Pastor Pete’s sermon notes:
Today we are thinking about how we as individuals and churches are getting waylaid, misdirected in our spiritual growth and as agents of God’s grace.
Chapter 5 of the U-turn church teaches that if we want to revitalize, we need to learn to tell the difference between Biblical Absolutes and personal preferences.
I’ll read a slightly revised couple of sentences from the very beginning of the chapter:
Sometimes our personal preferences line up with the truth and teaching of the Bible… A surprising amount of the time, they do not. God gave the church a mission to … make itself and Jesus attractive to those outside the local church. God offers us direction along the way. Often churches make their personally prefered way of getting to this destination a biblical absolute, when in reality there are different cultural routes to the same destination. God knows the best route for your church.
When the church needs to make adaptive change the book make it very clear that often the things we want to cling to are actually matters of personal preference, not Biblical Absolutes.
They give examples of people not wanting to give up organ or piano accompaniment.
They tell of resistance to drums being used in worship.
Those are personal preferences.
Believers in a growing relationship with God are told in scripture they are to engage in worship – by themselves and together.
That is a Biblical absolute.
But exactly how is not said.
The bible leaves us room to figure out how to worship in ways that make sense culturally, in different times and places.
What I’ve seen – because I’ve seen the reluctance to give up organ music, for example — is that often it is the cultural worship expressions of fifty to 100 years ago which people cling to.
(this is especially strong in immigrants, and among them in those who long for the motherland and the way things were before WWII and before they “had to leave”)
Or, in the case of my generation, something around the 1980s.
There will come a day when the kids all know a new instrument and musical style that is strange to us boomers, and we will fight to keep our drums and guitars…
So if we want to make a U-turn, if we want to return to the purpose God gave for the church, we need to find some holy zeal, feel fresh urgency about the gospel message of Jesus, get our vision and mission clear, pray in a way that will be new for many, and do some hard work to set aside our personal preferences in order to return to the Biblical core purpose – celebrating and telling of the restoration of all things by Jesus. Sharing that in a way the culture around us can understand.
In the chapter, they actually use three categories: Biblical Absolutes, then a middle category called Biblical convictions, then personal preferences.
Here’s a good example:
- a biblical absolute is baptism,
- a biblical conviction is whether you baptize infants or adults, and
- the personal or cultural preference is sprinkling or immersion.
Personal preferences are often based in cultural habits…
Spend a moment thinking about what we do as church that might be simply cultural, and not really following a Bible Absolute (I will get us started):
- Children’s messages,
- sitting in rows
- meeting on Sunday
- worshipping for one to one and a half hours a week
- wearing a tie, for the men, hats for the women
- using Thee and Thou
- Having a preacher deliver a sermon in a lecture style
- showing little emotion in worship
- offering collected during the service
All of these have “some” importance, but they are not the really important thing about being church.
What happens is that the cultural patterns you are used to for church “become” church.
And they take the church captive. And that captivity creates a culture gap, sometimes even within a particular congregation, let alone for those outside.
A U-turn is partly about coming out of cultural captivity.
Trouble is, you can’t easily “see” your own culture. This is hard. And you can’t easily let go of your preferred cultural patterns. Are you ready to expierience such loss for the sake of Christ?
Our passages for today speak of cultural captivity among God’s people.
The first one, the words of Jesus, are a reprimand to the leaders of his own religion or “church.”
It comes when his disciples did not follow the cultural (personal preference) rules the church leaders had made.
He quotes Isaiah prophecying about people who do lip service to God but who are not undergoing heart change. Then he says:
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
Or, in the language of our U-turn chapter: you have let go of biblical principles and essentials and are instead following cultural preferences.
We now move to our other passage, from Colossians. This one has been very alive for me this week.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”
There are a lot of interpretation challenges with this. Here is the Message:
Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ.1
See to it that no one takes you captive….
captive to anything more than Jesus already having died for you to extend you the grace to have your relationship with Creator God restored, a relationship you could never make right on your own.
There is no Jesus Plus whatever. No – Jesus but only if organ music is played, or only guitars and drums. No – Jesus but only if everyone dresses or behaves as we expect…
See to it no one takes you captive. Just Jesus. He’s the one to be voluntarily captive to.
CCC, are you culturally captive? Are you seeing a U-turn is needed? What are you going to do? Are you prepared for the hardship of letting go of personal preferences so God can be glorified.