I was reading recently about Martin Luther nailing his 95 thesis on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. Luther's 95 theses brought attention to corruption in the Catholic Church. Luther appealed the Pope in 1517 to stop the practice of squeezing ‘indulgences’ from parishioners as ‘down payments’ on heaven, and/or petition God to limit the time their dead loved ones spent in purgatory.
I know the Catholic Church still encourages indulgences but I believe they describe these gifts as part of turning our attention from our sins and to God's church. I can't say I completely understand this, but that may be just my protestant upbringing speaking up.
Anyways Catholics and Protestants should all agree our salvation is found only in Jesus Christ as our savior, then loving God and serving others with our lives. The giving of money or other form of indulgence will not affect our status in the next life.
Anyways, back to indulgences. We protestants sometimes are flippant about the Catholic Church and their history with indulgences. But how does that 'speck' scripture go? Be careful about pointing out the speck in someone else's eye when you have a beam in your own.
So I take a glance inward at the Protestant Church, and observe some possible big buck 'indulgent' items I am not just talking about the Prosperity Gospel Churches and the lavish lifestyles of their Leaders (ie Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn), but even many of the church programs (Mega & not Mega) in our cities? Are they a ministry serving God or a monument to the Church itself.
Of course it goes without saying God's house is special. We are to be reverent and generous in the space and resources we use for church, but the Gospel Message should never focus on a building or be concerned with numbers. But some churches appear to believe in buildings and cry they need xy & z to grow the church, and put up a good and proper Sunday morning SHOW. Q. Do we really need three huge video screens, and stream to other locations all over the city to share God's Good News? Maybe.. but maybe not.
It is obvious by the collective gasp of those reading this blog I now have stepped on many toes of those attending church in America. Still I am concerned too many church growth programs are the product of 'Church Consultants' focusing on numbers but lite on discipleship. They say "To grow the church you must promote the church,, and to promote the church you need a building program. Then to promote the program the pastor should write a book, and/or your need your own buzz words to 'market/brand' your ministry. And to function properly you will need xy & z to share the Gospel giving that old book (aka Bible) a modern kick." True? Maybe, or maybe not
Note: funny Jesus did not need xy & z, he just lived and taught God's Truth to a hurting world, and He did it without 3 big screens, A worship band, or a building of His own.
I observe many well intended building programs are built around a series of services focused on exciting church growth news followed by a series of sermons on giving. These services focus on what we do is special, dare I say anointed. No one does quite like we do! True? Maybe, maybe not.
The focus during this time is on giving above and beyond normal in 'faith' for this cause of God through testimonials of ordinary folk blessed by the church WHEN they gave more. The congregation is 'gently coherced' over the next several weeks leading to a special 'Sunday of Giving' with a special service where the whole congregation is invited to come forward and drop their pledges (indulgences?) into special baskets at the front of the church.. where it is visibly clear who participated in giving and who did not. All while the Worship Band plays. True? Maybe, maybe not
So my question is.. Did I just participate in a Protestant Indulgence? No, we are not like in Luther's day giving an indulgence to the church to get a loved one out of purgatory (or worse).. but are we giving to God or a monument to man? Do we desire to be a seeker friendly church that is a mile wide and 6" deep where people can comfortably attend, never convicted, never challenged to go deeper but again comfortably 'entertained' as they ease through life attending the weekly Sunday Worship Show eventually to Hell... or is my church something more?
Now let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with a Mega-Church with multiple sites where the service is streamed. I confess I stream sermons from the convenience of my home, and have attended churches with great preaching where the message was streamed from another site. But something with all this does not sit well with me. It may be just my preference, but maybe something more. Feels too often to be the Cathedrals of Man. Indulgence much? Maybe, maybe not.
For those who read this and are indignant that I am implying you are participating in protestant indulgences. Please don't be. If what your church does is all about God. Having 3 big screens at the front of your church is not the issue, and if the programs and efforts meet the community in very real ways bringing them closer to God, and if you are growing disciples.. then keep doing what you are doing.
But if your church is focusing on being cool & trendy then maybe you need a reset. Is this what God really wants, or is this what I convinced myself God wants?
Final confession. It's easy to throw stones at Glass churches.. BUT I am a bit of a hypocrite as I have and still do justify purchases that I want, are good, and convinced I need.. but.. I don't really need and should not afford. Kind of a personal indulgence where I may not be taking directly out of what I should give/tithe to the church, but indirectly that is exactly what I do. I even may pray to God about a purchase, but since God did not speak to me with a clap of thunder I may go ahead with my 'self-indulgent' purchase. My choice may not be bad, but is it the right choice. I like to think I am getting better about this, but I know I am a work in progress.
