Hopefully, at some point over the past few days, you've had the opportunity to partake of a church service designed to celebrate the Christmas event, the miraculous birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Hopefully, that service did not include Santa Claus or elves or reindeer.
But that's not a given.
More and more, as our churches are trying to bridge the gap between culture and Christ, we find ourselves in a tough spot around things like this. Many churches have gone the acculturation route and decided, hey, if it gets people in our doors, we're all for it. And they've adopted Santa for Christmas. In some churches, he even preached the sermon - standing right next to the manger.
Churches have their staff dress as elves and hand out gifts. Or dance around on stage. They bring in live reindeer for children to pet. Hey, there were animals in the manger, right? We're just...modifying the story a little bit to get more butts in the seats.
I will not mince words: if this is the kind of church service you're attending, you're attending the wrong kind of church service. And pastors, if this is the kind of church service you're pastoring, you're doing it wrong.
There is something to be said for using the culture to engage the world, but we have to be careful about how much we let the culture creep into the church itself. It's a far different thing to host a cultural Christmas event inside your building than it is to have a cultural Christmas service that's meant to glorify and worship Jesus.
If the world walks into our church and sees something not fundamentally different than they see when they walk into Wal-Mart, what's the point? Why should they be attracted to our church? Why should they come back after Christmas? If we're no different at all than the world that we live in, except that we offer eternal salvation at whatever price you choose to pay for it, we have cheapened not only the Cross of Christ, but the birth of Him, as well. Particularly in this season.
The argument, of course, is Paul. Paul was a master at cultural contextualization. He went to the hill where the Greeks were worshiping all of their gods and used one of their own statues as an entry point into the Gospel. He said that he became all things to all people in the hopes that he might save some. Shouldn't we do the same?
Yes, but no. We have sold ourselves, and our churches, out in an effort to be all things to all people, and in doing so, we have become nothing at all.
You'll notice that when Paul engaged the Greeks at the worship of their own gods, he did not then drag those god statues into the synagogue or into the church and set them up so that he could bring the people with him. He didn't change the fundamental nature of the church into all things to all people; he only changed what he was doing. The message he preached was spot on. The Christ he proclaimed was non-negotiable. Jesus was never buried or hidden or wrapped in culture.
He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and a crown of thorns. Every time.
That's just not the case the way we're doing it. I think sometimes, our churches get more enamored with the idea that the people ought to love our churches than we are with the idea that the people ought to love our Christ. We think we have to get them to be part of our churches before we can get them to know and love our Christ.
So we work really hard to make our churches "relevant" and "cutting-edge" and "seeker-sensitive," which are all nice, clean, church-y ways to say..."cultural." We make our churches an event, and we push aside the Christ event (whatever the season) for our own sake. We'll hook them later, we say. Right now, we just have to get them in.
Ho, ho, ho.
You want to know the truth? I mean, can I tell you something? If we can get the people to love our Christ, they'll come to our churches. If we tell them who He is, really put Him on display, they won't be able to resist. There's always been something compelling about our Lord; we don't need to wrap that up in any kind of programs.
Preach the Gospel. Proclaim the Lord. Love people. Extend grace. Offer forgiveness. Be present. Be radical. Radical - the Gospel has always been radical. It's never needed culture to make it that.
Be Christian, and the people will come. And you'll be offering them something they can't get anywhere else, something that matters more than anything they could ever pick up at the Wal-Mart, even this time of year.
Get Santa off your stages. Put the elf costume away. Forget the reindeer.
If a manger was enough for Christ, it's enough for His church. Yes, even today.