Maybe you’ve seen this T-shirt: “Body Piercing Saved My Life.” You can also find the bumper sticker, mug, or decorative table setting in stores everywhere. That is catchy stuff, and true, by the way, for any Christian. It is because Jesus died on the cross, and was resurrected (carrying with him still the wounds from these piercings), that you have new life if you are in Christ. By his stripes we are healed (Is. 53:5). Though as we reflect on what our new church will be like – after all, we move in 5 (count ‘em), 5 days, it begs the question: will we be donning T-shirts like these? It is not inherently wrong to do so, in fact, many thoughtful Christians, especially young people, wear things like this. We just have to be careful as a church to not allow the medium in this case to be the message. It is true I have always desired to own a Naughty by Nature hooded sweatshirt like they wore in the “Hip Hop Hooray” video from the 90’s, seen here:
It is not often that a hip-hop group has a theologically accurate name, but in this case, while there are some semantic nuances to be teased (“Naughty Due to My Ordinary Generation from Adam” doesn’t fit as well on album covers), I am pretty much for it. I don't want to wear it as a statement or anything like that, but because when I was eleven Hip-Hop Hooray was my jam - yes, highly inappropriate, but a jam notwithstanding.
No, we won’t do something tricky, but we will have one thing to get you in the door primarily: and that is, we will say things that are true. And the truth shall set you free (John 8:32). My worry is just how convinced we are as leaders of the truth and power of the gospel. I was inspired to write this as I read two articles in the past few weeks that have been troubling to me (not because I just want to be reactionary, but instead thoughtful about the life of the church universal in our present culture): one was about a church that “marked people out” for Christ by giving them free tattoos on stage during the sermon. The other was about a pastor who rode a live bull in the middle of church to get people in the door.
I suppose you could say that to have people getting tattoos on your stage during the sermon is something of a “lived out” illustration, but there is no way that anyone is listening to that sermon. Instead, they are watching someone experience pain, move something private into a public sphere so that we can be shocked by it, and perhaps prove that we aren’t too prudish to get a tattoo – after all, we’re offering them for free. And now the medium has very much become the message – what a great place, free tattoos and definitely not like those “stuffy” churches I’ve been to before. Does it matter what that pastor said?
In the other example, it takes bull-riding as entertainment to get people to come. And that would be quite entertaining – I’ve been to a bull-riding competition, and it is fun. It’s quite unnatural for a man to be sitting up there being thrown around like a toy, and it is a delight to watch. We are to “clothe ourselves in humility” for one another (1 Pt. 5:5), but there is a great difference between humility and humiliation. A pastor should set an example, not an exhibition. And I know sometimes it’s easy to say what we won’t be like, so what will characterize our new church?
We will first and foremost worship the Lord. It’s too often said that I didn’t “get much” out of church, but have you really given? Our worship of God, including our Sunday gathering of public worship, is about God, and he will be the object of our praise. When we come before the Lord, we’ll set aside our own preferences in order that we might just be humble before our God and King (Ps. 95:6-7). Worship is the collective heart of God’s people being anchored in his promises so that they might in unity exalt him. That looks like many different things in many different places, so we must be free in that, but always thinking of the heart of the Christian. Are you really worshiping him?
We’ll preach the Word. We’ll say true things as all truth is God’s truth, and these that we have in the Bible are true – so we’ll say them and repeat them, and make sure you understand them so that you are by the Holy Spirit transformed, made more and more unto Christ’s likeness and act in alignment with his will. Now that’s not sexy stuff when you’re overrun with life’s duties and tired and need something relaxing. When I’m feeling lousy I buy candy; God’s Word isn’t candy, it’s real food with nutrients. It’s meatloaf and asparagus. When you’re at the convenience store with your buddy, and he’s buying Chewy Gobstoppers (which are delicious) you aren’t naturally inclined to go with asparagus.
And this sounds boring. But it isn’t boring. If you’ve ever experienced real hospitality or real fellowship or real love from God’s people you know incredibly not boring that is. Look at the way God sustains his people together by commanding them not only to worship but to do life together: eat together, sing together, pray together, help one another with stuff, and above all, tell each other through words and through these practices that age-old story that our ancestors have told for centuries to each other, that a man who is also God came from heaven and took your place, so that while we do all these very normal humanly uplifting things we can do so with joy unspeakable.