Worship & Sermon:
As stated before, this review should not be viewed as an attack on NCCTK per se, but as a critique of what has become an accepted model (Saddleback) of worship that thousands of churches are trying to implement on some level in their own communities. I care very much for my brothers and sisters in the community and sincerely want us all to honor the Lord's commands. So I trust people will appreciate a sincere attempt to be a Berean (Acts 17). No matter what church body we are a part of, every member has a responsibility to evaluate whether practices and beliefs are in accord with the Word of God.
In the last review, we looked at how music is often used to manipulate people’s emotions. The wrong assumption is being made that real uplifting worship elevates us to God first through music, instead of God graciously condescending to us in Word and Sacrament. We saw that music is not a means of grace; it is a means of our response to the grace given in God’s nearness to us in the Word spoken.
The sermon series that night was Going Off Roading With God: Satisfaction Guaranteed. As stated, there was a lot of reference to the people of Haiti in the service due to the recent earthquake. The concerns were legitimate. But how do you think the people in Haiti would connect if the same service and props were set up in Haiti--a Suzuki Samurai 4X4, bright lights, cool camping equipment, an espresso bar, et al? Any Hatian who is at all discerning is going to see the disconnect between these props and their own experience in living under the curse in a fallen world. There is just too much rubble that we cannot “off-road” over in our 4wds. These practices are just too American, suburban, narcissistic, and masking of the “rubble” that fills our own hearts. And herein lies the problem.
Two Faulty Premises:
There are two very serious errors here that were evident throughout the service, especially in the message itself—a wrong view of God and a wrong view of man. The first error, a wrong view of God, was a denial of the Creator/creature distinction. In this denial, God's revelation of himself in his distinctness from his creatures is rejected as he is refashioned into those things that make us feel comfortable about him. Simply stated, if God created us his image, we have returned the favor and created him back into a fallen image that we feel comfortable with.
John Calvin once lamented the problem of people corrupting the knowledge of the true God by refusing to submit to a proper fear and reverence of him. He writes, “for them wish nothing to be lawful for God beyond what their own reason prescribes for themselves.” J Gresham Machen stated the problem this way:
But the liberal conception of God differs even more fundamentally from the Christian view than in the different circle of ideas connected with the terminology of fatherhood. The truth is that liberalism has lost sight of the very center and core of the Christian teaching. In the Christian view of God as set forth in the Bible, there are many elements. But one attribute of God is absolutely fundamental in the Bible; one attribute is absolutely necessary in order to render intelligible all the rest. That attribute is the awful transcendence of God. From beginning to end the Bible is concerned to set forth the awful gulf that separates the creature from the Creator.
Well, what do you think makes sinners feel uncomfortable about a pure Spirit who is infinitely perfect? It’s not hard to discern. Any attribute that speaks of his transcendence—his justice, his holiness, his righteousness—will be viewed as something of an affront to a lifestyle driven by narcissism.
Using Machen’s phrase, how do you think a conception of going off-roading with God comports to his “awful transcendence”? How does it fit the principle of true worship: “By those who come near me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified (Lev 10:3)?” Nothing about the service gave us any sense of God’s transcendence. There was an imaginary casual conversation with God who was presented as if he were one of us. People were obviously prompted to dress down, enjoy the videos, and frequent the espresso stand. Putting this all together, it doesn’t take much to discern what is happening today; people are running. People are escaping from the way God has revealed himself in his Word, in order to find a God that meets their own felt needs in a non-threatening way.
If you take the subtitle of the sermon, Satisfaction Guaranteed, what is the assumption being made here? The basic assumption here is that if you try out God, he will work for you. Now I am used to this “guarantee” language when I buy a product at the grocery store and expect that the money I have invested in the product will earn me some positive result in my life. For instance, the other day I saw this very claim advertised on a teeth whitening product, satisfaction guaranteed. I was interested because prolonged coffee drinking has darkened my teeth. So the first thing I did was check the price. That stuff is expensive. If they really want to sell me the product, the prices have to be slashed; I’m looking for the Safeway card discount. Further, I expect it to work for what I have determined is my need. As a consumer, I reign sovereign over my need and my purchase.
