Strobe lights sweep across the auditorium. Music pounds against my eye sockets. Hands are in the air. They praise God with a passion that used to humble me to tears.
I’m in my seat, arms crossed, eyes half open. Literally, I’m in a church.
I’M IN A CHURCH AND THERE’S STROBE LIGHTS.
I have been in the dregs of America’s Bible Belt for barely two months and already, I have been exposed to some wacky Christian stuff – I won’t give examples, a simple Google search will do the trick.
But it’s not the far-out, loony Christian stuff that gets to me. It’s the little nuances within the realm of familiar. The neighborhood church down the road that also charges you for coffee and a Bible study. The pastor who preaches about how to be a good person without referencing the Bible. The worship leader who calls for people to come to the front of the room if they want to become a Christian.
Emotionalism. Confrontationalism. Highly-engineered services with strategic ways to induce the ‘sense of God’s presence.’
This is not something that I grew up with but I’ve recently been experiencing it in my church-hunting. It looks inspiring but, for someone like me, a lively and emotional church service feels not only gimmicky but also, well, batshit crazy.
When did Christians get so wild and unorthodox?
There’s little to prove that it’s wrong or that God is Not Pleased with a capital N and P. It just feels wrong which is funny since I’m criticizing how churches seem to rely on feeling.
Occasionally, I flashback to my old, Calvinist-Reformed church where a fellow churchgoer once said to me:
“You know, churches with contemporary music – with all the bands and guitars and everything – those Christians just want to be entertained.”
Believe it or not, I felt weirdly defensive. Calvinists have a reputation for wearing holier-than-thou sunglasses and snubbing their noses at other ‘less academic’ denominations, but that was the first time that I truly encountered it.
As someone who has Christian friends who prefer contemporary worship services, I know they don’t just want to be entertained. They genuinely aim to praise God.
World-renowned Calvinist R.T. Kendall says in his book Worshipping God:
“We must let [God] be Himself in us. This means that we must let Him be Himself in others too. We ought not to judge the style of another person’s worship.”*
This really convicted me. Let God be God for others.
It’s become my mantra for whenever I come across Christians that I’m ready to call batshit crazy. It’s not a license for anything goes but rather a framework for my thinking.
Don’t judge a person’s relationship with God based on how many strobe lights they’re willing to tolerate. Don’t think they have mentally lost it if they have a radically different interpretation of a Bible verse. At the end of the day, they’re still just as devoted to God as you are.
You will still see me looking grumpy if I end up at a church that looks like a Hillsong concert. You will probably still see me roll my eyes when the pastor purposely uses emotive language.
But don’t worry. It’s just my personal preference. I understand your preference is different to mine. That’s all it is. Not better, not worse.
In the spirit of Aretha Franklin, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, that’s what it means to me.
Well, you know what I mean.
*Kendall, R.T. Worshipping God, Charisma House (Lake Mary, 2017), pg. 21