(This blog series is not intended to be a critique of the churches
we visit, but rather an expression of our observances and how they
relate to our quest. We recognize the fact that each and every church
we visit belong to Christ and His glory is on display to some measure
in each one. We also realize there are no perfect churches and we all
rely on Jesus to clothe us with His righteousness.)
This morning we attended the 8am service of this week's mystery church. Easter is the hardest Sunday to visit a prospective church because presumably you will get their best effort and not necessarily their normal effort. I was already familiar with this particular church today so I knew what to expect. We were not disappointed. The parking lot was packed and their crew did a great job of moving cars through. We were just a tad late (I had to get gas on the way), but came in during the first song. We sat near the back right again, but this time we had no choice. After a celebratory song, there were a couple announcements and then the lights went down for the music worship time. I like having all of the lights up and a kickoff song followed by announcements to clear the way for non-stop focused worship (I include the sermon as part of the worship as well). We used to do that when I was leading music and often called it the "throw-away" song because people were still coming in. I regret using that term because it's only a throw-away for the people who don't get there on time. For everyone who already have their seat, it's a great way to celebrate Christ!
Even though the band and worship leaders were excellent musically speaking, they did little to draw attention to themselves. I love the fact that the only things that command your attention in the room are the lyrics on the screen and a well lit cross on the stage. The songs were Christ and Cross centered and theologically rich. My philosophy of church music is that it's not only a vertical experience, but a horizontal one as well. The early church sang hymns and spiritual songs to each other for the purpose of teaching. So, there needs to be a balance of prayerful songs sung "to God", with theologically deep songs "about God." People fall into two basic personality types, instinctive and intellectual. So I believe music should engage on both levels especially intellectually. There's no such thing as mindless worship.
After the music portion of the service, the preacher came up and went right to work. He didn't do anything to ruin the mood, in fact, he capitalized on the pervasive ambiance and rightly divided the scripture. Not surprisingly, he preached from Luke 24 regarding the aftermath of the resurrection. He explained very clearly how the crucifixion saves us "from" God's wrath, and the resurrection saves us "to" life now. The main idea of his message was the resurrection and it's implication to life now.
Prior to this, he discussed how as a preacher on Easter Sunday, that he might be expected to take an apologetic approach to the resurrection. He then went down a list of evidences that refute the modern secular explanations for the empty tomb. He pointed out how crazy the theories are in light of historical evidence. For example, if Jesus didn't really die when he was entombed as one prevailing theory suggests, then how did he walk the Emmaus Road 7 miles out of Jerusalem within 48 hours of being nailed and hung to a cross and run through with a lung collapsing spear thrust?
He also quipped how difficult it would to be an atheist in relation to the deep groaning in our souls regarding the diseases and deaths in our world. If, according to natural selection, nature is just weeding out the weak links then why dig wells in Darfur? Why attempt to feed people in Africa if there is no redemptive purpose for humanity?
Of course, in his attempt to "avoid" an intellectual defense of the Bible, he masterfully defended the Resurrection in his 5-10 minute discourse as the precursor to his main sermon idea. He went on to explain what the resurrection means to us and for us. As usual, this preacher left the listener with self-examining questions and in doing so, clearly drew the line between true gospel preaching and the "therapeutic" nonsense that is prevalent in many evangelical churches today. In light of the fact that the crowd was diverse on this Easter Sunday, the sermon provided "thinking points" for nearly every possible type of parishioner.
At the sermon's close, he dismissed us in prayer and asked everyone to leave quietly to enable others to stay behind for counsel or prayer. Overall, this was an inspiring, convicting, Christ-centered worship service. It was no-frills in its approach (no latte bars or pageant like production), but deep in purpose and meaning.