Tuesday, April 21, 2009


So Gill & Ben & I went to church on Sunday. It was good to go together. And the band was great - I mean very good indeed. Plus when you are faced with that kind of technology in a church you have to be impressed - it makes our screen look decidedly tame, as they have videos running, live feed behind the words, all kinds of graphics, lighting rig etc. And I must have been greeted 37 times before I took my seat. Scarlette & Chuck & family seem to have settled really well into the church now, which is great.

But Gill hasn't, and I do get why not. I kind of hated the sermon.

A huge part of this is cultural. Church is always cultural - because it is about people and God, and though God is God is God, the people bit is the stuff that changes, and we worship and relate to God from within our own culture. Of course, if you are lucky to be British, then that culture is pretty godly and so we are the lucky ones, but for everyone else there are real issues they just don't see... (!!!)

The sermon was number two in a series on "the Bible's Se7en (sic) deadly sins". The front of church looked like this:
Not quite this, as I can't find the picture on the net, but pretty much this. Their art dept is good, and does a good job. But did somebody ever stop and go - "do we really want people to come for church for two months and face 'lust, pride, greed etc as the focus of their worship?" Seems not. So there are no Scriptures to look at, no Jesus, just Se7en deadly sins. Hmm. I found that hard as a worship focus. There is a cross over in a corner, but it really is over in a corner, and it is dark and not lit over there.

A cultural issue? Well, it might not matter as much to them as it does to me what they are looking at. They might not notice.

As for that sermon. Let's start with the concept of "the Bible's se7en deadly sins". They don't exist. It's an idea from Roman Catholic dogma, which has become vernacular, and finds its origins in the 6th Century Pope Gregory the Great. Trying to tie Proverbs 6.16 with this list, as the preacher did on Sunday, is pretty poor. Yep, there are seven sins listed, but they really are not the same. Saying that a heart that devises wickedness is lust "right there" really won't do. The Bible calls lust "lust" when it wants to.

After that, it was a "good advice" sermon. When the Devil gets you, this is what you should do to resist. Now - fine. But. BUT - this is where the cultural stuff really kicks in. In Britain, a church with good fellowship, a Biblical priority (not that there was much Bible in this service or sermon - we never had a Bible reading, for example), decent worship etc - such a church would not necessarily be so very conservative. Women - that men lust after you is your fault for dressing so provocatively. You are flaunting yourselves. Stop it - or do it at home only for your husbands. (There was no issue of men preening themselves in any way.) I am not making this up - this what we were told.

And ultimately - the main way to avoid lust is to make sure you are having regular sex with your spouse. I did wonder if Gill & I were the only non-married people in the building. I guess it was possible. Though there were teenagers present, maybe they didn't count. Being adult & single clearly was unthinkable. This again is what I mean by cultural differences. In the UK, there is such a rise in single adults that such a line is tantamount to pastoral neglect. Is that not true here? Or is serial marriage honestly seen as better than responsible singleness?

But more than this: Jesus wasn't mentioned. I said this was an advice sermon. So it was. Self help. The pastor's tips. Occasional proof texts thrown in. But no Jesus. No grace. And no cross. Which means - no recognition that people fail and hurt and need help to get up & try again with forgiveness and a clean start. If you are preaching on sin, how can you do it without ever mentioning the cross? This guy did it.

Gill & I had a good chat afterwards. And I saw lovely things there - good people, a great set up, a super band, an amazing technical awareness, real growth - but I do understand why Gill has stopped going. She says every now & then he preached in a way that really spoke to her, but too often it was like this. The first time I heard him I thought he was great. This time - really, and trying to be aware of the cultural stuff that does make a huge difference, I'm struggling to give more than a 1 out of 10.

So here are some pictures to cheer me up. Gill & the cats, George & Martha - George is the white one, Martha the grey. George climbs up from this cat nest up on top of the TV unit up to a high shelf where Gill has some pottery...

And here are some birds that wandered down the road. Herons, I think, which apparently mate for life, and which clearly have social outings. They also sound like velociraptors when they get distressed...


Markio said...

When you say cultural you point to British -v- American differences, but do you think that this might be an issue of "denominational culture"?

All churches assume certain beliefs and practices are ubiquitous, but more than that they often assume their paradigm is right.

as an aside, I think that was the most pretentious sounding sentance I have ever writen lol

Marcus G said...

It's a fair point. And I am someone who believes denominations have a real purpose in this area - because people are different, and presenting the same truth differently helps different people worship God well.

And I really must stress, I think this is a good church doing great work - I am so delighted S+C have made it a place for themselves to call their own spiritual home. It's just that it is probably too foreign for me; which is fine - but harder for my sister. And that is principaly a US/UK cultural thing. Though by now she is pretty acclimatised to being over here! Yet your heart remains your heart, and though you may alter your speech when you live abroad, you never do that journey with your heart.

BTW - your last sentence made me laugh too. And yet somehow I suspect you could manage even more pretension...

Markio said...

Culture is a strange thing when faith is involved - there is still a part of me that thinks converting to Christianity equates to converting to middle-class, white, British, bourgeois values... (now thats pretentious)

It really doesnt.

Its a difficult thing to epress your faith through your culture, and not use your faith to back up your culture. I certainly get it the wrong way round too often, I just pray that I see the errors before they hurt anyone else's faith.

Marcus G said...

Indeed a fine line, and one we normally get away without thinking through too much.

Here's a line that was expressed to me on Friday. George Bush said something like, America was giving democracy as God's gift to the world. Democracy is a good thing. But it is culturally ours. Is it really God's gift? Where do we get this from biblically? And is such a statement deifying democracy, which actually makes it idolatrous?

The opposite is to be so timid of one's culture that one doesn't share good things. That has to be bad as well. We post-Empire Brits can be very guilty of this. It is good to see our flag being used again at national celebrations in the manner of the US flag.

I think awareness adds integrity to the issue. But fear or guilt might be taking it too far.

Markio said...

You are right, I've had a very similar conversation with a good Christian friend, who pulled away in horror twice:

Firstly when I suggested heaven might be likened to a benevolent dictatorship - it is after all a Kingdom.

And secondly when I -and I hate to admitt it- agreed with George Bush, I do think we have something special mixed up in all the bad. We do need to be willing to encourage people to see the benefits of our system. Not that I would go to the length of saying "white man's burden", our culture is missing just as much as it has to offer.

camillofan said...

Cultural? Cultural? How about bad preaching?

Marcus G said...

Always to the heart of the matter.

Funny, I had a dream about preaching last night. I believe good preaching must be immersed in the scriptures and the result of much prayer. I am not a fan of "advice" sermons in general, because I think that it is more the preacher's job to teach the scriptures, to open up the possibilities of the relationship with Jesus, and to give people the tools to work with in order to apply the scriptures to their lives with the help of the Spirit.

Bad preaching? I listened to a corner of culturally conservative americana perpertuating itself, not even especially in Jesus' name. I, as a foreigner here, have no right right to make a judgement about the good- or bad-ness of what I heard on those terms. I didn't like it. That I can say. And yes, you've pushed me, so I'll go a clearer step further: this was an extraordinarily Bible-lite sermon, with more references to bass fishing than the scriptures. That's bad preaching.

Marcus G said...

And - one last thing! - I should be held to the same standard.

Markio said...

I usually like your sermons...