Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Three ways our churches can forget Christ this Halloween...

...or, "An open letter to Real Life Church."

Christians react differently to the Halloween question.  As a matter of conscience, some feel it best to avoid participation, while others use it as a means of preaching Christ and Him crucified.  Assuming that God gives us opportunity to minister to both the lost and saint alike, what are some ways that a church can miss the mark?

Image credit: Murals for Kids
This weekend, our family visited Real Life Church's "Halloween Under the Big Top."  For the most part, we had a great time.  However, as a fellow brother-in-arms in ministry, I could not help but notice three rings in this circus that could have performed better.  How can churches neglect Christ this Halloween?

Churches forget Christ when they forget their witnessing opportunity.
As we entered the church, we received fliers for various functions and offerings at the church.  We had cause to question our marriage, the effectiveness of our family life, and, of course, what we were doing around Christmas.  However, I never saw a gospel tract or had cause to question our eternal destinies.

While an expository sermon may be unrealistic at such a function, think of it this way: such community outreach activities invite fish to jump into your boat.  Parents brought kids to your church and gave them bags for them to fill.  Indeed, you had volunteers posted who were handing out bags to any child lacking one.  Why not also have evangelistic teams canvasing your crowd?  Why not pass out invitations to some kind of intro-to-Christianity Bible study?  Impressive entertainment notwithstanding, there seemed to be a hole in the experience.

Some believe it to be underhanded to hold events for the community on the church campus and then evangelize, as though people don't come to a church function anticipating some sort of a spiritual message.  I hope that is not your position.  Christ-less events prove only one thing: that the word "church" doesn't belong on the sign of your amusement center, and that the church body's priorities don't match those of Christ, the Head.  With that said, if you simply didn't think about the evangelistic opportunity or give it enough thought, repent and prayerfully plan for next year: He's given you a great opportunity based on the seeming success of this year.

Understand that I am not saying you need set up "Hell houses," those cheap knock-offs of haunted houses, in an attempt to shock the unregenerate into belief.  God's given you talent and resources, so you can be creative like you were this year while also being Kingdom-focused.

This also includes remembering what God has done in His church before us...

Churches forget Christ when they forget their history.
Halloween, with all its costumes and imagery, excuses churches to instruct its members in unique and memorable ways.  I'm not one to have skits and dramas every week at church, lest the church become entertainment-driven and the Bible drowns in a sea of audio-visual stimulation.

But, here is a holiday affording us a superb opportunity for drama.  Thus, many church members dress up as biblical characters or popular leaders of church history.  Because Martin Luther chose October 31 to nail his 95 Theses on the church doors, many Christians see Halloween as an opportunity to reflect upon and teach Christ's work in the church past.

Now, that is not to say a day "under the big top" is a bad theme for a church function.  Christians can see God's grandeur in observing some of His fiercest creations, the human form pushed to the edge of its abilities, and His physics in motion.  I don't know if that is what some of the planners of this event had in mind.  Unfortunately, it did not come across this way... and what was missing is key for our churches.

Can churches "do" history and education well during Halloween?  Consider this: in the "treat-in-trunk" area, there were some nice booths set up, like the promotion of the children's classic, E. B. White's Charlotte's Web...

...or an excellent tribute to world of Disney:

Let's not miss this opportunity to also share our spiritual heritage in Christ with young and old alike. With the collective talent at the church, I'm certain you could also develop an memorable homage to those who shed their blood to get the Bible in our hands.  When we get young people excited about the saints who came before us, we glorify God by giving them more reasons to praise Him... slice of Heaven if there ever was one!

Sadly, I only counted two Bible-themed displays.  One was on the Garden of Eden and the other was the "S.S. Ninevah" beside Jonah and the great fish.  I was sure to personally thank them for such wonderful testaments, but those stand out in my memory as the only signs of spiritual planning

That brings me to my last point.

Churches forget Christ when they forget the holiness of their  church.
It is well said that the people are the church, not the building.  Legalists, cultural Pharisees, and the like call for an honor to be bestowed on a brick-and-mortar edifice divorced from the honor owed to God alone.

Yet, as the pendulum swings, we forget the value of holiness, setting things apart from the world for God's use.  For good or for ill, the church building is a symbol of the living body of Christ attending there.  Therefore, certain standards and guidelines serve as the bare minimum of the church's responsibility to the community.

The first two are already mentioned: feeding the body of Christ and showing the hungry how to find the Bread of Life.  The third is more basic: ensure decency and propriety in your exhibitions.

The signs for the dance routine in your sanctuary/auditorium excited my kids, so we decided to check it out.  The first performance featured little girls, no older than 8 or 9, gyrating to the overtly sexual and demeaning lyrics of Estelle's "Freak."  We did not wait to see what came next: we walked out for the sake of our own kids.  Thankfully, the base was booming so loud that our kids missed most of the objectionable words, but the production, for us, was over.

Outside, we met a family we knew who said they just left the acrobatics routine.  We asked them how it was, and they warned us that the song choices there were also inappropriate.

I understand that outside organizations provided this entertainment, but we are responsible for what happens on our church property during these events.  My hope is that this was the result of incomplete vetting, that the song choices and acts were not verified by the pastoral staff before showtime.

Brothers, we cannot neglect our duty to live our lives worthy of the call of Christ.  In doing so, our churches become trees bearing the holy fruit in communities needing nourishment.  We cannot, for the sake of entertainment or popularity, broadcast such base and worldly amusements as accompanied these performances from the same speakers that project the Word of God on Sundays.

It's not about trying to force the culture to act like us when they have no encounter yet with the Holy Spirit. It is about being apart to honor Christ and making the purest presentation of Him as possible.  It is about teaching our congregations and our kids to apply Scripture to their own lives and choices.  It is about glorifying God in whatever we do.

I hope you receive this in a spirit of brotherly concern.  I write it in this format to also encourage other churches to remain true to the Head of the Church.  May God richly bless your ministry as you prayerfully uphold Scripture above all else.

For His Kingdom,
Shaun Marksbury