Monday, March 24, 2008

Looking Down: Clarification

Okay, so someone out there is at least reading this blog, which is great fun for me! But I don't seem to have been clear in my post entitled "Looking Down." I got quite a few responses saying that age isn't the factor, but the truth and authenticity of the man and the message are. I thought that was exactly what I was saying in the blog!

However, I am still thinking through the idea that different venues might use different cultural languages to bring the one truth of Bible to bear on different cultures. Of course this would hold true for different language groups, but might it not also be true for different cultural groups?

I don't intend to change what I am doing, nor will we change where and how I am doing it. But, it probably also makes sense to find a way to bring the Bible to bear on those whose cultural language (read: preferences in terms of style, "feel", and other cultural elements) is different than the one we have in our large, and rather traditional auditorium. For me, it works. And for hundreds every week it works. But, for a bunch of others, it is not a place they would "feel" like they know what to do, how to respond, etc.

Here's the deal, flat out: It is the message of the Bible - the Gospel in its largest sense - that is to be proclaimed in purity, no compromise. The story of God's rescue in Jesus Christ must not be shaped by culture, or changed by the church. But, the size of the room where the church gathers, the chairs they sit on, the time of day they gather, the music they choose to hear, play and sing, and a whole host of other accessories to corporate worship can - and should! - be carefully selected so as to create an environment devoid of as many obstacles to learning and worship as possible. My sense is that, given our great diversity of cultural languages today, it may not be possible to do it all in one service for all cultural groups. We would do well to see if having different venues that all brought the same biblical message would allow diversity where there is no biblical prohibition and unity in the one area that matters: the truth.

Of course, this presents another set of challenges. Foremost is the recognition that if you divide groups down too finely you end up with services suited to selfishness. And that is not glorifying to God. Yet, we can take a cue from missiology, where missionaries have known for years that to reach a culture, you first must understand it, and bring the eternally relevant message of the eternal God to bear in - and on - that culture. When Hudson Taylor went to China, he first grew a que so that he could be recognized as one who was "of the culture." And where cultural relevance can be a help, and is not a compromise of God's truth, it should be sought for. (Note: But, where cultural relevance is really cultural compromise, it must be eschewed!).So, when ministering to large cultural groups, it is appropriate to create settings where those attending do not have to fight through cultural elements that are foreign to them. The key must be to center on the Gospel and the mission. Our mission is not to get people to like us because we are relevant and provide a comfortable place for them. Rather, we are to provide whatever environment is necessary so that the Gospel is "adorned" (Titus 2:10). Admittedly, there will be great differences of opinion in this area. Those who believe a classic hymn is the best way to adorn the Gospel will find it hard to believe that a very contemporary praise chorus (with good theology!) can accomplish the same objective in the minds of a younger culture. And so, we will battle with the selfishness that we all have when we think that the "cultural language" that has meant so much to us in our journey with Christ must be the best one for everyone.

Another huge problem is that of unity among different venues, different "congregations." Consider this scenario: On a Saturday night, one venue only does soft, acoustic music with guitar, and the message is followed by an hour of dialogue with the audience. On Sunday morning one venue features a choir, and a "blended" style of music, with a traditional sermon and all the regular elements of our current services. At the same time, in another venue, a contemporary band leads the music, and the preacher uses a much more relational style, taking advantage of the intimacy a much smaller room provides. Then Sunday night, still another venue finds a traditional, piano-led hymn sing followed by an expositional 30 minute message. A prayer time follows.

While the above scenario is fresh from my brain, I could see it being the "multi-cultural language" offering of a church that was serious about reaching and training a whole spectrum of people from the community. But, how to keep them prizing the unity of the Body? That is a huge question, and not one that is easily solved. However, the key would be to have each venue cheering for the others, recognizing that all were involved in the same mission: building complete people through the teaching and application of God's Word. It would also help if all the preachers worked together to make sure that they were teaching the passages the same way in each venue. Lastly, rotating preachers, rotating musicians occasionally, and holding combined services from time to time would make sure that all the venues realized that God was at work in the other venues.

This model is being used in many places, but my thoughts on this are just forming. Most use video for the various venues, but I don't think a video sermon is the way to go. Rather, I would work to form a good preaching team - with each man having his own venue. I would keep doing what I'm doing, work very hard to keep all the preachers on the same page, preaching through the same book or series together.

Lastly, let me stress that these are just my thoughts. I am thankful for "push back." I value the comments many of you have given me, and my thinking continues to adjust as my study of the Word, and the thoughts of God's people are brought to bear on my ideas. But, let me leave you with this: We don't want to be Jonah! Let me explain:

Jonah is a two-sided model of what we must not be today. On the one hand, Jonah didn't want to do what God specifically told him to do. And while God doesn't speak audibly to us today, there are still many, many things we are commanded to do. Not to do them is to be a Jonah, and we all know what God thought of his disobedience! God has commanded us to take the Gospel to all peoples. That is not limited just to other language groups or people groups in foreign lands. We actually have numerous "cultural groups" in our own communities, and our task is not just to ignore the fact that they are living apart from God, and marching to a tragic eternity. We are told to bring them the story of God's rescue in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, we all too often think the job of "taking the Gospel to our world" is being done if we hold a service and wait for the world to walk through the doors.

Secondly, Jonah thought he should have some say as to who God decided to save. Make no mistake, Jonah hated the Ninevites! They were pagans, enemies, wicked, trash! They were "beneath" Jonah. And Jonah had to learn the lesson we all must constantly learn: Salvation belongs to God, and He doles it out to whomsoever He chooses. He asks us to be the delivery system, not determine who gets grace.

So, I refuse to be a Jonah. I refuse to decide that, if God is going to save the postmodern generation, He'll just have to do it without us. No. What I do determine is that I will keep doing what I am doing, preaching the Word I am preaching, the way I am doing it, in the place He has planted me. And, I will try to raise up others around me who can preach what I am preaching, faithful to the Word of God in every respect, but in conjunction with biblically-allowable cultural styles and "languages" that adorn that Word among those who are being shaped by cultural stresses and forces I don't easily recognize or understand. But then again, I don't have to understand them. God does, and salvation belongs to Him.

Hope this helps,


So, now that I know some are actually reading this ... what do you thi


At 2:01 PM , Blogger jeff said...

You are now officially on the SoCal Theologica blogroll (a most enviable spot). See you soon.


At 10:36 AM , Anonymous Steve Jones said...

It is obvious that we are to preach the gospel and worship the Lord, but how is one of the most difficult dilemmas in the church.

As a 20 something, I prefer a worship band. But that does not mean I don't enjoy singing hymns, just not in the traditional sense. I have a difficult time keeping the pace and singing hymns even though I have grown up with it.

Traditional praise/worship is a barrier to me worshiping the Lord, which makes me question whether or not that should be so, or if it is selfishness.

In the same sense, I have a hard time paying attention to preaching that isn't dynamic, which is most likely a cultural thing being part of the MTV generation.

I don't believe there is anything wrong with having contemporary worship (and hymns with modern music) and more dynamic preaching as long as the gospel is not forgotten, as it tends to be in such services.

I do believe that the young most likely aren't flocking because of the traditional nature of the service and the college students who do go to Northpoint have a difficult time in the service.

How can that be changed? That is where your wisdom comes in because I have no clue.


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