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Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

“Burger King” Religion—”Have It Your Way!”

It is a sad fact that one finds a multiplicity of churches and denominations in the land. There are many confessions extant in these bodies—often expressing what we are convinced is contrary to the Word of God. Within the churches and denominations there is a trend to provide the kind of services that attract the differing age groups. Contemporary services are more suited to the young—and traditional services to those older.

A number of years ago there was the rise of mega-churches—with a large staff of ministers and other assistants. These appeared to attract people of all sorts and with all sorts of spiritual problems. Not infrequently the mega-church continued only under the strong and domineering leadership of one man. If he died, or was ousted, the large church often withered.

But many were not content with this diversity. They wanted something more, something different. Each should be able to decide for himself or herself how God should be worshiped. One’s own preferences should be the guide.

The Denver Post, Dec. 21, 2003, presented a feature article on these emerging “churches” in that area. The article stated:

Defining a church as emerging can be difficult because such groups take so many forms. That elusiveness, in fact, is part of the character of a movement that shuns structure and hates being put in a box.

“There is no formula,” said Sally Morganthaler, a Denver author and consultant who works with emerging churches nationwide. “If you’re going to become a model, then you become a franchise.”

Some emerging churches want to stay small, believing that’s the only way to maintain real relationships. Others hope to grow and touch as many people as they can.

Many use candles, incense and crosses—elements of Catholicism, Orthodoxy and mainline Protestantism that seeker churches reject—to forge a connection to Christianity’s rich history. Others say that’s not who they are.

Some emphasize shared leadership over the pastor-as-CEO approach typical of the seeker movement. Others have senior pastors (though they may be only 25).

The article continues by describing other of the differences that abound in the movement:

Mike Shepherd, 39, started Connected Life Church in August. He calls it “the church of the bar.” It meets at the D-Note in Old Town Arvada on the last Tuesday of each month because the unchurched crowd “wants to play on the weekend—they want to ski or hike.”

Shepherd fills the club with incense and flashes ancient religious art onto projection screens before launching into programs such as “Spirituality and ‘The Matrix,'” or “Microbrews in the Bible.”

“One of our big phrases is to make this a safe place to engage at the level where you feel comfortable,” he said. “It’s safe to explore….”

The article concludes by describing some of the people and things that can be seen in these “churches.”

At 6:30 p.m. on a recent Sunday, Scum of the Earth church (

I Cor. 4:11-13

—GVB) began its weekly gathering with pizza.

A deejay spun Bjort and Cake, alternative rock favorites.

Many in the crowd of 200 looked ready for a punk show.

Black clothes. Chains. Blue hair. Pierced lips and noses.

The walls were covered in art produced by Scum regulars, including a wall-sized mural of Bible scenes and surrealistic interpretations of Christ’s Resurrection.

“We are a church for the left out and the right-brained,” said Mike Sares, 49, the pastor….

…Sares sees different priorities in the Scum crowd. They want to sing, they don’t want to be sung to. They don’t want to go to church to listen to a sermon, watch a drama skit and go home without talking to anyone. They want to offer a spare bedroom to a stranger who got kicked out of the house.

Most of all, they come to Scum of the Earth Church to connect with kindred souls.

“You can come in here and not have everyone stare at you,” said Steve Warren, 21, who until recently wore dread locks and still stands out with nine body piercings….

It’s sad to what extent some will go to “worship.” I was about to write: “worship God.” But they do not appear to be doing that. One would think that Satan surely encourages this kind of “worship.” It is man-centered and designed to please man. It reminds of the days of the Judges when everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

In all humility we ought to give God thanks that our forefathers did write creeds that bind the Reformed churches to the truths of the Word of God. We can give God thanks that we gather in the churches to hear sermons that present Christ and Him crucified. We can praise God for the dignity and piety of the services. One can appreciate it, too, that those who assemble to worship come dressed in a manner that indicates reverence as well (though perhaps we are “slipping” a bit in this regard). We see in dress and attitude the desire of covenant families to fellowship with God in Jesus Christ. But the number of those who appear to desire this seems to grow smaller and smaller as the end of time approaches.

“What Think Ye of the Christ? Whose Son is He?”

It is not unusual at Christmas

time to read articles concerning Jesus. Many of these articles, of course, come with conclusions not based on Scripture but the theories of man. In a feature article, U.S. News and World Report, December 22, 2003, writes of this. The article treats especially a recently published book, The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. The article says the book is “a gripping thriller suggesting that some of the fundamental beliefs held dear by millions of Christians are not only wrong but were deviously foisted upon believers by the Roman Catholic hierarchy….”

The article does present some interesting information:

Way back in February of 1804 President Thomas Jefferson, ever the enlightened rationalist, sat down in the White House with two identical copies of the New Testament, a straight-edge razor, and a sheaf of octavo-size paper. Over the course of a few nights, he made quick work of cutting and pasting his own bible, a slim volume he called “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.” After slicing away every passage that suggested Jesus’s divine nature, Jefferson had a Jesus who was no more and no less than a good, ethical guide.

The third U.S. president is credited with being among the first wave of Americans to tinker with the traditional image of Jesus. But that wave was far from the last. As two new scholarly studies show, for more than two centuries Americans have been busy recasting the image of Jesus to suit contemporary sensibilities and to advance personal or political agendas. From the revivalist sermons of the 19th century’s Second Great Awakening to the ’70s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar to Mel Gibson’s forthcoming film depicting Christ’s Passion, those engaged in representing Jesus always claim to be returning to the real Galilean….

…Though other revision

ists may not have been so bold as to cut and paste the New Testament, Jefferson was not alone in his revisionary thinking. Old-line Calvinists, anti-Calvinist liberal Protestants, deists, and evangelical revivalists all gave different hues and tints to their pictures of Jesus.

It is true that there are many different presentations of Jesus. Who is correct? Which presentation is the most accurate? Satan himself is pleased to have man present Jesus as a morally good man, but not the divine Son in the flesh. He would gladly agree with Thomas Jefferson that all the references in the Bible to the second person in our flesh should be cut from the Bible.

It becomes, then, not only a matter of who Jesus really is—but on what basis the conclusions are drawn. Only by denying the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible can man come with all kinds of different conclusions.

Let the words of the apostle Paul resound loudly and clearly, “I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). Then we must interpret that truth without cutting out the references to His divinity. Otherwise, there is no hope but only despair.