I’m an old Episcopal priest steeped in Anglican tradition. My friend is a young minister who describes himself as a pentecostal, charismatic, evangelical. We might seem an odd couple, but we get together regularly to talk about various aspects of what ministry means. He’s the youth pastor at a local non-denominational church, and he’s got a large, growing, enthusiastic youth program that should be the envy of every other youth pastor in town. So far, so good.
The thing is, he was ordained in the Church of Somebodyorother after a couple of years in a fundamentalist bible college, the only college education he’s had. A lot of what we talk about has to do with the basics of Christian history and theology that he’s never heard before. He’s not going to become an Episcopalian, but it’s great fun to explore with him some of the basics that many of us take for granted.
The other day he wondered about the problems that pop up when Christian youth are submerged in forceful lessons about their sinfulness, the dangers of backsliding, and the wrath of God that could lead to eternal hell. At what point does a message like that push them out of the church instead of guiding them toward a more mature faith? How might they be more inspired by God’s reconciling love? Somehow that led to hymns, and I brought up an old gospel favorite, “Just as I am without one plea,” that could offer the answer he was seeking. He’d never hear of it. No idea at all.
It seems that his church relies on a rock band and contemporary praise music, which, I might add, is not as bad as the praise music of the previous few decades, but I still can’t stand it. That’s not the point. He’s the main light and sound board guy for the show, running something out of a little booth that looks like a professional studio setup. That’s not the point either. It’s what he knows about church liturgy and music: sound boards and rock. That’s the point, or at least one of them.
The church he serves is growing, one of the few in town than is. It is spreading wide and fast, but not deep. It proclaims the message of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and opens the bible to many who have never before heard the Word. It does it with an enormous display of energy in a weekly stage show featuring rock music, a short speech about Jesus, and a few prayers. But it does so without any connection to or awareness of two thousand years of Christian practice prefaced by more millennia of Hebrew heritage.
It brings to mind what it might have been like for Paul to set up new churches in places such as Corinth and Thessalonica, but I digress.
He loves what he’s doing but wants more. As a young, mostly uneducated minister, he may be unaware that the questions he raises have been asked before, but I’m delighted that he wants to learn. For the time being, that means coffee with an old Episcopal priest. It’s not enough, but it’s something. We make an odd couple.
By the way, he is coordinating a youth gathering to be held late in January. It will attract around 400 kids, plus chaperons, from a half dozen other churches similar to his. We stodgy old Episcopalians might want to pay attention.