At the recommendation of my friend Lauren, I’ve started watching the show “Rev” on Hulu. It’s about a country vicar who has come to London and works at an inner city parish. (Yes, it’s British. Which means it’s a bit more raw than American television. Language and adult situations are rare, but happen.) It’s not often I watch a television show and have all of the following reactions:
- Deep connection to the content (my family has a ministry in Colorado Springs that ministers to people who are addicts and homeless).
- Have it move me to tears.
- Feel challenged after I watch it.
The second episode (titled Jesus is Awesome) finds Adam the vicar confronting a man named Darren. Darren is an evangelical vicar who wants to rent Adam’s large but old church for his thriving, hip congregation. Several things highlight the stark differences between the two congregations. Adam is traditional in a sense: hymns, reading of the Word, and a small group of people attending. Darren is contemporary: lights, TVs, a smoothie bar and a rapper which has drawn in over 300 people.
When church is over, Adam thanks Darren for coming but he doesn’t think renting his church is a long-term solution. Then he says this:
“I believe what you do is show, not sacrament.”
It is such a short line, but it stuck with me.
I’ve been thinking about the American church and how much we resemble Darren’s church. We have lights and hip pastors. There are coffee bars and ways to make seekers feel comfortable. We have worship that lasts 17.6 minutes and we manufacture that worship for three services a day. The pastor gives the same message. We connect with one or two new people then go back to our own lives and leave the experience behind us. None of the things I listed above are inherently bad. However, I think when they begin to lull us into a false sense of security, we have a problem.
For many, it is comforting that church isn’t challenging anymore. We have a smorgasbord of options, so if one church doesn’t fit, we have plenty to choose from that will make us feel comfortable.
Here is my question: when was the church ever supposed to make us feel comfortable? I see plenty of examples in Scripture where people who walked in “The Way” were in community, yes. But the hard things of Jesus were taught and expected to be lived.
Consider Peter’s words from his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 (emphasis mine)
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
I love the phrase, “they were cut to the heart”. Peter’s words about the crucifixion of Jesus convicted them. So much so that they were moved to ask what was required of them for salvation.
This post isn’t an argument of traditional services versus contemporary services. What I’m getting at is the “why” behind it all. Are we asking ourselves why we’ve gotten to this point as The Church? Why have we bought into the idea that formulas fix everything instead of embracing the abandonment of this life for the one Jesus promises to give us? I think Adam’s statement to Darren is a valid one. When did we decide that church should be a show instead of a place of sacrament? Why has it become more about belief or intellectual acknowledgement than discipleship?
I’ve been in the church for a long time. I’ve seen a variety of churches that do things different ways. But I’ve noticed a theme of celebrity and bright lights grow stronger year after year. We’re high on emotion, but lacking depth of conviction in the preaching of the Word. I wrestle with where the church is and what we’ve done to the message of Jesus. And I wonder if it’s because of the show that many miss the beauty of the sacrament that is the Gospel and the cross of Jesus.
I would love to hear what you think. Where do you think the church is today? Are you involved in one? What do you love about it? What would you improve?