Shock and Awe: Exhibitionism in the Church

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The newest generation of twenty-somethings in the church are bound and determined to prove that they are nothing like their parents–which, oddly enough, makes them very much like their parents’ generation.  Many of these believe the church’s decline has been promulgated by old traditions, legalism, and false piety.  The answer? Shock and Awe.

The best way to convince the public that the church is not an irrelevant group of fuddy-duddies is through a mixture of irreverence, loose speech from the pulpit, fog and lights, and unexpected “worship” songs.  The pastor may get up and tell an off-color joke, or the band may open the service with a rousing cover of “Paradise” by Coldplay.  Everything is geared around tearing down the stereotypes.  Christians and non-Christians alike are shocked into a new reality where brilliant light shows, rootsy guitar riffs, and rough-around-the-edges talks are the norm.  The church slogan is something like: “(Insert Name) Church: Not What You Think.”

The problem is that though it may be startling at first, the fact that these churches look like the culture surrounding them is actually nothing new, and it is certainly not shocking.  God’s people have struggled with being a “peculiar people” and a “set apart nation” since the beginning.

When God brought Israel out of Egypt, they could not believe God would want to be worshipped so simply.  “No idols (Exodus 20:4)?  No cult prostitutes (Deut. 23:17)?  No incantations or ritual cutting (Leviticus 19:26,28)?  What kind of God have we gotten into cahoots with?”  Every god they had ever known was worshipped through an idol; that’s why they made the golden calf in the wilderness (Exodus 32:4).  Worship without idols was…well, shocking.  The simplicity of God’s ordained worship system was bizarre, strange, and unfamiliar.

The tendency for God’s people has always been to insist that worship of God as prescribed in the Bible is deficient.  If we add from the culture, we can attract non-Christians and keep the worship of God relevant and understandable to those around us.  Unfortunately, God is not like the gods of this world.  He does not wish to be worshipped like a pop star, a stripper, or an athlete.

If you want to shock your culture, here is how: preach the unadorned cross.  Do you want to know how to show your town you aren’t about false piety?  Show them true piety.  Do you want to make the church attractive to the non-believer?  Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Jesus’ words, not mine).

What is shocking about the church is not the fact that we are clever, brash, or hip.  What is shocking about the church is the absolute folly of the gospel.  How could any rational person really believe that a God would die in the place of sinners?  How shockingly foolish.  But praise God that though “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  God has not ordained light shows, fog, good storytelling, or brash talk to save men.  No, “It pleased God through the folly of preaching to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

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Note: For more discussion on this understanding of 1 Corinthians 1:21, see Dr. T. David Gordon’s Lecture “A Foolish Medium” (March 27, 2013 at SBTS).