I was struck by three things while watching the opening minutes of NewSpring’s now infamous Christmas Eve service: first, by the vast effort that had been put into the production; second, by what must have been the incredible expense of the whole enterprise; and third, by the utter irrelevance of the entertainment experience to the faithful proclamation of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. As a taste, here is the opening set:
For those who cannot (or do not wish to) watch the video, here are the lyrics to the song:
Hang all the misletoe
I’m going to get to know you better
And as we trim the tree
How much fun it’s going to be together
Fireside is blazing bright
And we’re caroling through the night
And this Christmas will be
A very special Christmas for me
Presents and cards are here
My world is filled with cheer and you
And as I look around
Your eyes outshine the town, they do
Try to reconcile this performance with Luke’s account of Christ’s commission to the church:
Then He [Jesus] said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.
Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.
Christ has tasked His church with preaching repentance and remission of sins in His name to all nations. Nothing less, and nothing more.
It is perhaps a little unfair to single out NewSpring. They would no doubt say that they are being ‘innovative, using modern methods to communicate a timeless message’. In this, NewSpring is merely representative of the Innovation Cult that has subjugated so much of the visible church.
Still, even if one were to grant the premise that ‘innovative’ and ‘modern methods’ may be used, what exactly does a performance of Chris Brown’s This Christmas have to do with the ‘timeless message’ of (one presumes) repentance and the forgiveness of sins? Anyone? It is abundantly clear that NewSpring – and the other churches of the Innovation Cult – are rebelliously off-mission.
Have you noticed how the most self-professedly innovative churches all look just the same? (An unsympathetic observer may be tempted to think that they exhibit rather less innovation than they do slavish imitation.) This uniformity is an inevitable consequence of the seeker-driven method, for in their desire to make themselves attractive to the cultural zeitgeist, these churches conform themselves to the image of the world. The great irony is that they thereby denude themselves of the one thing that the world does not have.
If the leaders of the Church Growth Movement had any sense of church history prior to their own, they would realize that their supposed ‘innovation’ is nothing other than failed 19th century revivalism of the kind repudiated by C.H. Spurgeon in his 1894 sermon, The Lord Leading; David Following:
Oh, what would some preachers do to get the people to hear them at all? Ah, what are they not doing, dear friends? As things now go, I should not wonder at all if we were to have, in some of our places of worship, a part of Mr. Barnum’s show, in order to attract a congregation! We have all kinds of fiddling, and tinkering, and I know not what, going on to get people to come and hear what is called the gospel. “Oh,” said one, “but he brought so many to the place!” Yes, if they had had a clown out of the theatre, he would, no doubt, have brought still more. If that is all that you want – simply to gather a crowd together – it is not so very difficult if you are not squeamish about the means you employ.
But, oh! when God sends the people to hear the gospel and nothing else, and they come and listen to what a man has to say to them about heaven and hell, life and death, the cross of Christ and the way of salvation, that is the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.
C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (vol. 40; London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1894), 79–80.
Spurgeon preached repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ. He has his (eternal) legacy. Those whom he was critiquing held their circuses and attracted great crowds, yet now are completely forgotten.
Spurgeon’s insight is that it is no great feat to gather a crowd, if one is willing to use any means. He spoke hyperbolically of P.T. Barnum’s ‘Greatest Show On Earth’, but the Church Growth Movement seems to have missed the joke. It employs pastors of the ‘creative arts’ who transform worship services into entertainment experiences with song-and-dance routines, worthless stunts and assorted other madness. Even children are enticed with sacrilegious novelties such as fire engine baptistries, replete with sirens and confetti cannons.
The Church Growth Movement’s huge numbers are therefore no impressive feat, readily achievable as they are through mere human effort. And, having attracted such crowds through means that appeal to the unregenerate nature, the megachurch leader dares not tell them plainly that their sin condemns them before a just and holy God. He cannot proclaim repentance and remission of sins. He is unable to give the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus. He is utterly constrained in what he may say, for a crowd so easily gathered will just as readily scatter at the foolishness of preaching the cross of Christ.
This is why the doctrine and preaching of the seeker-driven megachurch is necessarily so powerless and pitiful. This is why those churches are full of false converts and starving sheep. The seeker-driven method militates against the message of the Gospel. The two cannot long coexist.
The entire Church Growth Movement is thus seen to be founded upon a false premise, for the ‘timeless message’ of Christ crucified and raised from the dead may only be communicated through the means that Christ Himself has ordained. And that means is the foolishness of preaching that message.
You cannot entice people to be saved, for they are dead in their sins and – apart from the working of the Holy Spirit – incapable of any move toward God. And the Holy Spirit does not, will not work repentance and faith through an entertainment experience. No, Paul says, ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Rom. 10:17, ESV). Jesus, then, comes to us only through His Word, Baptism, and Supper.
May God therefore cause us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out faithful labourers into His harvest – workers who will rightly divide the word of truth, preaching the Law in all its ferocity to frighten comfortable sinners, and the Gospel in all its sweetness to comfort frightened sinners. May the Holy Spirit grant seeker-driven leaders – and we ourselves – to repent and truly believe the words He breathed through Paul:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Cor. 1:18–25
Photo credit: The Greatest Show on Earth!, peddhapati.
Video credit: NewSpring. Reproduced for the Fair Use purposes of criticism and comment.