Are Churches Out of Style? (Newsletter 4-1)

by Gary Erickson

The way we have church is changing, and not all change is good. We live in an age dubbed “post- modern” by scholars that study generational demographics. It is a complex era with a large mix of philosophies and lifestyle choices. Many postmodernists are eclectic when forming their world-view. They have a smorgasbord of philosophical, theological, and sociological venues to choose from, and they are taking advantage of this accessibility to form their own unique mix of ideas and lifestyles.

People are more educated and as such, more independent in their thinking. Our culture gives people freedom to be independent, and encourages such thinking. Even though postmodernism is a diverse cultural juggernaut, a few characteristics stand out. There is a greater emphasis on emotional needs,  personal experience, and entertainment. We have become a more casual culture not only in dress, but beliefs. For many, exactness is not essential when it comes to morals, ethics, or theology; blends of gray have widened while black-and-white convictions have narrowed. Traditions and institutions are not as sacred as they once were. North America is morphing into this secular culture. Worst of all, these trends can affect the way we have church.

Even though we live in the most educated society in history, there is another extreme. There is gross ignorance about the Bible-not in just the world at large, but in the church as well. Many churches are no longer churches of the Word, but some might call them “churches of song and dance.” In some churches the ministry of teaching is a lost art. Many people today seek a church with an energetic atmosphere good music, lively preaching, and a free-spirited philosophy that makes no personal demands. Postmodernists seek entertaining church where there is intensity and excitement. They seek opportunities to interact socially and intellectually. Basically, they are people selfishly seeking personal edification with no strings attached.

The temptation of every church is to provide only what people want and not what people need. Postmodernism is enjoying a surge in a popularity of the arts in the church: music, drama, choreography, video presentations, and PowerPoint visuals. These ministry tools have brought enormous blessings. They can be used effectively to reach the unconverted and to nurture the body of Christ. They are being used widely and should be. Nevertheless, we must never forget we are people Of the Word. God did not send us a DVD; He sent us His written Word. Words have meaning and words are powerful tools of communication. The spoken word and the written Word are the primary tools of the gospel.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Words are vital to godliness. In that pristine state of beginnings, God is onto logically described as “the Word” (Greek logos; informally it means thought or concept). God wrote the Ten Commandments in stone and later Moses laboriously chiseled them into stone tablets. These engravings were preserved in the Ark of the Covenant as a sacred Hebrew treasure. The Hebrew scribes were immaculate transcribers of the Word, taking ridiculous precautions so as not to alter one jot or tittle. They produced perfect copies because to them the Word was sacred. The Bible is sacrosanct and “holy.” It is not just a book for occasional perusal and reflection, but it is our source of truth and inspiration. It is not a book among books, but “The Book.” It must be elevated in the minds of Christian people as a treasured spiritual resource, the basis of our entire belief system and the paradigm of morals. The Word is to be read, reread, memorized, and meditated upon. It should be the cornerstone of doctrine. Its commandments are not suggestions to be nuanced against our own ideas. Its promises are not empty, romantic nothings.

The Word should be sung, taught, preached, acted out, artistically rendered, public ally read, and privately contemplated. The enactment of the Word in its various forms should supersede all other ecclesiastical exercises. The Word should be at the core of our church activities. We must explore every opportunity to teach the Word, preach the Word, sing the Word, enact the Word, and exemplify the Word. The teaching ministry is one of the five main ministries in the church. (See Ephesians 4:11.) A church that does not teach the Word consistently is a dead or dying church. They may have excitement, a crowded parking lot, and full offering plates, but with- out the teaching of the Word they will ultimately blow away like dry chaff on a threshing floor. Once the entertainment hype and pizzazz are dialed down a few increments, the parking lot will become a desolate asphalt field, dust will collect on the pews, and the offering plates will go to the usher’s room empty. Without the Word a church has a fatal flaw that nothing can fix. The surfer rides the waves for the thrill. It’s bold, thrilling, and risky. But, nothing is really accomplished. The wave only takes him to the gritty sand of the beach.

Are Word churches out of style? Maybe! That would be disheartening if style and mass appeal were our primary goals. It’s a tightrope, a balancing act-staying relevant and staying in the Word. If a church can accomplish that, they can fulfill God’s mission in the earth.

The thrill must be repeated again and again, yet always ending at the same location. It is the engine powered vessel that moves against the currents. It has purpose and destiny. The church’s primary goal is not surfing the waves of cultural relevancy; a Word church may not be able to ride each wave of cultural surge. The church cannot always absorb nor accommodate all of the cultural memes; there are limits to our contemporary appeasement. We are counter-cultural gadflies, revolutionary crusaders for truth, and moral guides for a world that has lost its way. (See John 15:19; 17:14-16.) We must embrace every tool and method to propagate the gospel as long as we do not neglect the Word. Are Word churches out of style? Maybe! That would be disheartening if style and mass appeal were our primary goals. It’s a balancing act-staying relevant and staying in the Word. If a church can accomplish that, they can fulfill God’s mission in the earth. –

Gary D. Erickson serves as the director of the General Sunday School Division of the United Pentecostal Church International.