Monday, March 14, 2005

 

Super Size Me...And My Church

Here’s a disclaimer to get out of the way upfront: I attend what presumably fits the mold of a “mega-church” in Denver, CO with 5,000-plus of my closest friends on any given Sunday. It has phenomenal music and what I believe to be good, Bible-based teaching. However, some of the criticisms floating around out there about the message of churches like mine do have some validity to them and I want to try to address that.

I think that examining one’s own religious environment is important – crucial even, according to the Apostle Paul. In I Corinthians 5:12-13, he writes, What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.

There’s one primary critique which tends to ring true to me: That mega-churches tend to peddle the gospel of self-help rather than the gospel of grace.

The argument against these churches is that they tell people what they want to hear rather than the whole, undiluted truth based on Scripture. Any discussion of the Gospel - of the need for repentance or sometimes even salvation - is secondary. For the most part these pastors focus on issues like money, relationships, and prosperity.

Tertiary arguments against the mega-churches include the concern that they often feature a cookie-cutter type of sermon lacking in substantial theological basis. The fear is that these sermons are designed more to fill the pews than to offer any deeply convicting spiritual experience.

Joe Carter over at the Evangelical Outpost gives his thoughts on the subject and, more or less agrees with the above assessment. Money quote: If the megachurches continue to put their marketing campaign before the word of God they will distance themselves from the Church. I, for one, would rather stand alone in an empty church where the Gospel is heard than sit in a stadium where self-esteem is made an idol.

Because it hits so close to home for me being that my background is in large, non-denominational churches, it is difficult to objectively contemplate this subject. However, there is undeniably some truth to these criticisms. In particular, I get very uneasy about stuff like this:

Regarding the high-profile frequent guest of the mega-church tour circuit, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Carter writes: "As appears to be common among televangelists, Jakes has a taste for the high life. He lives in a 1.7 million mansion, flies on chartered jets, and sports a gargantuan diamond ring."

Couple this with the "prosperity gospel" so often preached at these churches and I have a hard time relating this materialistic-driven obsession to much of anything Christ had to offer us. From what I recall, Christ never appeared too concerned with enriching his followers or himself with material wealth. In fact, he may have even had a stern warning or two regarding the potential pitfalls that riches can bring about.

However, my own basis for analysis is predicated on a generally accepting attitude toward any church or denomination that preaches the fundamental gospel of Christianity. There are many different preferences in worship style and diverging opinions on many specific portions of doctrine. And I am naturally very averse to any atmosphere of in-fighting within Christian denominations. Providing a wide diversity of views, thereby making our religion accessible to more people - without compromising its core beliefs - is a good thing.

I do think that the root of much criticism stems from issues of jealousy and/or self-righteousness. We have to be especially cautious in questioning the motives of any man or woman of God. Nonetheless, the message itself and the medium used in communicating it is fair game and should be held to account for its accuracy and integrity in conveying Biblical Truths in a transparent manner, which should preclude the use of rose-colored glass.

UPDATE: Via a link from the Christian Carnival, I found this post from Wendy that examines some reasons why so many people are leaving the church. Some concerns similar to my own regarding the focus on materialism are cited. Some more stuff at Blogotional.

From a more personal perspective, Irene Q. relays some similar concerns regarding a huge growth project occurring in her own church.

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