One of my favorite cartoons to watch as a kid was the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. For some reason, Lucy thought it would be a good idea to help Charlie Brown overcome his seasonal depression by recruiting him to direct the Christmas play.
Charlie Brown arrives to the set to find chaos. Everyone is basically doing their own thing, and he is having trouble getting the cast to go along with the order of the production. So, to set the mood, and to bring everyone back on the same page, he and Linus go to a Christmas tree lot to select a tree.
The lot, full of beautifully decorated aluminum trees, doesn’t quite have the vibe Charlie Brown was looking for. In fact, the one natural tree that he finds is basically a twig, holding on for dear life. He selects it, and thus today we still refer to it as the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.
When his tree is predictably rejected by the cast (as they had all bought into the commercialization of Christmas), Charlie Brown pines, “Can anyone tell me what Christmas is really all about?” To which Linus responded by telling the Christmas story.
Today, Christianity is in a state of disarray in western civilization. We have involved ourselves in pop-culture, politics, have completely reimagined worship services, and have attempted to capture the culture’s attention by having input on every single political and pop-culture trend that arises.
It’s as if we’ve bought into the post-modern ethic that, to have a voice, you must have a take. If you don’t have a take, you don’t have a voice, and thus you don’t really exist at all.
So, worship teams meet and practice for hours each week, not to pray over the coming service and for God’s Spirit to move (they may include that in their prayers), but rather to plan each intricate detail of the worship performance so that the presentation impresses the congregation, leading them to return next week.
Pastors sit in front of their keyboards, not to pray over the scriptures and write the weekly message, but rather to come up with a blog post that will garner attention and go viral. (The irony is not lost on me).
Congregants plan their activities based on what brings them fulfillment and advances their cause, and involvement in the church or worship attendance is not always high on that priority list.
Then there’s the publications, the media, the movies, and the outreach efforts.
It’s all so crazy and hectic, and everyone is busy doing their own thing. Then, Charlie Brown enters from stage left and says, “Can anybody really tell me what it’s all about?”
And that question demands an answer, because despite all the activity by modern Christianity, the number of Christians in America, at least as a percentage of the population, is declining. Furthermore, the percentage of adults who regularly attend church is declining. To make matters worse, there is not a single county in North America that is seeing an increase in church attendance.
There are megachurches and church plants that arise and grow, but these are anecdotal, and not indicative of overall trends.
One trend is emerging, however, and that is the busier the church gets, the more it declines.
Now this is not the fault of those promoting contemporary worship, neither is it the fault of the traditionalists. It is the result of a loss of the central message of the church. That is the only logical explanation of the decline of the church in the prosperous West while the church experiences rapid growth in the East, where persecution runs rampant.
The only explanation for the decline of the church in the West while the East grows under rampant persecution is that the East has believed a Gospel that they are willing to die for, while the West barely knows what that Gospel is.
Disagree? If so, ask your average self-identifying Christian what the Gospel is. Odds are, they either won’t be able to tell you, or will give a generic answer about “the good news” or “the story of Jesus.” Both of which are partially correct.
However, the Gospel is clearly defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as “How Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
Jesus Christ died for our sins. His death cleared the debt we owed for sin, because in His death, Christ endured the wrath of God on our behalf (Isaiah 53, Romans 5, among others). This is truly a powerful message, because in this message we can wipe away all of our tears, and feel cleansed of all guilt, shame and regret. This is the great reset button one can push in life. To simply trust what Jesus did on the cross.
Not only did Christ clear our guilt and sin-debt on the cross, but He rose from the dead, conquering death, and opening the gates of Heaven, bringing eternal life to all who believe. It is because of the resurrection of Jesus that we have a confident expectation (hope) that we will go to Heaven when we die, and not only that, but we’ll be reunited with our loved ones there.
That message of redemption and eternal hope is what powers believers in the third world to sing praises to God as they are slaughtered for merely mentioning the name of Jesus. That message of redemption is what brings dying hospice patients hope when they realize that their time on earth is nearly done. That message of redemption is likely what powered Dr. King’s “Mountaintop Speech,” as he predicted his death while expressing joy and hope for the future of our nation.
And we believe, at Life Point Baptist Church, that if we are to see a revival in our culture, if we are to see the rapid spread of Christianity in the Western world today, then it will be sparked by the rapid spread of that Gospel. If the church is to find its voice and be relevant again, it will not be because the ministerial staff is up to date on the latest in entertainment or cultural trends. It will be because the staff, and the church, is centered on that Gospel.
Once the church is centered on the Gospel, worship styles, campus design and location, and audio visual tools become irrelevant. The church will see a revival.
So, enjoy your contemporary service, or your traditional service, but center it on the Gospel, and find your voice.