Posts Tagged ‘cookie cutter churches’

1 Samuel 4:1b-11 (Part 2 of 3)
The Phillistines Capture the Ark

Those of us who attend contemporary, non-traditional church often rag on traditional, denominationally oriented churches because they seem to be so stuck in their traditions. Church pews with padded cushions. Hymn books filled with traditional songs that were written anywhere from 150 to 200 years or more ago. These hymn books are stored in that little rack on the back side of the pew in front of you. The back side of the pew in front of you will have also those visitor cards that look like they were designed at least 40 years ago. There are envelopes for your tithes and offerings of course. And at the end of the pew of some traditional churches you have the attendance pad that you fill in a line and past down.

And those little pencils. Remember the little pencils where the eraser had been worn off it had an eraser at all. Most though were those little tiny eraser-less pencils. Some churches have the name of the church on those little pencils. Stained glass windows. Balconies. Carpet. Pulpits that are massive and are works of art unto themselves. Choir lofts and choir robes. Large cross in the background above the choir. Elders chairs behind the pulpit. Chancel rail around the pulpit area where we need down to take communion. Those little tiny holes in the chancel rail where you put your little tiny glass communion cups after you have partaken of the “wine” that represents the blood of Christ. Of course, you take your communion cup for a silver or gold somewhat fancy communion tray as the pastor passes by. And remember those communion wafers. Everything in here means something and is symbolic in nature. The cross is brought into the church and an acolyte follows to light the candles. At the end of the service the cross is then taken out of the church and “into the world.” During the service, there are responsive readings that date back to the 1600’s. Hymns are segregated in the hymnal by the season of the Christian calendar. Pastors wearing robes with stoles that match the Christian calendar’s chosen color. Pastoral robes have markings on them that indicate the level of education of the pastor.

The lobby or narthex as it is called is where you will find fancy mahogany furniture and paintings or photos of the hall of fame of the church – previous pastors, significant deacons and benefactors of the church. Ushers with bulletins containing the announcements for the coming week and the order of the service for today. Educational buildings with sometimes multiple floors of classrooms that are all of the same size and shape. Classrooms that are claimed by various age-graded Sunday school classes. Some age groups have had their particular classroom so long it is decorated permanently with their stuff. Classrooms are often named after people who were significant in the church who have passed on.

You go into any town of any size anywhere in America and you will find this church, this traditional church. When we begin to worship the traditions of the traditional church and if you change any of it you may cause a church split. We in contemporary churches may fun of them for all their symbolism and tradition and how it is all seemingly about the buildings, the bricks, the steeple, the traditions, than it is about attracting new people and making disciples.

It was that thought of how we make church all symbolic sometimes and how we have our traditions and all that stuff that often becomes more important that Jesus himself. It becomes about us worshiping our symbols and traditions as much or more than God. With that in mind, let’s read the passage now:

At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. 2 The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men. 3 After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it[a] will save us from our enemies.”

4 So they sent men to Shiloh to bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were also there with the Ark of the Covenant of God. 5 When all the Israelites saw the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord coming into the camp, their shout of joy was so loud it made the ground shake!

6 “What’s going on?” the Philistines asked. “What’s all the shouting about in the Hebrew camp?” When they were told it was because the Ark of the Lord had arrived, 7 they panicked. “The gods have[b] come into their camp!” they cried. “This is a disaster! We have never had to face anything like this before! 8 Help! Who can save us from these mighty gods of Israel? They are the same gods who destroyed the Egyptians with plagues when Israel was in the wilderness. 9 Fight as never before, Philistines! If you don’t, we will become the Hebrews’ slaves just as they have been ours! Stand up like men and fight!”

10 So the Philistines fought desperately, and Israel was defeated again. The slaughter was great; 30,000 Israelite soldiers died that day. The survivors turned and fled to their tents. 11 The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed.