Now since this marketing strategy is so common in the church, we should ask what happens when God himself is marketed this way? What are the consequences of this? And what does this presume is my greatest need? Think about the suggestion: If you go off-roading with God, we guarantee satisfaction. How do you guarantee satisfaction? As the marketer, you have to please the customer. And if God and his church are being marketed like a product, you have to sell both. As stated above, you cannot identify them with any of those things that the consumer might find offensive or unattractive; both have to packaged for their use—because, well, that is how products sell.
So what happens? If the customer is sovereign over what he is “buying” with regard to God he certainly will not select a view of God that emphasizes His justice, holiness, or righteousness. The attribute(s) that is most pleasing to the customer will drown out all the rest, and in today’s church market, it is the single attribute of love by which God is defined to the demise of all the rest, especially his justice.
Further, if the customer is sovereign over what he is “buying” when it comes to the church, anything formal, serious, structured, churchy, are things viewed as hindrances to the perception of God that has already been created. In other words, if God has been made only into a God of love, you cannot have practices that conform to any of those attributes of God that you dislike—this would create a perceived inconsistency between what you are trying to sell and what your product looks like. So what goes? Humility, formality, seriousness, reverence, awe, fear, trembling, even formal dress, are all viewed as hindrances to the way you have refashioned God in your imagination. And now, since God has been refashioned this way, certain practices once appropriate to a proper view of God in viewing all his perfections as simultaneously true of him, do not correspond to what the marketer is marketing to the people. The practices out of accord with your redefined view of God have to be shed at all costs to keep your market.
Therefore, if God has been marketed only with those attributes that are non-offensive to us, we have to rid ourselves of all the other practices that conform to those very attributes of him that we dislike. In this scenario, it’s no wonder worship services are turned into a theater—it corresponds to the God we have created in our own imagination.
So where does this lead us? If you have ridded God of those attributes that you dislike, what happens to your view of what you need and who you are? To be certain, we will never be in pursuit of the gospel. Why? Because the only way the Christian gospel has any real meaning is when there is a proper appreciation for God’s holiness and justice. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and, therefore, are under his just wrath (Rom. 3:23). The only way anyone escapes the wrath to come is by faith alone in Christ, whose righteousness is freely imputed to all who heartily trust in him for salvation. But it is only when we are properly confronted with our misery in the face of God’s justice that we are prepared to submit ourselves to what he says is our greatest need.
Now if we are treated as the consumers, refashioning God into our image, what then becomes of our need? If things aren’t all that bad suggesting that our major problems are just the "road-bumps" of life, the extent of the solution becomes just some practical applications to help us stay on the path. This is exactly what happened in the sermon. We were given three “off-roading observations” calling us to stay focused in life. Abraham made some bad decisions along the way, he is an example for us, and we should learn from this as we check our attitudes so that we don’t get too far off the path of life.
Do you see what has happened? There is no “life-giving” power in this because Christ as a savior from sin is absent. As Michael Horton has stated, “the cure is only as radical as the disease." If our greatest problem is just getting derailed from life's path, all we need is a new moral compass. But this does not reconcile needy sinners to God. I heard nothing of Christ and him crucified in the message, and yet this message is God's expressed chosen power to save. The apostle was clear about this to the Corinthians when he said “that his speech and preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that their faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Couldn’t we paraphrase this by saying, when I came to you I did not use Suzuki 4wds, love videos, espresso bars, dramas, bands, liturgical dances, et al; and I did not use these things purposely so that your faith should not be in the marketing of men, but in the power of God?
It is God who identifies for us in his Word who he is, who we are, and what we need. God is not product to be used, nor is his gospel. No one has ever been manipulated into the kingdom by gimmicks. As David Wells states, “the gospel calls us not to use it but submit to the God of the universe through his son…when we accept Christ he is not there for our use but we are there for his service.” It's tragic to state that we are in desperate need of going back to the basics, understanding and submitting to what God has revealed of himself, and of us. As Hosea lamented in his day, "My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6)." Whose people? It’s my prayer that all Christians today would appeal to the Lord's mercies and remember what he prayed: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
More on how this occurs in the next post, thoughts...?
See Our Faddy American Church Mess & the Reformed Dilemma.
See Our Faddy American Church Mess & the Reformed Dilemma.