It is 9:30 A.M. on a Sunday morning. God’s people, and you with them, are all seated together in God’s house of worship. You are all prepared to worship and serve your God by singing praises to His name, by reading His Word, and by hearing the voice of the Great Shepherd of the sheep speak to you through His herald, His official ambassador, your minister. And you are very eager for that too. Anxiously you await the moment for your minister to come through the door onto the platform and before the pulpit. Anxiously you await the moment when your minister will say, “Beloved in our Lord, hear now the Word of God. Thus saith the Lord.”
But in the midst of your preparedness, in the midst of your eagerness to hear your minister preach the Word of God to you, you have a very uneasy feeling. On this Sunday morning you sense that something is wrong. Very wrong! There is in the air a new sound, a strange sound, one which you are not used to hearing. It began already when, instead of hearing the organist play some fitting organ music, a versification, perhaps, of one of your beloved Psalms, which in the past always served to place you in a mood for proper worship, you heard a song the words of which were familiar a few years ago: “Be a clown! Be a clown! All the world loves a clown!” And having heard, that, you say to yourself: what in the world is going on? And, even more, you ask yourself that question when your minister does walk through the door and does stand before the pulpit. He does not look at all like your minister. Instead of wearing a nice suit befitting the office of the ministry, he is wearing some baggy clothes. Instead of having his hair combed and in place, he is wearing a brightly colored wig. Instead of having his face washed, he has his face full of makeup. You look at your minister in disbelief! Why, you say to yourself, he looks like a clown, and he even acts like a clown! Look at him! He has just jumped off the pulpit! He is going through the aisles passing out popcorn to everyone! He is even giving a piece to me! And now look at him! He is riding a bicycle, the wheels of which are all bent up, up and down the aisles! Am I in church, or am I in a circus? Maybe I have come to the wrong place!
Recognizing those thoughts in your mind, and that look of disbelief on your face, your minister jumps up on the platform once more and he says to you: “Perhaps you are wondering what in the world I am doing. Perhaps you are wondering why I am dressed like a clown, passing out popcorn, and riding a bicycle with bent up wheels up and down the aisle. I am a clown. That is what every Christian and particularly every minister should be. Don’t you know that? Never again will you see me on this pulpit wearing a minister’s frock. Never again will you see me preaching from this pulpit a sermon of forty-five minutes or so in length. From now on I am going to be a clown. And if you want to know why I am going to be a clown, turn with me to the Word of God in Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians. There you read in the third chapter, the eighteenth verse, ‘Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.’ ‘Let him become a fool, Paul says in that verse. And still further, turn with me to what the Apostle Paul says in the fourth chapter of his first Epistle to the Corinthians, verse ten. ‘We are fools for Christ’s sake,’ Paul says in that verse. That is why I am dressed like a clown. That is why I act like a clown. I have become a fool for Christ’s sake.”
Perhaps, having read this article thus far, you are beginning to think to yourself, what a farfetched bit of nonsense Rev. Flikkema is writing. I never read anything so ridiculous in my life. To think that I would ever see the day when my minister shuns. his minister’s frock and dresses up like a clown! To think that I would ever see the day when my minister passes out popcorn and rides up and down the aisles of my church on a bicycle with bent up wheels! To think that I would ever see the day when my minister justifies his clownish appearance and actions by quoting the Word of God in I Corinthians 3, 4. What nonsense!
Yes, what nonsense! But, nevertheless, what I have written is not nonsense in the sense that it does not take place. It does take place. In Time magazine’s September 1 issue in its department on “Religion” you will find an article entitled “Becoming Fools For Christ.” And underneath that title you will find a subtitle which reads “Clowning as an aid to holy ritual and service.” If you have Time magazine in your homes, you ought to read this article. But if, however, you do not, allow me to quote some pertinent excerpts from the article.
On the darkened stage, a white-faced clown with bulbous nose, orange woolen wig and baggy red-and-white costume sits at a table reading a large book marked Bible (emphasis mine—R.F.). He eats from a box of popcorn as big as a milk crate. Beside him two mimes in blue leotards do their silent best to act starved. When the clown notices, he merely makes the sign of the cross and calmly resumes reading and eating. Now a large banner unfurls upstage saying FEED THE HUNGRY! At last the clown gets the message and hands small bags to two members of the audience, with gestures to indicate that each is to put a piece of popcorn into the mouth of his neighbor and embrace him, then pass on the bag so the neighbor can do the same. Soon the audience of 200, nearly all dressed as clowns, is busy munching and embracing.
As an explanation for the above, Time has this to say.
