the early years at places such as Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, the praise songs would be sung a capella as led by one of the pastors. In the denominational church it was the music minister accompanied by the piano and/or organ along with the choir who led in song. Now it has been determined in many venues that you need a whole band up there every single week complete with bass, drums and guitars, a whole host of vocalists and everything else in the rock and roll kitchen sink or else it is feared that no one will come. And in many churches choirs and traditional instrumentation setups have become passe. Out with the old and in with the new has become the mantra of a host of churches that desperately feel the need to connect with our modern world.
This is not the first time this big
attraction game has occurred in history. For the
This dynamic is occurring in nearly every
Gazing around the magnificent hall from the back of the auditorium was a sight to behold. Nestled under a towering ceiling wrapped by a spacious balcony were row after row of pews leading up to a massive platform that placed the pastor-teacher far above the eyes of those who looked on from below. On each side of the stage lavish wrapped staircases descended from the balcony above to a mammoth landing suitable for a large orchestra and grandiose choir. Elevated behind the choir loft somewhere in the heavens was a baptismal capped by a lighted cross illuminating the hall.
Delicate white cloth streamers stretched from the platform to the ceiling above and were highlighted with lights of every imaginable color in the rainbow. Colored fill lighting also garnished the stage with a fascinating aura. Two movie screens set high on the wall on each side of the stage projected pastoral video images to the canned music that played as the congregation walked into the edifice. Movie cameras could be seen everywhere throughout the building with a boom unit conspicuously placed to stage right.
Soon the praise team stepped out onto the stage. They were a massive unit complete with all of the typical rock instruments along with a full brass section and three-part vocal group lead by a single worship leader. As the band fired up and the singers wailed out to high energy arrangements of three worship and praise songs, the screens projected not only the lyrics to the tunes, but live images of every musician on stage from every conceivable angle.
The preacher who followed was well covered by the media as well. Every scripture that was read was found conspicuously on the screens along with various camera angles of the minister. This insured that every nuance of his face was to be clearly discerned by all.
Indeed the entire show was not unlike the ancient medieval spectacles that the church of that ancient age put on in their massive Romanesque and Gothic Cathedrals in order to attract the populace and generate revenues. And just as the big attraction game influenced the message of that primitive church, so did we find the contemporary megachurch preacher, who had once challenged his audiences with truth, expounding on popular themes. On that particular Sunday the subject matter focused on the best selling book The Prayer of Jabez. While focusing on the scripture Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, the vast majority of the sermon was spent in justifying the supposed moral high road of the Church Growth crowd. (I Chron MKJV) This was accomplished within the context of dominionist or kingdom theology beliefs that talk about the church taking over society to create a manmade millenium. Ironically this was the same philosophy held by the church of the Dark Ages that likewise sidestepped true Christianity as it utilized popular enticements to build its influence during the despondent era it presided over. As usual, the Gospel always suffers under these circumstances.
One has to wonder what a church such as this, that compromises pure biblical teaching for the sake of the numbers game, will do when people tire of their special effects. Will they bring in lasers and pyrotechnics next? And what will they do after that? And what kind of congregation are they assembling when those who come do so for the show rather than the Word of Life? One elderly person in the audience commented that there currently was a stir among the congregation regarding whether things were not better before. The very nature of the degraded message answers that question well enough.
Now there is nothing wrong with utilizing modern technology in the church. However, this desperate subordination to gadgets and everything else that the culture is involved in, as if there is no way the church can grow without it, misses the whole point of what ministry is all about. The question needs to be asked, Are we here to entertain or to worship? The stark reliance that many churches today have on emulating the world answers that question well enough. If you are relying on impressing people with your advanced and relevant contemporary presentation, then you are seeking to grow your church simply by entertaining the masses.
Dwight L. Moody once said, Depend upon it, as long as the church is living so much like the world, we cannot expect our children to be brought into the fold. This leads us to wonder what kind of church is being built under the auspices of conformity to the surroundings. Is it one that will give our children a Christian future? Or is it one that has sold out to convenience and success without any regard to the ultimate consequences?
Yet if we place our dependence upon the
Holy Spirit while utilizing what we have been given in our modern age as an aid to the
congregations worship life, then we indeed will have built our churches on the Solid
Rock. And on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall
not prevail against it. (Matt 6:18b MKJV)
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