Thursday, March 18, 2010

Revenge of the Mega Church (1)

I would have never believed, in the early days of February 2010 that there could be churches observing us, “the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”They waited, eager to give consumers— just what we wanted.

It has long been an interest of mine to experience different Christian denominations, church services and liturgies. I pay close attention to the various teachings, styles of music, sacraments, how people within the church interact and even how outsiders are treated. Recently, I have transferred to a new graduate school and am now in pursuit of a church to attend. I guess you could say I’m a church shopper.

Lately, I haven’t been able to escape the memory of one church in particular. The atmosphere was pleasant, warm, friendly, and upbeat that Sunday morning. Entering through the doors of the church, I was greeted by mortals wearing business casual attire who went out of their way to get me connected with information and welcome bags. As a new person in the area, I felt welcome and sure of getting plugged in if I desired. Life was good.

Church took an odd turn once I entered the main area. Hearing the band play “Sweet Home Alabama” on a Sunday morning does that. It was like stepping into the church version of the Twilight Zone. The place reminded me of a movie theatre; there were electric guitars up front and a concentration of lighting, Persian rugs and great colored lights.

The music was moving and there was a big emphasis on personal reflection that was half spoken and half sung throughout the songs. Looking around, the people seemed very dedicated— closing their eyes and making every verse sung their personal prayer. Each person seemed to be lost in their own little world. The songs seemed very individually centered and after a while I wondered if it was just all about getting lost in the experience.

Finally, a giant screen descended from above and the pastor greeted us from the mother church. Shortly after, a family psychologist was welcomed on screen. This dragged on for a while. Initially confused, I looked at the bulletin handed out in the beginning and found it was just an announcement page. Looking at my watch several times, and not without a smidgen of guilt, I secretly hoped they would get on with the interview and into the sermon.

After a while, I settled down as I realized that this was the sermon. My disbelief turned into despair. What about that God guy we all vaguely know? He didn’t seem all that relevant to the discussion. How about His book that’s supposed to be “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, [that] penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; [that] judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”? There were maybe one or two loose and fleeting parallels used as supplements to learning how to overcome dysfunctional family patterns when raising kids.

Futility, then boredom set in and curious, I decided to take a look around….


David N. said...


What school are you at now? Couldn't hack it at Westminster, huh? :P Where do you find yourself theologically these days?

Out of curiosity, did you read Mike Horton's "Christless Christianity"? Your experience sounds identical to the problems he warned against in that book.

Lucian said...

That's da problem with Protestantism: not that it does bad things, but it does things that are good at improper times and in improper places, INSTEAD OF the actual thing that they're supposed to be doing. (It all started with the dislocation of the Altar from the Church, and its replacement first with a ambo, then the replacement of the later with a music-stage; repalcement of the Eucharist with a longer sermon; the relegation of the centrality of the Eucharist [done monthly] to the sermon; replacement of the Holy Liturgy with sacred songs; improper icons or no icons; improper music [I also find something uplifting and spiritual in Scorpion's 'Wind Of Change', for instance, ... but I don't replace Church hymns with it]; etc). I mean, the whole thing's just a total mess...

Catz206 said...

Yah I missed having a mind of my own and switched to Trinity ; )
Theologically? I guess more or less the same as before.

I've heard of that book. Thankx for the suggestion. Other people have complained to me about Mega churches, but I never experienced anything THAT bad. This particular church fit the classic description perfectly!

Catz206 said...


Protestants of all stripes certainly have much to work on.

We can both look forward to the day when Christ returns and all is restored and glorified. Until then, we can keep one another in our prayers.

Catz206 said...

How has Westminster California been treating you David? I hear there are many key differences over there compared with Philly.

David N. said...


Sure, if you have in view some entity called "Protestantism", then it is a total mess. But there is no such entity. It's merely a label for every church that claims to be Christian that is neither Catholic or Orthodox, and thus it is a label that is practically meaningless.

There's also a huge difference between the reforms instituted by the Reformers in the 16th century and the modern changes made by modern "Protestants." The Magesterial Reformers instituted reforms in worship based upon the explicit teaching of Scripture (the Regulative Principle). The "total mess" of modern American evangelicalism is based upon the subjective feelings of modern American evangelicals (and supposedly whatever Scripture does not explicitly DENY, which, of course, just ends up in meaningless subjectivism anyway).

David N. said...


Things are going very well. I just finished doing an independent study with Dr. Horton on the Essence-Energies distinction in the Early Church Fathers. Now I'm doing a follow up study on the Essence-Energies distinction in the Reformers and Reformed Orthodox (Scholastics). It's been fascinating! Kind of exciting, too, because almost no Protestant theologians are even aware of the Eastern doctrine of the Energies, and the few that are aware of it reject it for bad reasons (mostly because they don't understand it). So I sort of feel like a pioneer here. I'm also among a small minority who thinks that Reformed theology has always believed something implicitly like the essence-energies distinction and that it should be explicitly adopted by Reformed theologians today (obviously Dr. Horton thinks this as well, and he'll be addressing the issue in his upcoming Systematic Theology).

If you want to read my school papers (specifically the energies one) check them out here: Westminster Papers

I'm not too familiar with the differences between Cali and Philly. All I really know is that a lot of Presbys think that WSC is too "Lutheran", but I don't buy it. The one thing that WSC does really, really well is Historical Theology, so they should know.

How is Trinity? That's a Reformed school too, right? What degree are you getting? What are you studying now?

Catz206 said...


Trinity has an Evangelical Free background and is quite interdenominational. Many students here are Reformed.

Thankx for the link. You should post some of these papers on BWA!