Most of America's problems are cultural. Even our economic problems stem from the cultural rejection of personal responsibility and the acceptance of collective responsibility. And none of our problems would be as bad if the church was still shaping the culture instead of merely responding to it. I was reminded of this during my annual holiday trip home to The Woodlands, Texas.
I've attended Christmas Eve services four out of the last six years at the Woodlands Church (formerly Fellowship of the Woodlands), which is a Southern Baptist mega church that keeps its Baptist affiliation well hidden from the general public. That is symptomatic of what ails the church in 21st Century America. Production and marketing take center stage. Core beliefs are lost somewhere in the process.
Make no mistake about it; the production is good at The Woodlands Church. The set is grand and the music is wonderful. Pastor Kerry Shook and his wife Chris are largely responsible for that. Their son, a musician living in Nashville, comes home to perform in the Christmas services every year. I've seldom heard a more talented young singer and guitarist.
Couched in the musical productions of these mega churches, one sees an overwhelming desire to deliver a product that demonstrates the cultural relevance of the church. This is especially true on holidays when the church has more visitors than usual. This Christmas Eve, one of the singers was dressed like Michael Jackson and was moon walking around the stage as others sang. I didn't see a likeness of baby Jesus in a manger. But I saw a likeness of Michael Jackson in a sequin outfit.
Many people dispute whether Jackson was a pedophile. No one disputes that he is still culturally relevant. Nonetheless, it was strange seeing Michael Jackson's likeness on stage just minutes after the church staff assured parents that the church nursery provided a safe environment for their young children. Mega churches are seldom short on cash or irony.
After the music, an enormous train engine (actually, it was a life size model) appeared in the middle of the stage. It was slowly moved in on a set of make shift tracks in the midst of smoke and accompanied by the sound of a real train whistle. The pastor boasted that the whistle could be heard all the way over on highway 242. I agreed that the set was impressive. It probably took the church staff as much time to build it as would have been required to build a medium sized home for an impoverished Houston family.
The crowd at Woodlands Church also got to see a YouTube video of a man watching an old train pull into a station. I still don't understand the point of showing the video, which featured a man so excited to see an old train that he took the Lord's name in vain three times. Let that sink in for a minute: The Woodlands Church played (in church, mind you) a video in which a man was taking the Lord's name in vain three times. And they did it as part of a Christmas Eve service celebrating the birth of our Lord.
It reminded me of the time I took the Lord's name in vain in a lecture at Summit Ministries in 2010. I didn't mean to do it. But it didn't matter. The kids at the ministry let me have it - and rightfully so. I was absolutely in the wrong.
My question for the mega church is simple: how did the commandment-violating video get past the entire staff at the Woodlands Church without someone catching it and correcting it? It's pretty easy to do an overdub on "oh my God" to turn it into "oh my." But the entire staff missed it. Or perhaps they didn't care.
Unlike my teenaged Summit students, senior pastor Kerry Shook couldn't see anything wrong with playing that video in church on Christmas Eve - even though its narrator took the Lord's name in vain three times. He just laughed at it. And that was all that mattered. The service wasn't meant to honor God. It was meant to entertain.
Kerry and Chris delivered a joint sermon, which had a broad general theme connected to the giant locomotive that stood behind them. The thesis was that we need to relinquish our need to control people and circumstances and instead let God direct our lives. But during the short sermon, Kerry's wife said something rather unusual. It had to do with holy moments in our lives. It was as morally confused a statement as I have ever heard inside a place calling itself a church.
Without batting an eye, Chris Shook stated that all of the moments in our lives are equally holy no matter what we are doing because they were all created by God. So she insisted that we must learn to live in the moment, rather than seek a holy moment - because, once again, all moments are holy, and equally so.
To illustrate the error of Chris Shook's statement, consider these "equally holy" moments, which were "all created by God":
-A man sees a woman being raped and intervenes to stop the attack.
-A man sees a woman being raped and decides to join in.
-A man gives his wife a dozen roses.
-A man gives his wife herpes.
-A man tells his grandmother she is a saint.
-A man tells his grandmother she is a whore.
Obviously, not every moment in our lives is equally holy or God honoring "no matter what we are doing." It matters very much what we are doing. Everyone knows that, including Chris' husband Kerry who contradicted his wife about five minutes later. Near the end of their joint sermon, Kerry thanked people for coming to The Woodlands Church on "Christmas Eve, one of the holiest nights of the year."
Put simply, there can be no holier or holiest night if every moment in our lives is equally holy. Either Kerry was right or his wife Chris was right. A cannot be not-A. The law of non-contradiction matters.
Every right thinking person knows that Kerry was right. His wife needed to sit down and let her husband the senior pastor deliver the correct message unencumbered by contradictions steeped in moral relativism. The culture teaches moral relativism. The church needs to correct it.
Of course, having Chris up there was the most important thing because it shows that The Woodlands Church really isn't a Baptist Church after all. They let women preach and that shows they are culturally relevant. A little bad theology never hurt anyone.
In our holiest moments, we recognize that sound theology must defer to the secular doctrine of feminism. Some doctrines are holier than others. And relativism is culturally relevant even when it isn't logically consistent.