In my life, I find that it’s more important to treasure Jesus and pursue holiness than to increase knowledge, skill sets, strategies, and methods. If I follow Jesus and become more like him, God will take care of those other things.
Southern Baptist Convention
Congregation Size: 400-500
Our third Sunday brought a trip to an affluent suburban church here in Lincoln. I had actually never visited a Southern Baptist church before, and after this Sunday, it doesn’t feel like I had ever visited one. I assume that this church is affiliated with the Southern Baptists in name only (no doubt in practice as well, in some cases), but there was nothing distinctively “Baptist” about the service.
When Rylan and I walked into the church, it didn’t seem very welcoming. There were lots of booths for ministries and Bible studies. Then again, I didn’t go out of my way to talk to people and get into conversation. We were here for the service. So we went into the worship center as the singing began.
The service started out with singing. A seven-member band played, with the leader being a male and playing guitar. I noticed was that the only black person in the room was on stage playing saxophone. I thought that was funny. The first song they sang was “All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises.” The song last for a while — like 8 minutes. Throughout the service, as the band played, I couldn’t help but notice how happy (and fluffy) the music sounded. It was very, how do I say this gently…chickified. There, I said it. What didn’t help was the feminine designs on the PowerPoint behind the song lyrics. I was distracted by the moving colors and figures. After a few announcements, the band played a few more songs: “Friend of God,” “Too Wonderful,” and “Better is One Day.” When I looked around the room to see whether or not men were singing, my heart grew sad. Not a lot of men were singing. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the music was kind of girlie or the fact that dudes just don’t like to sing. I don’t know. I should have asked.
The pastor walked on to the stage after the music finished. He was speaking on Romans 7. I’ve listened to some really good sermons and commentaries on Romans 7, so I was excited. The title of the sermon was “Free in Christ.” The church is working their way through Romans and the series title is called “Foundations.” I noticed when I walked into the worship center that they had brick-like panels on the walls of the sanctuary, as if to give some substance to a “foundation.” Some people are more visual, but I thought it was a little gimmicky. There were also two doors on the stage that the person would not allude to until the end of the sermon. Again, they seemed unnecessary, but maybe for someone they were edifying.
During the sermon, the pastor talked a lot about Jesus. I loved that. He talked about killing sin (though he didn’t use that vocabulary). I loved that. You probably know what Romans 7 is about, but his main idea was that our sin and the world compete for our lives even after we are saved by Jesus. A helpful thing he pointed out was that so often Christians refer to “Jesus coming into my heart.” He said that biblically, we should say, “I am in Christ.” That changes our identity. It makes our perspective shift from us toward Christ. So I give huge pluses for talking about Jesus, sin, repentance, and being in Christ. One thing that was less than stellar was that he preached from The Message. I don’t think that’s an adequate version of Scripture. It was written by one man as a commentary. Further, I think The Message can be awkward and confusing anyway. Still, I don’t think it took away from the point of the sermon.
When they announced that it was time for tithes and offerings, the congregation cheered. How awesome is that! That encouraged me. I think this church is a good church. It’s not one of those that should be shut down. There are a lot of people who love Jesus here. I can’t speak for the church as a whole, but after seeing one service I got the feeling that the depth of teaching and learning could increase a bit. Perhaps this is the case only in the sermons and the home community groups go very deep — relationally and theologically. I hope so.
After you read this post, remember to pray for this local body. Pray for masculine men who engage during the church service and are bold for truth and affection for Jesus. Pray that this church would continue to give lots of money to missions and justice. Pray that their heart for truth would grow and that they would dive deep into the whole counsel of God, longing to know him more and more.
Here are some things I’m thankful for that don’t usually find a place in your average Sunday praise song:
- A quiet, dark morning with an open Bible
- A turned-off television
- Coffee cake
- Toilet paper
- Enemies who hate me
- International vaccinations
- Notebook computers
- Sunshine reflecting off the frost
- A God who loves himself and is committed to fulfilling his purpose in me
You probably read the last one and said, “We sing about that!” Really? Do you really sing about God loving himself? If God is committed to me, that’s fine and dandy, but if he fails to ever be committed to himself, he would no longer God because he would put something (namely me!) above himself. Here’s how David says it in Psalm 138:
I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.
Before God exalts me or you or the church or anything else, he has lifted up high his name and his word. His name is synonymous with his glory (Isa. 42:8; 43:7). His word is Jesus, the perfect manifestation of who God is, because Jesus is God (John 1:1-14; Heb. 1:1-3).
There’s much to be thankful for today, even little things like cars and toilet paper and travel vaccinations. But the greatest thing to be thankful for is that God loves himself, because if that weren’t true then we would have a God who isn’t supreme and sovereign and holy and unstained and preeminent. He’d be like us. And that would be no God at all.
This kid might be regretting some meal choices he’s made in the cafeteria line lately.