So no condemnation here of self or the church here. Just honest questions about priorities. Each of our personal priorities and the priorities of the collective church.
So I pray today for our churches are not just comfortable social quasi spiritual gatherings where on judgment day we cry "Lord, Lord".. but God replies.. "I never knew you". Mt 7:21-23 I pray our churches to be houses of worship, outreach, and discipleship that are not about being the cool church, but being the House of God. And I pray for myself and those of you who struggle with self-indulgence. May the Church and our lives listen to God's voice and to all things To God be the Glory.
Jeff (a tad self-indulgent) Larson
In this world of Essentials we have ..'Essential Oils' (5 quarts of motor oil?).. the 'Essential Van Morrison' album compilation, and now ..our government in Pandemic lockdown mode determines which businesses are 'essential'.
The disturbing twist of secular PANICdemic irony is this list of essential businesses include liquor stores, and Planned Parenthood while church gatherings are too 'risky' aka non-essential. In some states you can buy 'weed' (dude) but you can't buy weed killer (garden store).
It is a good thing Mother Theresa is not serving today in my home state of Minnesota where her 'willy nilly non-essential' orphanage and leprosy mission works would not be tolerated.. unless these lepers and orphans also tested Covid-19 positive.
It is obvious by my sarcasm I bristle over our Government's mandated (but ever changing) good, bad, &ugly list of essentials,non-essentials, and social distancing guidelines. But though I bristle I have remained law abiding through my clenched teeth and grumbled tones.
Then I heard a little sermon snippet of 'sunlight' from a Pastor in South Bend Indiana (Pastor YPJ). The just of it his message was to be prayerful & smart in our response to Coronavirus but remember our focus is on Revival not Survival.
With this bit of sunlight in mind, I may listen to Dr Fucci, and weed through the ever changing CDC labyrinth of scenarios, but in none of them do I find hope. Societies message is temporal and 'non-essential' by the Gospel message is life, hope for today and tomorrow, and essentially essential.
I will be smart, I will be safe, but I will not live in fear.
May God bless and use each of you this week in ways that are beyond your dreams. May you feel His protection and love that transcends the fears of men... May we find life in His Words, and a Revival of our hope.
To paraphrase an old Superman slogan.. "This is a job for Supernatural Man" filled by God's Spirit.
Jeff (The Essential Back Pew) Larson
As a guy.. I am a TV Commercial aficionado. While I respect my wife.. when it comes to TV Commercials hands-down I have a deeper appreciation for their .. art.
Case and point is a TV commercial by AT&T where a tattoo artist tells his client he is just an ok tattoo artist but not good one. Then the concerned client questions the tattoo artist not drawing the image before inking the real tattoo.. and this 'just ok' tattoo artist tells him "Stay in your lane bro."
Funny stuff, and it makes me smile every time it pops up on TV.
Message of the cartoon? Don't settle for just ok.
But hidden in this commercial I have gleaned a spiritual correlation. OK, you have to look very very closely but I swear there is one.
When I talk to (aka pray) God, I am not talking with a just an OK deity.. I am talking with the Creator of this World. Omniscient, Omnipresent, and our perfect loving Heavenly Father.
So when I vent (aka pray) to God my busy mind stirring pandemics, the economy, the 2020 elections, my family, my friends, and mix it all up in a big bowl of worry with more than a splash of media hype.. I tell God "I don't know how this is going to all work out." And this is when God whispers to me.. "Stay in your lane bro."
But unlike a 'just ok' deity our God is sovereign. He has this bowl of worries of mine along with everyone else's favorite rage or anxiety recipe and though mankind has again made such a mess of things.. He was not caught off guard. He is not surprised, and NEWS FLASH none of this is a ripple in God's great plan.
Note: I do want to be clear there are consequences for anyone and/or nation's actions and/or rejections of God, but still there is peace in knowing God is sovereign.
Another NEWS FLASH.. this life, our moment in time is not about us.. it is about each of us being faithful in word and deed as we hear God say "stay in our lane bro, I got this".
I will confess, I struggle in understanding this. It's not that I doubt God is sovereign but that He allows the free will of mankind to make a mess and where is He in this mess.
So with this in mind, I will pray we all know God is good. I pray we then love Him with our words and deeds.
And finally, I pray..
Heavenly Father bless and use each of us for your glory in ways that only can be described as beyond our dreams.
Jeff (changing lanes often) Larson
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson