Notice that the date of this event is on Easter Sunday. When interviewed, the pastor of this congregation claims that this comes from the verse in Hebrews that says to “strip off” everything that entangles us and keeps us from getting closer to Christ. This stripping is what Easter means for him. He acknowledges that there is the possibility of misunderstanding and even commented that he may need to have a couple of security guards in order to ensure that no one who comes actually tries to strip in the congregational building. But, it is all for the Gospel, so it must be OK, right?
There are many things that I could say, but perhaps what I could clearly point out is the extreme loss of decorum in many of today’s Christian announcements. We are supposed to be a group that influences others to bring change, but some of what I have seen in today’s Evangelical congregations is the desire to shock others in order to entice them to come. Various pastors go out of their way to say something so shocking that people will come simply out of a sense of “it couldn’t be so.” The idea, of course, is to use that initial presence of a “non-Christian” person as the opportunity to preach the Gospel to them.
Frankly, I can remember some of the beginnings of this type of thinking back when I was young. I can remember people doing clown worship services, in which the preacher wore a clown outfit just as though he were a performer in Godspell (a Christian musical from 1971). But, insofar as these efforts drew attention to the preacher or the setting rather than to the message, these efforts were mistaken.
Not all efforts were mistaken. When the Jesus People movement began, it began among people who had reacted strongly to the spiritual sterility of the 1950’s. Nor were they the only ones reacting against the sterility. Groups such as Campus Crusade for Christ, Youth for Christ, Inter-Varsity Crusade, etc., were all groups that openly had issues with the spiritual lacks of the 1950’s. Those groups did not engage in “shock” outreach (at first they would wear ties, etc.), but they all went outside the congregations in order to reach a generation of young men and women that were being lost to Christ and the Church.
Because Jesus People often came out of the various hippie, drug, etc., movements, they did not dress in suits and ties, dresses and hats. It was not surprising that the preachers that rose up among them also did not wear those accoutrements. Those groups and congregations welcomed people in all stages of their life and in all stages of dress. As a result, the Gospel spread among many who had previously discarded the Church. But, note that the preachers and the congregations were not trying to shock others. Rather, they dressed in the way in which they knew to dress. They composed and sang hymns in the musical language that they knew. What they did, they did in innocence. [Yes, I know there were some “wolf” groups present as well, such as the Children of God, but do not miss the main point.]
A generation or so later, however, much of the innocence is gone. You now have Evangelical preachers deliberately getting themselves tattooed and pierced in order to “identify” with their congregation, and sometimes even to deliberately rebel against a supposed “established” church. On the other side, you have pastors such as the one above deliberately shocking even non-Christian sensibilities under the guise of following the Gospel command to evangelize. The original sense of coming to Jesus in the state in which one found oneself has changed to a sense of rebellion against, well … really … rebellion for the sake of rebellion, for certainly informal dress and attitude is quite acceptable in most Evangelical congregations today.
And so, a certain sense of respect for the holiness of God has disappeared. Even the most underdressed of the Jesus People would go into worship with a sense of reverence, and a sense that they had finally found the God that their lives needed. To announce worship in such a way as to simply shock for shock’s sake was not present. That sense of respect for the presence of God has disappeared in all too many of today’s shock pastors. I am almost to the point of saying that it is time to stop calling them pastors, or at least of washing their mouths out with soap.
I am tired of shock pastors and shock churches. I would rather have an underdressed Jesus People who goes into worship with a sense of reverence and an acoustic guitar than a shock pastor who has an expensively electronically amplified praise group waiting to surprise me and to emotionally arouse me.
Finally, yes, it is a joy to go into an Orthodox parish and be overawed with the presence of God, with the icons of those who are part of my family, with singing that is raised unto God, and with a Divine Liturgy that reminds me that in the midst of change there is One who does not change and is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And, yes, he does “shock” me on a regular basis, but not because he is trying to shock me but because:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 58:8-9