Thursday, July 7, 2011

Children's Church

It was Mark Twain who quipped, “In the beginning God made man in His image. And man has been returning the favor ever since.” It was John Calvin who argued in the opening pages of his Institutes that if we would know God well, we must understand man, and if we would understand man well, we must know God. There is a necessary correlation between creature and Creator. The principle holds, however, even when the creature affirms a false creator. That is, though the God of heaven and earth, the God of the Bible is the creator of Muslims, we ought not be surprised that Muslims tend to look an awful lot like Allah. We ought not be surprised that the Greek pantheon looked rather like the Greek culture. It goes both ways of course. We form our vision of God by starting with ourselves, and we form our vision of ourselves by looking at the god we have created. Which is why it makes perfect sense that the evangelical church has rushed headlong into worshipping a baby Jesus.

As always, we justify our betrayal of Jesus on the grounds that we are only trying to win more people. We set aside prophet and king, and present Jesus as a limp-wristed priest. The dreamy, distant looking eyes, the silky soft skin, the gentlemanly behavior of knocking on doors and waiting for an invitation, the pleading, pleading, pleading, that won’t you please let Him in, all match our character perfectly. We too are weak-kneed sissies, little boys in knickers. If we make Jesus inviting and inoffensive, just like us, then maybe the lost will come in. All of which is actually designed to make Jesus safe and inoffensive to us. Where once men thundered from pulpits across the land, in our day we have boys, dressed like Mr. Rogers, sharing behind Lucite lecterns. We have replaced the proclamation of the potent Word of God with Show and Tell.

Lest we wake the giant of the glory of our Maker, we likewise play lullabies when we gather together to worship. Of course worship looks rather more like the nursery. We sing dreamy, distant-sounding songs that evoke the memory of His silky soft skin, and His gentlemanly behavior of knocking on doors and waiting for an invitation, the pleading, pleading, pleading won’t you please let Him in. There are any number of objections that could be raised against the insipid dreck we have the gall to call both worship and music. But the greatest is right here—whatever the words may say, the music itself says God is safe. We want safe, because we are children.

We want to come as we are. We refuse to dress like grownups. We want to be on our way back home soon. After all, little minds have little attention spans. Because we insist on comfortable seats and soft lighting, we insist on getting our bottles of Starbucks in the lobby on the way in. There we sit, laughing at the drama team and sucking down our sweet caffeine. And all of it is stunting our growth.

The statics are damning proof. The church growth movement does not bring the lost into the kingdom. The membership rolls of mega-churches consist of what was the membership rolls of bitty churches. We aren’t winning the lost; we are dumbing down the found. We are pandering to Christians in Pampers and leaving them sitting in their own stink.

It is time to grow up, to mature, to become complete, to be men. This will only happen when we learn to meet with the true and living God, the God of our fathers, the Ancient of Days. Some have argued that contemporary worship emphasizes the immanence of God, while Puritan-style worship emphasizes His transcendence. But when we renew covenant we are blessed with both. As we draw near to the King, as we lift up our hearts, as we are confronted by God in His nearness, His immanence, what we discover is that we do so not so much because he has condescended to us, but because He has lifted us up. We meet Him, the One Who burns and smokes, Who causes mountains and men to tremble, not on our level, but on His, “But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:25-27).

We ought not to have children’s church, because we are the children’s church. We are the spirits of children deemed just, being perfected, who on the Lord’s Day join with our fathers in the faith. We are the church militant joined together with the church triumphant, a noble army of men and boys who aspire to be men. Nothing will mature us faster than we would behold His glory. Men are made of such things.

The God we worship is from everlasting to everlasting. Before Abraham was, He is. His calling to us is that we would be like Him, that we would grow in grace and in wisdom. We are indeed His children, but we are likewise judges over all the earth. We are the very elders at the gate. May our Father, in His grace, drive with the rod of His wrath, folly far from us, for it is bound up in our hearts. May our Father, in His grace, and through His Spirit, lead us into all things, maturing us, making of us workmen who need not be ashamed. May He take us from our diapers and gift us with the mantle of a prophet, that we might, with the very voices of men and angels, proclaim the glories of His name. May He teach we who are the Sons of God, to be men of God.

From the Jan/Feb 2006 issue of Every Thought Captive magazine.
by RC Sproul Jr.

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