Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A call for a new Reformation in the church: Just who are we worshipping anyway?

Displays of riches have long been a feature of Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox church. The local parish priest and the nun may dress and live humbly, but the “Pope” and the “Patriarch” have no such restrictions.

Case in point was a recent article on the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church. The article reads: Russian Orthodox Church enthrones new patriarch. Lets skip for a second the idea of man who is supposed to be a minister of the Gospel being "enthroned". The opulence of this mans attire is obscene.Other pictures of the church leaders at the coronation or whatever it was, along with sweetheart Vladimir Putin (who always is frowning and looks like he is collecting money for the Russian mob) show similar fancy clothing, gold and jewels, elaborate hats and robes and chains around their necks. When you read the Gospels and then look at pictures of stuff like this, and men bowing down to kiss the gold ring of a “pope” who is similarly decked out in fancy garments and surrounded by functionaries who are also wearing a fortune in apparel and accoutrements, you should notice with minimal discernment a disconnect with the simple and humble faith of Christianity. That is unfortunately nothing new. But…

At the risk of being put out of the Reformed camp more than I already am…

Unfortunately, this phenomena of ostentatious behavior is not restricted to Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches or even skeezy televangelists or prosperity preachers. I checked in on the Ligonier Ministries blog and the first post I saw was a defense of the new sanctuary and fellowship hall being constructed at St. Andrews Chapel, the church where Dr. R.C. Sproul, Sr. serves. Check out this pamphlet for St. Andrews Chapel's new "sanctuary". The place is going to be enormous, holding 1400 at a time in the sanctuary and “a covered open air pavilion that will seat 300 and a Fellowship Hall that will seat an additional 360.”

I know that Dr. Sproul is untouchable in many circles, and I respect much of his teaching immensely. But seriously, is this how we ought to be worshipping the Risen Lord? Is Dr. Sproul's teaching that vital that we must enshrine his pulpit in a building like this?

The title of the blog post is “The Unchanging Gospel”. I am pretty sure that the Gospel doesn’t require a massive, brand new building to be preached in.

Now this is all their money, freely given, and they can do whatever the want with it and I don’t want to sound like Judas, complaining about the value of a jar of fragrant oil that was used to anoint Christ but could have been sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor (John 12:5). But really, what is this place going to cost? A couple of million? More? In the midst of horrible economic times, no matter what the motivation, an extravagant building like this is frankly obscene. Heck, even in great economic times buildings like this are extravagant and unnecessary.

When you recognize the linkage between the lavish palaces and edifices of Rome and the massive new structure you are building from scratch, that should set off warning gongs for you. That is not a time for spin control; it is time for prayer and reflection. To use churchy lingo, is this being a good steward? If people are drawn to St. Andrew’s Chapel because of the type of teaching and worship they find there, then plant a dozen more smaller similar churches in the area. I am sure they could find no lack of young pastors to lead those churches under the direction, guidance and tutelage of a luminary like R.C. Sproul. What Reformed guy wouldn’t want to sit at the feet of Dr. Sproul and learn? But if people are drawn because it is “R.C. Sproul’s church” then they are coming for the wrong motivation and Dr. Sproul is not a young man. What happens to this church when Dr. Sproul, who looked pretty frail at Together for the Gospel a year ago, is unable for whatever reason to be actively involved in the ministry at St. Andrews?

When a church is growing, there are two ways to go. One is to build ever larger buildings and the other is to replicate and spread. Think of the influence a dozen small St. Andrews clones could have in the area instead of one huge building with 1000 people trying to leave after the Sunday morning service all at once. Our impulse should not be like the world, bigger and better. After all, what is the object of our worship?


Abigail said...

Brother Sido,
Greetings and thanks. Very good points. I have seen a few of Sproul's sermons and they are very good...but, All reformed churches should take a look at this one. I like your point about the 'satelite' churches, ( we house-church though) but I have always marveled at other minority groups who have had rapid growth in their following from spending all the extra money on literature distribution and education materials. Mennonites do a superb job of this and have reaped huge returns for dollar spent in membership and purchases of their materials. 90% of my homeschool is menno material, high quality stuff. That might not be the only answer, but as you noted,we know what the answer is NOT. It is not another grand chapel of extravagance. Aren't there unemployed folk in that church too? Maybe they are already caring for all the widows and have a lot left-over. Duplication and replication seem to be the gospel answer.

Breezy Point Mom said...