How shall those who are the subjects of divine election sufficiently adore the grace of God? They have no room for boasting, for sovereignty most effectually excludes it. The Lord’s will alone is glorified, and the very notion of human merit is cast out to everlasting contempt. There is no more humbling doctrine in Scripture than that of election, none more promotive of gratitude, and, consequently, none more sanctifying. Believers should not be afraid of it, but adoringly rejoice in it.
- Charles Spurgeon
Every sin is bad. Every sin corrupts. Saying a little white lie will send you to hell just as equally as a fornicating sin will. However, sexual immorality goes a bit deeper. Sexual immorality cuts to the core of humans in a way that other sins do not. The reason is simple: it’s intertwined with the heart and soul and mind, as well as with the body. Not every sin is like that. That’s what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 6:18 when he says that every other sin is outside the body, but the sexual immoral person sins against his own body. To sin sexually, Paul might say today, means you are practically going to ruin your life (here on earth, not just in eternity).
John Calvin explains it like this: “[Paul] does not altogether deny that there are other vices, in like manner, by which our body is dishonored and disgraced, but that his meaning is simply this — that defilement does not attach itself to our body from other vices in the same way as it does from fornication. My hand, it is true, is defiled by theft or murder, my tongue by evil speaking, or perjury, and the whole body by drunkenness; but fornication leaves a stain impressed upon the body, such as is not impressed upon it from other sins.”
Sexual immorality has a way of tearing apart lives and relationships in a way that other sins do not. This doesn’t excuse other sins. This doesn’t mean that obscene pride and outrageous lifestyles will not ruin a life. O, they will! But a plain reading of Scripture reveals this truth especially about sexual immorality. Proverbs 5:8-11 teaches us, “Keep your way far from her [that is, the forbidden woman, v. 3], and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed.”
There is hope amidst this dismal picture. The good news of the gospel is that Christ’s blood has redeemed you. Your sexual purity is a blood-bought gift that was purchased on Calvary. Know that God owns your body, and he has made it for himself, for holiness. What better incentive is there to kill sexual sin (as well as every sin)!
Sexual immorality will consume your flesh and your body and your heart and your mind in an all-together differently destructive way than every other sin. Paul teaches that. Proverbs does, too. It’s all over Scripture. Every other sin is outside your body. Sexual sin is against your own body. Flee sexual immorality. Please, it will save you from ruining your life.
A guest post by Amy Pruch
In recent years, American Christian churches have become very diverse in their styles of worship, services, décor, and dress. Different churches have a desire to reach out to different people groups, and therefore, change their style in order to fit the targeted people group. Contemporary churches may decorate with colored lights, have shorter services, louder music, and be dressed in jeans. Conservative churches may decorate with flowers and crosses, play slower music, and dressed in suits and skirts. It is true that a person will worship where he or she feels most comfortable and often where the congregation mostly looks, acts, and worships just as he or she does. So, what happens when someone who does not fit that style enters the church? Are they received well? Is there equal opportunity for them to get involved and worship, although they may not be like anyone else in that particular church?
The norm I decided to violate is the conservative church’s dress and etiquette. I visited two local churches in Waconia, Minnesota, Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church and St. Joseph Catholic Church, on Sunday morning, November 23. In these churches, the dress was business-casual; make-up and jewelry were kept to a minimum. During the services, there was much etiquette to know and respond to, such as kneeling for prayers or standing for Scripture readings. Instead of following the norms of socially-acceptable business-casual dress, I dressed in black clothing, baggy jeans, gaudy jewelry, and gothic makeup. Instead of following the church etiquette, I sat in my pew the entire hour, never opening a Bible or hymnal, never standing or kneeling when appropriate. For the purpose of this project, my rules for the church services were as follows:
- Do not approach anyone except the door greeters and welcome table. Do not initiate any sort of greeting to those around me, even when the service calls for it.
- If spoken to in conversation, I must ask how I could get involved in the church and/or what Christianity could mean for me.
- My body language must be inferior with arms crossed, slouched over, eyes to the floor.
- I must act nervous and timid, using soft speech when talking, often playing with my jewelry, and shifting from side to side.
- After a conversation, I must reveal my true identity and purpose for the church visit.
The first church I visited was Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church at the 9:30 service. As I drove towards the church, I noticed a large banner outside that proclaimed, “You are Invited!” The front doors led to the main lobby, which held a welcome center in the left corner and a table in the middle of the room for writing on name tags (everyone wore name tags). Towards the right of the lobby was the entrance to the sanctuary. The seating for the sanctuary was split in three sections, the middle, left, and right, with the stage in the center. The congregation size was estimated at 500 people. The congregation consisted mostly of older adults, between the ages of 40 and 60. The dress was casual, mostly jeans and slacks with nice shirts.
The second church I visited was St. Joseph Catholic Church for the 10:30 mass. The front doors of the church opened to the lobby and to the left there were stairs leading up extremely large with four sections of pews, small sections to the very left and right, and then larger sections of pews in the middle, all facing the front stage of the church. The congregation was very large, estimated at over one thousand. The people group in this church was mostly young families (married couples in their thirties with young children). The dress was very similar to the Lutheran church, in that most people wore jeans or slacks with a nice button-up shirt.
