The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.
Would that it were so.
There is only one true foundation for the church of Jesus Christ – Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. The Spirit of God brought Jews and Gentiles together in one Body, breaking down the social prejudices and barriers that held them apart in the culture at large. Slave and free partook of the same bread and wine, as did men and women in a culture that kept them separate. There were so many things that would tear the church apart, but they were bound together in Christ and in the service of his kingdom!
It is my belief that this is no longer so in the church today. The foundation of much of modern American Christianity is not Christ, but culture. Why do we have such a divide between young and old? Because America has changed drastically in the last 50 to 75 years, and there is a gigantic cultural rift between the young and the old. Many churches were built as much on traditional American culture as they were on scriptural principles. Young people rejected many of those cultural norms and replaced them with their own cultural traditions. In the guise of more “authentic worship” they have simply substituted youth culture for traditional culture.
And the church is divided.
It has been observed (accurately, I fear) that the church hour on Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week. There are a few churches out there that are truly integrated, but most of our churches are white churches or black churches (with a few other ethnicities thrown in the mix).
Southern Hills Baptist Church is a white church. Why is that? We are welcoming to black people whenever they worship with us. Many mixed race children are part of our fellowship and we have had black members and a black deacon. But most of the African American Christians in Sioux City choose to worship in churches primarily comprised of other African Americans. It is not that we exclude anyone, but we are a white church and while we make every effort to be a biblical church, we are also a traditional, culturally conservative, white church.
I do not know of any of the black churches in Sioux City that make whites feel unwelcome either, but most white people choose to worship in white churches.
The problem, as I see it, is not so much that we are filled with prejudice or that we desire to exclude anyone, but we are products of our culture – whatever that is – and we want our churches to sanctify our cultures and make us feel comfortable in them. White collar folks want white collar churches and blue collar folks want blue collar churches. Young folks want a youth oriented church and older folks want a more traditional church. White people feel comfortable in a church that reflects their culture, as do black people.
It is all very normal, natural and human. But I am wondering if it is godly, divine or spiritually productive.
The church growth movement made much of the homogeneous unit principle – targeting churches toward people of like interests and culture. And it makes sense. Older people feel comfortable in churches that sing from hymnals accompanied by piano and organ with a preacher wearing a tie and coat, and they tend to think that is the way God meant it to be. Young people like less structure and formality, a freer style of worship, with drums and guitars and a preacher in jeans. And if you get right at the heart of it, most young hipsters feel their worship style is more authentic than the traditional forms. It is often not hostile, but both sides have a deep, inner sense that their style is just a little bit superior to others; more pleasing to God. If there is a skateboarder culture, why not a skateboarders’ church. Or a cowboy church? Or a death metal church?
Too often, the foundation of the church is cultural, not Christological. It is not the Savior who unites us, but our human commonality, our politics and preferences.
About Southern Hills Baptist Church
We have two services on Sunday morning. The early service is a very traditional service – hymns from the hymnbook! Frankly, many of the evangelical churches in Sioux City have gone “all-in” on contemporary style and have made those who like a traditional style feel like dinosaurs – unwanted ones at that. Many of them have migrated to Southern Hills both because of the startlingly handsome pastor and the fact that we offer a traditional worships style.
Our second service is a mildly contemporary service. In reality, it is a traditional worship service style, with music led by a praise team instead of a song leader. It is generally the larger of our two services, but the numbers are fairly close.
But there is a segment of culture we are not really reaching, the youth culture. I am considering trying to start a third service, not so much for numerical reasons, but simply to reach a group of people we are not currently reaching. It would be a contemporary style church – one that would not appeal in any way to traditionalists, as the traditional service does not appeal to these younger folks. We would have a band (I’d likely need earplugs) and an informal feel, with small groups instead of Sunday School classes – you get the picture.
I think it would be a good thing – reaching a group of people we are not currently reaching.
But I wonder if it is just one more concession to human culture rather than maintaining the divine ideal. My thesis is this:
Human culture divides; Christ unites. The more a church is based on human culture, the more it will be exclusive – black vs. white, rich vs. poor, young vs. old. The more we found the church on Christ, the less these human factors matter and the more the Spirit of God will make us one.
But there is another side to that. We still live in this world and can often reach people better by making them comfortable in a church setting that appeals to their cultural norms.
So, should I continue to add services to appeal to different cultural traditions, so that we might reach more people? Or should I hold out for the divine ideal, try to strip away human and cultural preferences so that we can aspire to be one body in Christ?
I have been struggling with this for nearly 8 years, since I have been pastor of this church. I’ve gone back and forth on the issues. Right now, I’m leaning to the “all things to all men” side, but I am feeling like I am compromising a spiritual ideal (united in Christ, not human culture) in the process.
What say you?