I often go to a local coffee shop owned by a guy who is highly involved in a local non-denominational church. It is a great place to get good coffee for cheap, plus the owner has made a policy for me that pastors drink free. Plus he allows me to use his electricity and his internet access. It is often a great place for me, especially when I need to get a lot of writing done.
We occasionally have light theological discussions and twice he has referred people to me while I have been here working, thanks be to God one who has since regularly receiving Christ’s gifts at Bethlehem.
An interesting conversation overheard from a group meeting for a “start up church.”
First the discussion revolves entirely around the stage area. Questions that have arisen, with my 3 cents:
Where does the baptism font go… do we even need one? Now the discussion on this question revolved largely around how to logistically place the band and it’s permanent setup as well as having a baptismal font. Said to be “non-negotiables” for the group: the drums, the lighting, the sound system, the space for the camera crew. Up for discussion, the baptismal font, it’s placement or even having one on stage and most likely it seems they will bring it in when necessary and place it in on the floor in front of the stage. So much for baptism being the font through which the entire structure and service flows.
Do we need to have any kind of altar or table? Now, this didn’t surprise me all that much since there is no proclamation and very infrequent distribution of the Lord’s Supper. This is no surprise when the Sacrament of the Altar being reduced to nothing but a symbolic memorial to do around Christmas and Easter (plus the consideration of adding a Lord’s Supper celebration on July 25th for Christmas in July). For these three times a year, the discussion involved bringing in a card table so it does not get in the way… sigh.
What about any kind of cross? There was discussion of if the cross was necessary since everyone knows what the cross means. I noted that there was one reference to a crucifix which was followed by a hearty laugh and a “but seriously now…” Finally the conclusion is that the stage is the place for the performers and speakers. The cross could be distracting to others and a discouragement to visitors who have negative views of the church.
This kind of discussion is symptomatic of the Church today. The focus of marketing, lighting, and how great of a video does it produce is prioritized over the gifts of Christ in Word and Sacrament. Like all things, where your heart is, where priorities lie, show what is in the heart and where faith and trust is located. These things teach and proclaim. When the baptismal font is front and center (or at the entrance and center) it proclaims and teaches, it puts up front that this is Christ giving Himself in water and Word. It teaches and proclaims and “sets the stage” that all things flow through this precious gift.
Not getting into the issue of the altar and Lord’s Supper today, as it largely involves the lack of belief that Christ is present in body and blood to give Himself for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Many of the same issues involved with Baptism apply to lack of altar.
All of these things get at what the church is viewed as, a place for entertainment and some kind of motivational or encouraging message involving something about God. When the concern is about stage areas rather the altar area where God dwells, when the gifts of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are pushed aside so that you may have “performers” up front and center, it speaks to what you believe is the church.
At Bethlehem, I am very thankful that the font is front and center at all times. I am thankful that the altar area is treated with reverence and that from there each week Christ’s gifts in the Lord Supper are given. I am thankful that the crucifix is displayed right alongside the pulpit. I am thankful that those who serve musically for the service do so with reverence and not as performers, but from the back in the choir loft.
And sure, we have a camera guy, Jack wonderfully uses his home video camera to record the service each week from the choir loft. And sure, we have lights, even an elaborate system that dims and involves 4 different switches and knobs. And sure, we even have microphones and speakers set up.
Yet none of these things are prominent and really none of these would be what you would notice upon entering. They all are in place to serve for clear proclamation of the Gospel and distribution of Christ’s gifts. Nothing predominates over the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.