A Marketed God
The reason Ncctk has been so remarkably successful in a short period of time is because the main vision setters recognized a unique opportunity in Lynden. It would be interesting to know the demographic that makes up Ncctk. Are they people who once attended a Reformed church in town, knowing that we have around thirteen within city limits? Are they mainly grey haired baby-boomers? Lynden has a powerful church heritage. Great preachers have filled the churches here in the past. But as times changed, there was a growing dissatisfaction. Some of the dissatisfaction was legitimate. Conflicts occurred based on some pretty bad legalism. Preachers began to leave their studies feeling the pressures from their parishioners to tone down their Reformed convictions for the sake of their children whose friends in other mainline denominational churches were already enjoying this new thing called a praise band. As the preaching waned, so did the people’s interest in the traditional church model. Why keep it? Children were tired of hearing that certain things were done because “it's always been done that way”. Some of the old school Heidelberg Catechism preaching was nothing more than dry lecture time from the pulpit (this was never a good thing), and who wanted to continue under that when the church down the street had just introduced this exciting new praise music with a pastor who tells stories from his own personal experience.
As one church caved in, the others followed. This produced a kind of perfect storm. What were the limits to what could be done in worship? Who defined those limits? Could anything be done? The Reformed confessions used to regulate these things and provide some uniformity for churches and to prevent this stuff from happening. Why didn't they matter anymore? Were they old traditions of man or biblical ones? If anything has been evidenced in churches across this land it's that once you begin to build the church upon the wants of the people, there is no restraining what comes next. As the churches tried to figure this out for the sake of their young people, each church searching for identity, before they knew it, a new church had come into town that actually bought out a shopping mall, offered the most hip praise band, the best of programs, adatped to all the wants of the consumer. You now had quite a force in town as the rest began to wonder whether this is the direction they really wanted it to all go, and their people.
As a side note, all of this begs a provocative question. When everyone is doing the informal thing, doesn’t that at some point become what is traditional? I had someone visit the other day amazed to find a church where people didn't purposely dress down. I fail to see how it becomes all that innovative and exciting when everyone else is doing it, excluding, I suppose, the one who does it the best? And, who really becomes the rare church in town offering something "brand new"? Something to think about.
The Foolishness of God
The apostle Paul severely admonished the church in Corinth for adopting the conventional wisdom of the culture to do ministry. In other words, they were being tempted to abandon the materials God chose for them to build his church. The admonishment is never more relevant than today. I Cor. 2:1-5 states,
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Couldn’t we substitute this to the phenomena of our day? Doesn’t the Holy Spirit say the same to us, namely, that he does not come to us making the church into a shopping mall, or a powerful praise band, or a theater drama, or any other human wisdom to win souls for Jesus? Why? For the same reason as stated to the Corinthians, he doesn’t want your faith to be in the “marketing” of men, but in the power of God.
We are told specifically that the means God has chosen to give people faith is “through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” Now why did the Holy Spirit call it foolishness? The Spirit chose a means that has absolutely no outward glory humanly speaking, no pizazz, no appearance of power, no chicanery, no earthly wisdom, no marketing, so that when a soul is saved all the glory goes to God alone. God didn't want three thousand people to fight in Gideon's army, only three hundred who would defeat the enemy with unconventional weak weapons. God specifically told Gideon why; he wanted no one to start clapping and rooting on Gideon and his army for their power to win the battle. Can we make a connection? The same is true today. God has chosen foolish means to save, and when these are honored, the Holy Spirit powerfully regenerates the heart. Our gimmicks do not produce one changed heart, they only tend to provide temporary highs to numb the pain of unrooted sin.
The church is not a business and God is not a product for our consumption. What becomes of a marketed God--a question we should all care deeply about as Christians? 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 recreated. 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. All of this is gone in the marketing mega church.