I have now attended two non-denominational churches. The first thing I learned was never to wear a hearing aid. I can hear the rock band perfectly well with cotton stuffed in my ear and the sermon is perfectly audible without any sound absorbing material or personal amplification. The first experience consisted of 30 minutes of “contemporary” music followed by 90 minutes of “the message.” The second time at a large church on the southbound side of the Broken Arrow expressway, the timeframe was 20 minutes of music, 5 minute giving appeal and 40 minutes of the message.

The lyrics of the music reminded me of the gloss about country music; you know, “my girlfriend left me, my pickup ran out of gas and my dog died…” Here is the basis for lyrics in the music I have experienced to date, “I was a loser, Jesus died for me, now I’m a winner…” Wrap these around a few Bible verses, set to music in 4:4 time with four chord progression in a major key, add thumping bass and drums, and voilà, you have music that will earn the writer a mansion just down the road from my house. Forget mansions in heaven. Earth mansions are better.

Once you accept that there is a power out there greater than ourselves, let’s call it “God” for now, then the fundamental question is “Why are we here?”

My visit today was to a 25 year old church whose tag line is “Helping people win.” This church has grown to over two thousand attending the main Tulsa campus with three satellite campuses. Interestingly, all of the greeters, parking lot attendants, security, Sunday school teachers, coffee shop workers, information booth workers, etc. were volunteers, 175 needed to run each service. The volunteers who run the services attend another service for their own worship. The volunteers running the service were all clearly identified with name badges. They were eager to help and they all smiled. You could not get out of your car without a smiling welcome.

If you’ve ever wondered where all the 30-45 year olds are on Sundays, they are attending churches like this one. The average age of the congregation was probably 40. The armed security guard at the K-3 children’s section told me they had “about 300 kids in there today.” They all come back on Wednesday nights for bible study too. Even the coffee was good.

Given the tag line “Helping people win,” it should not have been a surprise that the word “win” was cleverly incorporated several times into the message. The towering ecclesiology of Ephesians chapter 4 about building us up in unity in the body of Christ was transmogrified into building each other up so that we are “winners in Christ.” Uggh

To insert the concept of winning/losing into the bible is just plain wrong and misleading. First it implies a contest. Is the contest about which this preacher exhorts us to win involving a conquest of one’s own self and less desirable impulses? He didn’t say. Is the contest about gaining the upper hand over someone else? There was an implication at one point that as “winner Christians” we would somehow lead others to a better life. It was all very vague, but I found myself extremely uncomfortable with the hyper-personalization of the entire Bible down to a transaction of what Jesus did for me.

Yes, they do lots of outreach all over the world. But it is always with the focus of “making more disciples” (members of their church.) So I give them high marks on translating modern culture (the rock concert experience) into a church experience (I still can’t call it worship) that appeals to large numbers of people. My struggle with the theology boils down to SDG versus SPG.

Artists in the middle ages such as J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel, signed their works with the initials, “SDG,” which comes from the Latin phrase “Soli Deo Gloria” or “To God alone be glory.” Worship in spirit an in truth gives God alone the glory. Even though the rock band sang a lot about the cross and resurrection, there was not a cross to be found anywhere in the church. Instead you saw enormous visages of the singer’s faces on video screens as each vocalist soloed.  During the “Message” part of the service the screens would be filled with bigger than life images of the preacher.

But the modern version of the appealing church morphs “SDG,” Soli Deo Gloria into “SPG,” or Soli Persona Gloria – “To me alone the glory.” This makes us winners in Christ. This enables us to help others only for the purpose of bringing them into the church and not for meeting their human needs. This enables us to create all our best friends and all our human connections inside a particular church. This becomes a closed, self-referential, self-reinforcing system. It is deadly efficient at building up enormous followings.

I just wonder if all the saints and martyrs who, through the centuries, died for their faith felt like “winners for Christ?”

One Response to “SDG vs SPG”

  1. Betty Leighton says:

    Exactly the way I feel anymore! This has a growing behavior mite prevalent than I have ever seen ” to thine own SELF be true”! In public it boils iver to other areas if how we great people in our everyday life! Forget to love your neighbor as yourself –forget to treat others as you would like to be treated- forget to have am open mind! It has turned people ugly and approaching evil! Sitting and grouping on a church pew and then austrizing people and calling people names because of political beliefs outside of church, even out in the parking lot if the very church they had just attended! This is a result of the teaching of hate by churches and the community!

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