The church calendar tells us that today is the third Sunday after Pentecost. Hallmark tells us today is Father’s Day. Which one we will pause and celebrate together as a Christian church is palpable. For some, though, it’s not so obvious. For example, this morning Tim Tebow is at Qualcomm stadium for an “event” hosted by a large local church. This, of course, should make us laugh—hard—because Tebow is neither a trained and ordained minister nor a father. He lacks all of the credentials required to be a spokesman for God to his church. No worries, though, he can throw a football and garner a crowd. That pretty much qualifies him to speak on any subject. If you can do that, you can be a veritable success in the ministry. Someone should really tell our seminary students about this because they are about to start memorizing Hebrew and Greek paradigms. What a waste. Seriously, though, in any other arena of life this wouldn’t fly.
Imagine showing up at your dentist’s office only to find that Tebow was filling in! Or imagine you showed up in court and Tebow was dressed in the judge’s robe! The previous examples stretch credulity to the breaking point. No rational person would ever let an untrained person work on their bodies. No sane person would ever expect a fair hearing from someone not trained in the things of law. Why is it that when it comes to our souls we would ever allow a novice to work on them? Why is it that when it comes to things so weighty and so eternal we would ever treat them so lightly? Historically, the answer is found in one word: revivalism. Revivalism is nothing new. It’s been going on for a long time. And, by the looks of things, it will continue. Revivalism has manifested itself in myriad ways throughout the church’s history, but most foundationally it is an exchange of the means of grace—the preached word through the ordained servant of Christ, the sacraments and prayer—for something more exciting. Sometimes that which is more exciting is a performance of a band. Usually, though, that thing that is more exciting is a person, people like Billy Sunday and Billy Graham; Charles Finney and George Whitefield. And, if you can combine the two—powerful personalities and performances—you have a real hit.
Revivalism … most foundationally, is an exchange of the means of grace for something more exciting.
All of this raises bigger questions about church. What are we doing when we gather and for what or whom have we come? For us, the answer is simple. We have come here to meet with Jesus. Therefore our calendar revolves around the saving events of his life—life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and exaltation.
When personalities and our stories begin to supplant the person and work of Jesus and his story, one has to wonder whether or not a Christian church that embraces such practices has left the Christian communion entirely. I mean, say what you want about the Catholics and the Orthodox, the Anglicans and the Lutherans, but at least they go to church to meet with Jesus, to feed upon his body and blood.