As a person who has only recently begun to visit St. Andrew's Chapel (SAC)and has been thinking quite a bit about this, let me add these thoughts to your post. I am not a member of this church, nor am I connected with Ligonier in any way. The present St. Andrew's is located in a more recently developed, and still developing, area of Central Florida where there is no shortage of new churches springing up like weeds. We certainly have a lot more churches in town than church buildings. Some are small and meet in school cafeterias, and some are megachurches who have grown into 3000 plus seat "civic center" style auditoriums with sophisticated sound and stage appurtenances. Many of these new churches teach questionable doctrine. As such, they are, in effect, competing with SAC for the souls of the local area. SAC, in contrast, probably teaches the most sound theology of any church around these parts. The present SAC sanctuary is bursting at the seams in attendance. If you don't arrive very early for services, you are going to have a hard time finding a seat. That is not to say that there aren't any, but in a church without pews (chairs instead) you have to plan ahead to get enough seats together for your entire family to sit together. The present structure only houses a few hundred congregants, and there are already two morning services (and one evening service) each week. One of the reasons we are leaving our previous smaller church is that it has become too small to minister to anybody, either the community at large, or the membership. Churches that fall below "critical mass" are, indeed, limited in their ability to minister, especially to families with children, like ours. You mentioned about a dozen smaller churches doing the job of SAC. But a dozen smaller churches have to meet somewhere, and they have to employ a dozen ministers of the word (rather than one or two). They also have to meet some place, and this involves paying surprising high rent in an area that is saturated with smaller churches. Every local public school seems to be renting space to at least one church. I feel that there is an economy of scale in larger churches, when you look at it long term, as well as the ability to offer various ministries to the membership and community. I have seen the new SAC building under construction. I do not feel that it is excessive for this area. There are certainly many larger churches around. It is also a blessing to those who, in Reformed circles, desire a more traditionally worshipful Sunday service than the other churches in the area have (so many have gone the way of pop/rock and celebrative worship styles around here). I personally am so tired of the churches in our area trying to be hip and cool. It really turns us off. We also have children whose needs were not being met in our tiny church. They can truly benefit from the SAC community. I, too, get disgusted by overt wealth and opulence in the body of Christ. However, I really don't think SAC is out of line for Central Florida. You do raise concerns, however, about the future of SAC after Dr. Sproul retires. This is a valid concern, indeed, for none of us know the hearts and minds of those who regularly attend SAC. We often wonder about that ourselves, and it is one of the things we need to prayerfully consider as we seek a new church for our family. Thanks, and have a blessed week!

Gary Delaney said...

I agree with your thoughts on the excessiveness in christian circles these days.

For one thing, even Jesus Himself, had no large building for a headquarters. He went out to the people. They would flock around Him, as He went.


Arthur Sido said...


You say that smaller churches are not able to "minister" to families and especially children. What does that mean? How do you define ministering? I understand the draw of a big church with lots of programs for your kids, but does that mean that a small church cannot effectively minister to your family? I would suggest the flip side, that you are going to have a much harder time finding genuine Christian fellowship in a huge church with thousands of people than you are in a small church where you can get to know one another. At SAC I would say that you can easiy worship at the same time with hundreds of people for years and never get to know them.

Breezy Point Mom said...

I just noticed today that you replied to my comment. Thank you. I will try to define better what I mean by ministering. Sorry if my replies are kind of long.

Yes, genuine Christian fellowship is something we all desire, isn't it? I agree that it would seem that genuine fellowship is harder to come by in a larger church. In my life, I have been in churches of 5000 members, 3000 members, and the most recent was about 200 members (and shrinking as I speak). SAC has about 900 members and growing. We joined our previous small church with the hopes of getting to know others better and experience more genuine Christian friendship. We did make friends, but no more, or no closer, necessarily, than we had at bigger churches. But instead, what happened is that events transpired which caused not one, but BOTH ministers to leave our small church, and for obvious reasons, many families left as well. This left behind very few families with children. So our small church hasn't turned out to be very stable, for right now it is concerned with mere survival. The Sunday School program has shrunk to almost no kids, and there isn't any high school program at all. Used to be a Pioneer Club, too, but that died with budget cuts. Also, it had become difficult to find folks in our smaller church to volunteer to do things; it seemed the same folks were tapped every year, and were burned out.

Yes, we can still worship the Lord at that church. But we can also worship the Lord at many other churches in our area that have a bit more to offer our kids. No, I'm not looking for a bunch of fancy programs, and I certainly pray that we do not approach church with a "consumer" mindset. But at a minimum, we are looking for stability, and we think a larger church, such as SAC, can offer this. We are also looking for a church whose resources allow them to offer at least something to the community and outside world (i.e. social ministries, missions) instead of just worry about surviving. Is SAC the answer? I can't be sure of that right now, but it is looking to be the best bet where we live. Our children are homeschooled, and perhaps we need more opportunity for children's ministries and offerings than other families do. I think that a more well-attended Sunday School, and some structured social events for children is not too much to ask. SAC also has home groups, and this can make a larger church seem like a small church.

I was really commenting to your post in response to your comment about 12 little Saint Andrews instead of one larger one. I believe that all the smaller churches would be more costly to maintain than one larger one. I just don't think the SAC project underway is excessive.

Have a blessed week.