It was not a bizarre come-on from Barnum and Bailey. Not at all. The 200 clowns were a congregation. The popcorn passalong was part of a two-hour Christian Communion service conducted entirely in mime and gesture by the Rev. Floyd Shaffer, the red-and-white clown, who is really a Lutheran minister from Roseville, Mich.
For our Michigan readers, that brings this type of thing close to home. Concerning the “theological justification” for this new ministry, the article goes on to say:
The clergy clowns find a theological justification for their unusual ministry in the injunction of St. Paul to the Corinthians to become “fools for Christ’s sake” because God has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.”
As proof, therefore, of this clown ministry they cite the Apostle Paul. Interesting it is to note, however, that they do not only cite the Apostle Paul, but they also cite the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Concerning that fact the article says:
They discern multilayered analogies between the clown and Christ: the clown’s joy in living and mimed delight in simple things, like the scent of a flower, for instance, recalls Jesus’ command to “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.” The simplicity and child-like persistence of the clown can have a special meaning for Christians. “The clown refuses to accept the limits of the possible,” explains Tim Kehl, a professional clown and magician who is also a United Church of Christ minister. “A clown will insist on riding a bicycle whose wheels are out of kilter or trying to walk a slack tightrope. Sooner or later he will succeed—to the great delight of the audience. The resurrection of Jesus is the supreme example of God’s refusal to accept the limits of the possible” (emphasis mine—R.F.). Through love, the clown, like Jesus, can transform the ordinary into the sacred.
And, finally, as proof of the fact that this clown ministry is by no means small in numbers, I submit the following quote:
Today there are 3,000 clown ministry groups in the U.S. who put on big noses and suits of many colors in order to serve God.
Sound good? Is this type of ministry, this, what I called in the beginning of the article, “a new sound,” a proper thing to follow? Do the arguments, the proof, in I Corinthians and in the life and ministry of Jesus sound persuasive? Concerning the passages in I Corinthians, it is not the intent of this article to say a great deal. The only thing I want to say is that anyone who uses those passages of the Word of God as proof that ministers, as well as God’s people, should dress up like clowns, simply does not understand those passages of the Word of God. He simply does not! Concerning the proof of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is also not the intent of this article to say a great deal. There are, however, two remarks in that connection that I do want to say. In the first place, when I read this article it struck a very familiar note. As I read this article my thoughts immediately went back to my high school years. I remembered a chapel exercise that we were required to attend. It was a film. It was a film about a clown who went about doing good things for the people round about him. But in the end no one understood this clown or appreciated the good things that this clown did for them. And because they did not, they hanged him. That’s right. They hanged him! Or was it that they crucified him? It really makes no difference. The point is that this clown was supposed to represent Jesus! Jesus, according to that film, was that clown! And that brings me to the second observation that I want to make, and that is this. I took exception to that film which represented my Savior as a clown then. And I take exception to that film and any other person or organization representing my Savior as a clown now. Jesus was no clown! A clown, according to my Webster’s dictionary, is by definition, “A clumsy, boorish, or incompetent person. A performer who entertains, as in a circus, by antics, jokes, tricks, etc.; jester. A person who constantly plays the fool, makes jokes, etc; buffoon.” That according to Webster’s dictionary is what a clown is. I submit to you that Jesus was not clumsy! He was not boorish! He was not an incompetent person! He did not entertain people! He did not play the fool! He did not make jokes! He was not a buffoon! But on the contrary, He was the Savior, the Son of God in our flesh Who preached the good news of salvation to those whom the Father had given to Him from all eternity, and Who preached everlasting damnation to all those whom the Father had not given to Him from all eternity.
And the point is, He preached! And so also does He command every single one of the men whom He has called to stand before God’s people in His house on the Lord’s Day. He commands them to preach. Not to be clumsy! Not to be boorish! Not to be a bunch of incompetents! Not to be a performer! Not to play the fool! Not to make jokes or be a buffoon! But to be a preacher and to preach! And woe unto the preacher if he does not do that! It is by the preaching, the God-ordained means of the official proclamation of the Gospel, that God saves His people—not by a bunch of clownish actions. Those who want to quote the Apostle Paul ought to read what the Apostle Paul has to say in I Corinthians 1, verses 16 to the end. The one word of the Apostle Paul in all those verses is: preach. Preach for it is “the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” Preach “lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” Preach for “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” If you want to talk about foolishness, then all you have to do is preach. To the ungodly world, preaching is foolishness. But not to God. To God, preaching, a minister standing upon the pulpit and “Thus saith the Lord,” is “the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
But the so-called church today does not like the God-ordained means of the preaching, and in its place has set up a bunch of clowns. Is that a sign of the times? To be sure. He that hath an ear, let him hear.