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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Isn't That Communism?

Isn’t That Communism?

We were out of town last weekend so we visited another church – a church quite different from ours. The church we visited was a Baptist mega-church with 25,000 members, and with 12,000 people attending last Sunday. There were three restaurants, a video arcade, several banks, a gift and book store, a gymnasium, a media center, many classrooms plus the huge worship center; all in this gigantic church building, which was three or four blocks long. We took the elevator up to the fourth floor balcony and settled in to our seats for the morning worship service.

Our church back home with its’ 750 members has a candlelit altar with an open Bible in the front of the sanctuary and a large cross on the back wall. We have a railing in front of the altar where we kneel and pray. Soft candlelight and hymns accompany each service and there are stained glass windows on both the front and side walls of the church. Church members enter reverently and quietly to worship God, bowing to acknowledge His presence.

The Baptist mega church had a stage with colored stage lights overhead and an orchestra pit in front. Two large walls of colored light shows flashed on each side of the giant stage and two large media screens were mounted up on the front wall. We settled in for the worship service.

A choir of maybe a hundred or more singers filed onto the stage and began singing to the accompaniment of the orchestra down in the orchestra pit. Twenty or more well dressed song leaders stood in front of the choir with their arms raised high praising God and singing while swaying back and forth. One by one each song leaders’ smiling face was projected onto the large screens on either side of the stage while the words to the songs were also projected onto the huge screens. Colored lights flashed here and there around the stage illuminating the praise and creating a light show. The audience stood and sang several praise songs and then clapped for the choir and the orchestra. It was a performance.

A T.V. camera mounted on a large metal crane that stood several stories high, moved on wheels up and down the center aisle of the huge auditorium recording the service for the local television station. I noted that during the service, many people in the audience wandered in and out, talking on their cell phones or to one another.

My husband and I enjoyed praising God with these thousands of other Christians and tears rolled down my cheeks during the praise. After the singing was finished, there were several baptisms, which did not take place there in the worship center but were televised on the large screens.

And then the pastor came out to preach while cameras from every angle zoomed in on him. The audience could see his face on the giant screens, and more colored lights danced around behind him. This pastor was an excellent speaker, and he delivered his message forcefully and with much emotion. Over and over again he brought home the fact that we Christians have the obligation to go out into the entire world and tell everyone that Jesus is Lord and that He died to take away our sins. “Jesus brings life and without Him, people are living in darkness.” he shouted. “It is our sacred duty to go and ask as many others as possible to accept Jesus as Savior.” Tears were running down my face. It has been many decades since I have been in a Baptist church and have heard this message preached so clearly. But the words still cut to my soul.

The pastor continued by talking about the Great Commission. “Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and tell others that He is Savior,” he shouted as he pounded the pulpit. “Some liberals tell us we have to save the environment or to worry about social justice,” he added, -“and that isn’t what Jesus is talking about. Jesus tells us in the Great Commission to tell others about Himself”.

I caught my breath and wondered! Just a minute, isn’t Jesus interested in social justice? Didn’t He say a great deal about feeding the hungry and giving to the poor? And I’m not so sure that Jesus wants us to go around polluting the environment either! What is this pastor saying here? Who is this “non-involved Jesus” he is talking about? The Jesus I know is deeply involved with the poor, cares about the hungry and wants us to be involved too.

The pastor shook his fists and went on preaching; “Jesus instructed us through the Great Commission to go into the whole world and tell others that He is the Savior.” Just a minute, I thought. When Jesus gave us the great commission, didn’t He ask us to go into all the world and not only tell people the good news but to also “make disciples”? (Matthew 28:18-20) Wasn’t making disciples part of it? Didn’t this pastor leave that out? When we “make disciples” we not only tell people about Jesus but we teach the new Christians what it means to follow Him too. And yes, being a disciple (following Jesus) means being concerned about social justice. We are supposed to feed the hungry and give to the poor. As Christians we are supposed to get involved. Isn’t that part of the package?

Following Jesus isn’t just saying the right words. We don’t just “talk the talk” but we “walk the walk”. The pastors’ words were right but they didn’t go far enough. At least not for me. Accepting Jesus as Savior means obeying His commandments. And Jesus commands that if we see a person without a coat and we have two coats, we are to give that person one of our coats. (Luke 3:11) (Doesn’t that sound like Communism?)

The pastor preached on, but by now he had lost me. Verse after verse from the Bible began to flit through my mind. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes from the hungry will get many curses.” (Psalms 28;27) “He who is kind to the poor, lends to the Lord. (Proverbs 19:17) “Whoever gives a cup of cold water to the least of these, gives it to Me.” (Matthew 10:42) “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and help the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom shall be as noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10)

And of course Matthew 25:34-36 came to mind. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, needed clothes and you clothes me, was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Jesus has so much to say about the importance of taking care of the poor!

We filed out of church and wandered down to the book store. Beautiful jewelry was for sale along with statues of golden gilt angels. Bibles and right wing political books sat on a shelf side by side upsetting me even more. I stood there in the bookstore grumbling to my husband that Jesus wanted us to do more than tell others about Him, that He wanted us to help the poor. A lady buying a book nearby heard me fussing and entered into the discussion. “It was a good sermon,” I told her, “but as Christians we are also to be concerned with social justice. If we have two coats and we see someone with no coat, we are to give them one of ours.” I stopped and smiled at her. “My goodness,” the woman replied, “Isn’t that communism?”

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