Here is a fantastic, and very funny, discussion by 2 pastors far more versed than I on the benefits and consequences of bringing pop culture into the church, and tailoring the church to appeal to the world.
Here, Pastor Perry Noble offers his explanation for having his church band play AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” during NewSpring Church’s Easter Service:
The entire discussion can be viewed here: http://vimeo.com/59137575
Here is my view…which I should preface is just that…one person’s view and nothing more. It should first be noted that my calling, as I perceive my calling, is to support, hold to account, rebuke, strengthen, and deepen the faith and Bible knowledge of my Christian brothers and sisters (as I depend on them to do the same for me) so we can become healthy and secure followers of Christ who will then be well equipped to positively represent Christ in the world and communicate the Gospel to the lost. Everything I write is written with the intent that it will be beneficial to Christians first, with the idea in mind that it may also be read by the lost. Based on the Acts of the Apostles, I believe the developing of disciples is the primary purpose of the gathering of believers to the physical church. Another man’s calling and gift set may lend itself more specifically to targetting and converting the lost. This is a different and equally valuable gift. I believe all Christians are called to evangelize, however this is not the primary function to which I am called nor the skillset for which I am most gifted. I believe reaching the lost is primarily the function of Evangelism and Mission which has traditionally been done in the world, outside the walls of the Church. In the last 20 years there has been an enormous movement to bring the lost into the church, to become mission minded on Sundays, to engineer sermons to target non-believers, and to introduce elements of pop-culture – some God-honoring and some not – into the Sunday service. This has had a massive impact on the dynamic of churches and their congregations.
NewSpring Church Band Performs AC/DC “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday:
I have clearly defined views on this issue and this was one of the first things that was made clear to me after I was saved. I believe Christians and the church have to be aware of pop culture, but I don’t think sermons should be about pop culture. The Gospel saves…regardless of the presentation or sales tactic…it has done so on its own merits for 2,000 years. It is by God’s call that we come to Christ (Romans 8:30)…not by man’s shiny packaging or his slick sales pitch. I think anything a Christian does inside or outside of the church needs to be first and foremost evaluated on the merits of whether or not it glorifies God. Most worldly things fall short of glorifying God.
1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world…
Here is how I arrived at a clear position on separating culture from church: When I was saved, which was not all that long ago, I was attending a church that is on the corner a quarter mile from my house. I was there because it was convenient and entertaining. The pastor was funny and a few times even preached while seated atop a motorcycle, revving the engine. Something about the rebelliousness of riding motorcycles inside the church seemed exciting. At Christmas the church substituted the standard Christmas Concert and the children’s Nativity play for a 50 foot Christmas Tree, Santa Claus, and 50,000 pounds of man-made snow in the parking lot. This was an epic event, and it is important to note the size and grandeur of the celebration as it was very important to this church that every event be an attention garnering spectacle. What the Christmas celebration did not have however was a focus on Jesus. Nor did the December sermon series which was about sex trafficking. This seemed wrong even to the old me. I remember specifically thinking that there are many places I can go to see fake snow or Santa Claus, but I come to church to worship Christ – especially at Christmas. This is the one time of year when I most want to hear the old story. What I came to understand later was that the event and sermon series weren’t engineered for followers of Christ, they were intended to appeal to non-believers.
At that time I was just another stick burning in the fire (Amos 4:11), going through the motions, resting on a false arrogance…living in an absurd amount of unrepentant sin…so much so that I’m lucky to still have anything…my wife, kids, and job. I’m telling you I was horrible. I wouldn’t have been able to blame anyone had they cut me loose at that time. I was lost. I had been going to this church off and on for 2 years assuming that because I was a church goer I was a Christian. I was going to small group, and even serving in the Children’s ministry. But, the other 165 hours of the week I was going out into the world and being a complete embarrassment – to myself and to God. Then my wife, who was also not yet saved, decided we needed to read the Bible. She started reading it to me every day in the car. When we started getting into the Bible I started to hear things I had never heard in church. I began to understand I was depraved, and that I was not a good person like I thought I was. I started to understand that following Christ required a full submission of my life…and actual sacrifice…not just an acknowledgement of Him. Ultimately I began to hear the salvation call…God reached out and snatched me from the fire (Zechariah 3:2). One Sunday the church had an alter call where they baptized several hundred people. I felt the LORD wanted me to go, so I stood in line and was baptized. I was told to fast, so I fasted. Then my wife and I went on to read straight through the New Testament over the next few months. It was in the Bible that I was found and came to be saved by the LORD.