In this passage, we see that the Ark was supposed to be kept in the Most Holy Place, a sacred part of the Tabernacle that only the high priest could enter once per year. Eli’s sons desecrated the room by unlawfully entering it and removing the Ark. The Israelites rightly recognized the great holiness of the Ark. However, they thought that they Ark itself – the wood and metal box – was their source of power. They began to use it as a good luck charm, expecting it to protect them from their enemies. A symbol of God does not guarantee His presence and power. Their attitude toward the Ark came perilously close to idol worship. When the Ark was captured by their enemies, they thought that Israel’s glory was gone and that God had deserted them. God uses His power according to His own wisdom and will. He responds to those who earnestly seek Him with all their heart, mind, soul and strength.

Contemporary church was a reaction against the traditions and the symbolism and the bland spirituality of traditional church. It was a jolt to the system. Every few hundred years the church has become so enamored with its own self that God sends a jolt to the system. It was the Protestant Reformation. It was the Great Awakenings. Now, it is contemporary church. But now that we are about thirty years into the future from the meager beginnings of the contemporary church movement back in the 1980s, we have developed our traditions too. Contemporary church has become so predictable now that there are even parodies of our style of worship.

See this link. It’s so funny

Contemporary church has developed its traditions as well. Starbucks wanna be café in the atrium. Bookstores filled with merchandise with the church’s cool logo on them. No pews. Couches and seating areas in the atrium. TV with cool stuff about the church. Ministries with one name titles that captures and idea. The church slogan on everything. Coffee mugs for new visitors of which there are always plenty. Then in our services there are predictable markers there too. No pews because the worship center is a multiple purpose event room. Just nicely arranged seats. Or if there is permanent seating they are typically theatre style seats and the worship center has an upper deck and a lower deck. And then there are the lights. Contemporary churches probably invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in lights and audio systems. Then there’s the pastors on stage. Skinny jeans wearing. Shirt tales hanging out. Scruffy, I haven’t shaved in two weeks facial hair. Subtly spikey modern hair. Maybe a tattoo. Temporary lectern or high top table with chair from which the edgy pastor preaches. He walks around stage and preaches instead of standing still. Always in motion. Although we disdain the old style same ol’ same ol’s “order of service” in traditional church so we disdain bulletins but we have our order of worship too. The stage personalities and the tech team all have the order of service so everybody knows what to do when and what things that need to be cued when. Most contemporary churches will play out like this every Sunday in every town in America that has one. There will be a countdown to the service starting on all TV screens. Then there’s the opening song. The greeting. One more song. The giving talk. One more song. Bumper video. Sermon. Closing song(s).

So, we too in contemporary church make look different and have their own style and feel and logos but we often do things the same way in the end. We too in contemporary can get so married to the way we do things in modern church that it can be hard to break out of the routine. Sometimes, we too in contemporary church feel like we have to do things a certain way because that is what modern churches do. We were born to give to Jesus’ church a jolt, a kick in the pants, to revitalize it, to make it about Jesus again. But we as modern church can easily fall into the same patterns as the generations past. We can get just as married to our symbols and traditions as traditional church. We can be just as susceptible to worshiping our own edginess. We can begin to worship our growth. We can begin to worship our logos. We can begin to worship how big of a celebrity that our pastor is. We can begin to worship our technology that makes us look cool to the modern world. We can worship our production values that rival any professional television production. We can worship our one word ministry names that seem so awesome. We can worship our coolness.

However, God honors those who honor him. God honors those who pursue him. God honors those who spread the gospel. God honors those who whatever your style maybe (traditional or contemporary) who make it all about Jesus and about making disciples. Although my church is a modern one and we have our predictable modern church patterns in architecture, names of ministries, and Sunday morning productions, but I must say that everything about our church is about getting people in the door in ways that will force them to consider Jesus Christ as Savior and not as a self-help guru. Everything about our church is passion about getting the gospel message out in our community, region, and world. Everything about our church is about growing disciples once they have accepted Christ as their Savior. We don’t get it right always. We are still learning. This attraction vs. discipleship thing was something we had to correct course on. We make mistakes. But one thing is for sure. We have a collection of people that are in leadership in our church that love the Lord with all their heart. To the last man and woman. We have a team that simply loves the Lord together. God will bless that and God will honor that. And he has already in so many ways.

What is your church about? What is it that is the most important thing to your church? When people think of your church, what do they think of first? If it is not about your church being a church that is known for loving God and loving others then there’s work that must be done whether your church is traditional or modern.

Amen and Amen.