“Look to the rock from which you were hewn,” is a call from Isaiah 51:1. Israel was to look to Abraham and Sara from which the Promised Seed came and therefore their righteousness did. In popular parlance it means to look back to where you came from. Contemporary worship of every stripe, every denomination, and yes even the oxymoronic non-denominational, should look to First Baptist Church, Pflugerville, Texas. That’s the rock from which they were hewn.
I went to their “traditional service” in October 2016 which you know means the earliest service. There was 150 people there with a large choir being a 1/3 of that. Average age 65+. The pastor noted, and this didn’t appear to be disingenuous, that this service was the one growing in numbers. Their service was choregraphed and because it has multiple moving parts means – like their offspring the contemporary worship kids – that people move about while the prayers were being led by the various people who lead them.
In song, in pray, in the message I heard not one word of Gospel. The Law was there throughout. The sermon was based on the account of Ananias and Sapphira, and unlike their contemporary church offspring which I have attended, they at least made an attempt to do exegesis on the actual text.
The theme was “Our Integrity”. The parts were integrity means 1) Advocacy – for God and others. (Here there was a whiff of the Gospel in that because Jesus advocated for you, you are to for others.) 2) Honesty – Total honesty was the mantra as if the pastor did not know that this theme has been a stock formula for sit-coms for at least 50 years. In them total honesty never works; in the pastor’s sermon, it will work, and God will reward it. 3) Generosity – You get more interested in eternal things by transferring money (Yes, he said money.) from the temporal into the eternal. You will be more interested because where “money leads – hearts follow.”
On this last point he quoted Jesus’ “where your treasure is they will be your heart also” totally oblivious to the fact that he bastardized the Lord’s teaching. Jesus says you know where your heart is by asking where’s my treasure. The pastor said you could make spiritual things your treasure by transferring money there first. If you did the outward, the inward would follow. The whole point of the sermon was integrity and his opening illustration was how people do things outwardly to give you the impression they are doing something they really aren’t. And, along with every sermon I’ve heard in the churches who don’t divide law and gospel, there was a doable Law. “Lord,” the pastor prayed, “We’re not always faithful in using our money.” The implied point is: sometimes we are.
The church reminded me of a former member of mine who I transferred from my Louisiana church to a confessional Lutheran church in Texas. I won’t name names as that has been over 17 years ago and there has been a change in pastors. She wrote of how exhausted she was when she came away from Divine Service. They always wanted something from you: time, money, emotion, support, involvement, something. Everyone had to be – and apparently was – involved in doing something for the church. This is First Baptist, Pflugerville. In the service you give praise, prayers, thanks, and emotion. At the end of the service you are asked to give your commitment first to Jesus then to the many programs of the church. Outside the church doors are “vendors” where you can give money for coffee, for snacks, or about a half-dozen programs.
Three final points, because no reads long blogs. (This by the way is going to lead to the stultification of scholarship among us. Short blogs that are long on opinions will become how we do theology. Hence my Abby Hoffmanesque plea: “Don’t read this blog!”) 1) You cheesy-smiled contemporary guys are fooling yourself if you think you’re ever going to make your square-headed Germans as friendly as Baptists who get friendliness in worship in their mother’s milk. 2) There was a genuine longing to meet Jesus either in the sky, in heaven, or in that service which highlighted their total denying that the Lord is in Word and Sacraments for them. 3) As I’ve seen Lutheran chancels marred-scarred by the detritus of rock and roll – guitars, amps, drums – so was their baptismal font. The center of every real Baptist church was where the guitars and bongo trumps were leaned, thus hiding the “rock” from which Baptists were hewn.