Deviancy and Observations
As I walked from my car to the Lutheran church, I felt embarrassed as I already noticed how differently I was dressed and how awkward this experience was going to be. There were a few families that glanced in my direction, and as I followed a man into the building, he did not hold open the door for me. I entered the lobby area and stood towards the back, allowing everyone who entered a view of me (I did not get a nametag, nor was I asked to). I stood near an older lady who peeked in my direction, but otherwise, for the first five minutes, no one approached me. As one of the pastors walked by, he looked me in the eye and extended a welcome. At this point, I had very much taken on my role and in reality felt lonely, out of place, and inferior, which made the pastor’s welcome very appreciated. I walked over to the information booth and welcome center. The lady behind the booth treated me as any other person in the church. I asked how “a person like me” could feel comfortable “in a place like this.” She had a puzzled look on her face, but then described Bible studies I could attend or volunteer work I could do in the church. I thanked her, and then proceeded to sit down in the sanctuary.
In the sanctuary, I sat down on the left side, which faces the entire congregation. This was intentional so I would be able to be viewed by the most amount of people. I sat to the right of a twelve year old boy and his mother and in front of an older couple. Throughout the service, I received several glances and the occasional stare. I believe this was mostly from my appearance, not because of my lack of church etiquette. I acted as if I had never entered a church before, but it seemed more people were staring because of my clothing and make-up rather than my lack of respect or knowledge for what to do during the service.
During the greeting time, six people came up to me to shake my hand, without me making eye contact or initiating a greeting whatsoever. When the service had ended, an older woman in her 60’s welcomed me to the church and explained that she was “glad I had come this morning.” I continued the conversation and asked how a “person like me” could get involved in the church. She explained with a smile that there are many opportunities to explore within the church. I told her that I did not know much about God and I wanted her to explain to me about what she believes. Within a few sentences, she explained the gospel message to me clearly and adequately, after which I apologized for my deceptiveness and explained my true intentions of coming to the church. She and her husband were quite surprised, but laughed and proudly proclaimed that God accepts everyone. At this point, I headed out the door and caught the pastor before he left. I again asked how a “person like me” could be comfortable in the church. He said the youth group is a great place to start. After a short conversation, I explained my true identity and purpose. His facial expression revealed he was either taken off-guard or very offended; I hope it was the former.
Because of the ending time of the Lutheran church, I was ten minutes late to the Catholic mass at St. Joseph’s. There was a minimal amount of people in the lobby as I entered the church, but I did catch a few children staring at me on their way to Sunday school. As I walked into the sanctuary, I was intercepted by an usher who let me know where an open spot was (since I was not use to the setting, and not as many people were able to take a look at me, however, the people I sat by certainly seemed bothered). There was a
man in his 60’s to my left who stared at me numerous times throughout the service, even when I looked back at him. A teenager to my right looked at me once, but then acted like I was not there. The harshest look I received was from a mother in her 30’s—her young daughter was about to step into my pew after communion, but the mother guided her away from my pew and gave me a long angry stare. At this point, I felt very annoyed and judged by those around me.
Not only were my looks an issue with those around me, but I also believe the lack of church etiquette seemed disrespectful to those around me. I did not stand or kneel at appropriate times, nor did I receive communion. When the offering plate was passed, I acted as if I did not know what to do with it. There were definite glances in my direction, as if to say, “What is she doing?” or “Why is she here?” The most apparent rejection was noticed during the greeting time, during which I did not stand up, but I made it a point to look around for someone to say hello to. I did not receive a single greeting, nor was I approached, nor was I looked at. I was widely ignored, which made me feel extremely lonely amidst everyone else in the church who seemed perfectly fine looking past me.
The mass ended, and I lingered in my pew for a few moments, just to see if anyone would look at me on the way out, but again, I was ignored. Adults would have a quick glance and then stare straight ahead. Adolescents would stare for a moment, and then look away. Children would stare and not tear their eyes away until their parents motioned for them to stop. I shook the priest’s hand on the way out, and he said, “Thanks for coming,” just as he did for all others. There was no “welcome table” to approach, but I saw one woman who had a booth for a Bible study. I talked to her for a few moments, asking how “a person like me,” could get involved here. She talked about her Bible study and said I am welcome to come. I told her I did not know much about God and Christianity, and I needed her to explain it to me. She offered to take me out so she could share with me everything she believes. I declined, but asked her to share in a few sentences. She proceeded to share the gospel in a very thorough and clear manner (in my opinion, even better than the lady at the Lutheran church). I thanked her for her time and then explained my true intentions, after which she laughed and asked if she did a good job.
In visiting these churches dressed as a Goth and acting as a non-church goer, I realized that although I received many stares, possible judgments, and awkward glances, I was received well once I showed an interest in Christianity and/or the church. Therefore, my conclusion in this matter is that dress and etiquette do matter to an extent for the church congregation as a whole, however, it does not necessarily matter to individuals once in conversation. Dress and etiquette certainly do play a role in conservative churches today, but it is a barrier than can be broken, although I believe it should not be a barrier at all.