Very quickly it became clear to me that I was not going to be able to stay in this church. I started to realize that Jesus wasn’t the focus there. The pastor was the star. He would braggingly say things like, “I saved 500 people last year.” Meaning he had gotten 500 people to pray the prayer to invite Christ into their lives. (But I had read in Ephesians 2:9, it is not by any act of man that any person is saved, but salvation comes from the call and grace of God alone “so no man may boast.” Additionally, I learned that the prayer to invite Christ into your heart is nowhere found in the Bible. It’s one of the largest fallacies in Evanglism. Salvation is not as simple as praying a single prayer. It is the commitment made in that prayer…a lifelong commitment to faith and repentance…the dependence on God’s grace, and Christ’s sacrifice…not the prayer itself, that saves. (Acts 16:31 says, we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, Luke 13:3 says that without a life of repentance we will all likewise perish, and Romans 12:1 says we are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to Christ.) The pastor would say, “God told me that I am to build a 25,000 member church on this corner.” More and more it was seeming to me that this pastor was first concerned with his glory, and less with God’s. Rather than creating fishers of men, he was collecting his own fan base.
The church continued to weekly espouse that their purpose was to drive attendance, and to draw crowds. They said every decision they made was made by asking the question “Will this draw a crowd?” Thus, the Sunday Sermons had to be delivered with the intentionality that the majority of the congregation had next to zero prior exposure to the Bible. The result was that no one around me was able truly communicate the gospel, what salvation is or why it is truly necessary. And because the intent of the church was for new non-believers to arrive each week, the message never got any deeper, and the plan stayed the same. My peers and I really didn’t even know why we were in small group…other than just knowing it was something we should do…or it was a good way to make friends. (It is necessary to say here that I deeply love my brothers and sisters from these small groups. My wife and I stuck with our group even after leaving this church, and I have seen several of these friends grow in their relationship with Christ as a result of their own personal pursuit of His Word.)
Jude12 These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm — shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.
2 Peter 2:17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity for people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
My issue with this church was not that the teaching was lacking doctrinal depth, which it was. The issue was that the church members were not being effectively taught the very most fundamental aspects of Christianity. Everyone felt like they were doing well. They were doing what they were instructed by the pastors. Their conscience was clear, but they were not being exposed to the full Word of God. Not everything in the Bible is chocolate milk. Some of it is hard to swallow, and it’s in those parts where we learn just how small we are, and how big our God is. There was not only no discussion of doctrine, but discussion of doctrine was feared. My wife and I went to membership class and we were told that doctrine would not be discussed in the church because it was divisive. We were also told that terms like “being washed in the blood of the lamb” would not be used because they are off putting to non-believers. They went on to mock believers who want to “hear about the blood of the lamb.” And they said, “If that’s you’re thing, you can go somewhere else.” Sadly, the Bible is repeatedly clear that it is only by the blood of the lamb that we attain salvation. Hebrews 9:14 says There is no salvation that comes without being washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.
That was one of the last times we stepped foot in that church.
Yes I was saved during the time I was attending this church…God uses everything good and evil to work for His purpose (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28). But the fact that He uses something does not validate it as good. God’s elect were chosen from before the foundation of the world (Romans 8:30, Revelation 13:8), and God uses any number of tools to carry out His plan and bring His chosen to salvation. As I heard Matt Chandler say…”I know a guy who found Christ because his mother was in a car wreck. That doesn’t mean I want to start (a car wreck) ministry.” The car wreck leading the man to Christ does not make car wrecks good, and truly, my shattered life was the car wreck that led me to Christ. It was the desperation for God and His healing…not the church.
The issue I found with a church with baby milk teaching is that these churches give an incomplete view of God. They give people a false idea of submission to Christ, and potentially a very real false assurance of salvation. There are countless lukewarm ‘Christians’ right now living in unrepentant sin, living lives that don’t honor Christ and actually do more harm to the work of evangelism than good. These are the seed in the parable of the sower that lands on shallow soil (Matthew 13:5). They get excited and sprout quickly, but they also quickly fall away when things get tough. If we should ever enter tribulation, There are millions of ‘Christians’ that will bail on day one. Being a disciple of Christ actually means giving your life to Christ…as in…losing your life, possibly even physically. I never would have heard that message in that church.
My wife and I have since found a church that puts Jesus Christ and His full Gospel at the center of every initiative to which the church endeavors. Not everything about the church is the coolest, hippest, or hottest. I have learned that neither is following Jesus Christ. The world will never think Jesus is cool. He said as much himself. What I found is that following Jesus Christ is infinitely better. While following Jesus Christ is not the coolest, hippest, or hottest, it is the most genuine, loving, redeeming, and wholely fulfilling call a person can receive.
Based on my experience I probably have an over sensitivity to churches that try to use “cool” worldly things to attract non-believers, but my point is, the gospel saved me. Jesus saved me. Not the church, or the church’s sales pitch. Not the preacher, or his cool motorcycle. Christ is sufficient. I found life in Jesus Christ when He carried me out of the world and into His Word.