Greg’s wearing sackcloth and ashes, and somewhere dear old uncle Screwtape must be licking his chops, because Saddleback’s got a luau service. And a country service, a hard rock service, a gospel service, and a "passion service"--which offers a "passionate encounter with God" and makes me nervous. Technically these aren't "worship services" they are "worship venues"-- with live bands and videotaped preaching.

I'm on Greg's nerves this week, for taking offense at his tone in criticizing these venues. Saying that these venues are "predicated on entertaining a bunch of crackers who don't seem to understand that worship isn't about entertainment" and calling them "themed orgies" while authentic, seemed to me unChristian. Greg and I disagree on this point.

In Greg's defense, he's a no-holds-barred theological thinker--dedicated to bringing that theology to bear on the day to day practices of the church, along with being a great host—we shared some great food and beer together during my visit to OKC. But sometimes, I think he gets too worked about what Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and other megachurch pastors are up to. Take a look at his blog and decide for yourself.

Greg challenged me for some theological engagement with megachurches. Here's a try at it.

First of all, most megachurches are not really "churches," at least in the tradition sense of the word, as in a worshipping community formed around the sacraments. Instead, Todd Johnson points out in "The Conviction of Things Not Seen" (a collection of essays in honor of Robert Webber), megachurch worship service are modeled after the camp meetings started in American frontier revivalism. In essence, megachurches have replaced the Sunday morning sacramental service with an evangelistic tent meeting. They've been successful in drawing large groups of people out of their busy, distracted lives, and getting those people to make confession of faith and begin to make Christian commitments. And they’ve channeled those new converts into a large scale network of small groups for discipleship and formation.

Can those commitments be sustained without a regular sacramental life, filled with prayer and Holy Communion? That's the question to be answered over the long haul. My guess is that as they get older, megachurch goers will be drawn to more sacramental forms of worship. The caveat being that, at least on the Protestant side, the sacramental churches are lean to the left theologically, which will turn megachurch folks off.

Another thought--there is a symbiotic relationship between post modern, emergent churches and megachurches. Emergent churches don't make converts on any kind of scale--by that I mean, they don't get large numbers of people to make initial commitments to walk the Christian path. Once people are on that path, emergent churches can call them to a life of greater discipleship. But somebody has got to get people on the road in the first place, or get back on the road if they've gone on a detour, both of which megachurches do well. But no megachurches means no emergent church.

Megachurches have problems, and can degrade into the kind of mass entertainment Greg despises. These video venues, IMHO, are a step to counter that--by putting smaller groups of people together, week after week. In a 7,000 seat arena, it's easy to be an anonymous spectator. Get in a smaller setting, say 200-300 people, week after week, and it's harder to be invisible.

One last point. Unless we're all going to become Catholics and walk to our parish church, we’re going to have to deal with the danger of being “authentic.” Congregational churches of any size, from tiny to mega, turning into social clubs of like minded people who think the way they “do church” is better than anybody else way of doing church. That they are better or truer or more faithful Christians than the church down the road. The desire to be authentic can easily be subverted into hatred for other Christians. For more on this, let’s turn to CS Lewis affectionate uncle Screwtape.

Here’s Screwtape advising his nephew Wormwood, a trainee tempter, on how to turn a churchgoer into an “other church” hater.

I think I warned you before that if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought to at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don’t mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better. And it isn’t the doctrines in which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred between those who say ‘mass’ and those who say ‘holy communion’ when neither party could possible state the difference between, say, Hooker’s doctrine and Thomas Aquinas’s, in any form which would hold water for five minutes. And the purely indifferent things—candles and clothes and what not—are an admirable ground for our activities.

Now at least on one point, I’ve got to give Greg his due. Church shopping and church marketing are practices that undermine the Christian life. That’s exactly why Screwtape encourages those practices with such enthusiasm. (Pardon the repetitive Lewis quotes, I am working on a piece about him).

Once again, dear old Screwtape:

Surely you know that if a man can’t be cure of churchgoing, the next best things is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him, until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.

What He wants of the layman in the church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise—does not waste time thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity, to any nourishment that is going on.


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