This week our church is moving to a theatre. We spent our first year in the function room of a pub, not out of a strong sense of conviction that churches need to be in so-called ‘third spaces’, but simply because it was the only place we could find that was affordable. As it turned out, it was pretty much perfect and came to feel like home. Now we need a bigger home and we have an opportunity to meet in a railway arch that has been converted into a theatre near Waterloo Station.
While I’m very glad to find a new home in which we anticipate we will continue to grow, I’m also aware of the danger of meeting in a theatre. It’s a little bit easier to start thinking about church as just another form of entertainment.
In London there seems to be whole breed of plankton-like Christians who float around from one church to another following the currents of fashion. If you want to find entertainment at church in London, you can find it.
If that mentality were to seep into how we do church it would be deadly. Up to now I’ve been so amazed to see God forming a genuine community and changing lives by the power of the Gospel. I want that to continue and accelerate.
I found these words of AW Tozer, spoken more than half a century ago, prophetically relevant (if not a little pointed!) as we look towards this move:
We have the breezy, self-confident Christians with little affinity for Christ and His cross. We have the joy-bell boys that can bounce out there and look as much like a game show host as possible. Yet, they are doing it for Jesus’ sake?! The hypocrites! They’re not doing it for Jesus’ sake at all; they are doing it in their own carnal flesh and are using the church as a theatre because they haven’t yet reached the place where the legitimate theatre would take them. (1)
Oh God, spare us from that kind of Christianity. But it gets worse:
It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.
This has influenced the whole pattern of church life, and even brought into being a new type of church architecture designed to house the golden calf.
So we have the strange anomaly of orthodoxy in creed and heterodoxy in practice. The striped-candy technique has been so fully integrated into our present religious thinking that it is simply taken for granted. Its victims never dream that it is not a part of the teachings of Christ and His apostles.
Any objection to the carryings-on of our present golden calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning them!” And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total commital to Christ? Of course, the answer to all these questions is “no.” (2)
We need to have this sentiment tattooed on our hearts: Jesus wants us to make much of him! And in order for that to be true, we are called to be genuine disciples, a genuine church community, and genuine worshippers.
Thank God we’re meeting in a new and bigger space. Give us increase Lord! But as we move to a theatre, we don’t want to slip into the erroneous notion that church is a show. Instead, we want to vigorously pursue God and one another as we gather at the foot of the cross. What kinds of things must we treasure as we move forward?
We must treasure worship that is less about us (abhorring questions like ‘How was the worship time?’) and more about God. We must treasure real relationships that compel us to turn up early, leave late, and pursue one another in love. We must treasure the fact that God speaks. He speaks every time we open the Bible and feel the Spirit moving on our hearts as we understand what we read. And he speaks when we build one another up, sharing psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, revelations, and words of encouragement. We must treasure repentance as we keep killing our self-centred view of the universe and seek to align our whole lives to God and his will.
It encourages me no end to look around at our new church family every time we gather and see such earnest desire to do these very things.
May it increase!
(1) Tozer on Worship and Entertainment: Selected Excerpts, p.104-105, quoted in He Is Not Silent by Albert Mohler, p.25.
(2) Man: The Dwelling Place of God, p.136, quoted in He Is Not Silent, by Albert Mohler, p.25-26.