Thursday, September 07, 2006

Movie Church: Judgement Lite

A JPBC member brought me a flyer he got in the mail at his apartment about a new church site starting up in a local movie theater. The flyer promises "A Great Church at a Fun Place!" It tells prospective attendees they can expect:
  • Relaxed, casual atmosphere with FREE refreshments and pastries
  • A LIVE BAND playing awesome music
  • Safe, fun environment for kids
  • Real answers for life
  • People genuinely caring for and about each other
  • FREE ADMISSION (no ticket required)

The flyer also directs the recipient to the church website, which offers this description of the new church:

A priority at _____ (new church site) is journey, not judgment. Judgment brings division and it creates discomfort. We want to be on a journey together. A journey allows us to know Christ and to know His hope collectively, rather than on our own. There is no need to go through life alone!

This venture is actually not a new church start but a part of a "multi-site" strategy being launched by this established church. I will be presenting a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting November 15-17 in Washington, DC, tentatively titled, "A Biblical-Theological Critique of the Multi-Site Church Movement." I’ll try to post the paper when it's done.

Though I might appreciate the zeal of this church for evangelism and outreach, there are questions about wisdom (Romans 10:2). On churches meeting in movie theaters, see my previous post (March 20, 2006) "Our Lady of the Movie Theater."

Most disturbing is the website note's downplaying of judgement, since "Judgement brings division and it creates discomfort."

Didn’t Jesus say that anyone who comes after him must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23)? Didn’t Jesus say that he did not come to bring peace but a sword (Matt 10:34)? Maybe I found this particularly jarring, because we just finished a series through the parables in Matthew and each parable of our Lord has a striking word about judgement. A sampling:

The parable of the wheat and the tares:

Matthew 13:40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The parable of the dragnet:

Matthew 13:49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The sheep and the goats:

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.

It is judgement, judgement, judgement! Jesus knew that we have to understand the wrath of God before we can appreciate the grace of God. Certainly, unregenerate men do not want to hear of the wrath of God for their sin and the coming judgement. Thus, they often are offended by gospel ministry that is so "judgemental." Still, it is certain that "we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ" (2 Cor 5:10). For sure, all those parables also announce the future blessings in the kingdom for those who are saved from their sin. But can we clearly preach the gospel without announcing the wrath of God for sin and the only escape through the righteous life of Christ? Can we preach the resurrection without the cross?

"Ah," some say, "but we must catch the fish before we can clean them." But at what point are these seekers told that they must begin denying themselves? That the Christian life is not about "fun" but about holiness (and this brings the greatest joy)? That worship is not entertainment to meet our needs but service to meet God’s demands for glory?



Robbie Jones said...

This said church is not denying judgment and not avoiding preaching the cross...I have been attending this church since it opened it's doors, and have been part of said church's congregation since I came to Charlottesville. The only thing that is different about this church is it's location...everything else is the same. Changing the location does not change the essential truths of the Bible and the message said pastor delivers. Yes, a goal was to reach out to the community, but the church does not water down their message just to reach these people.

I do believe that the Bible also says in Matthew 18:20 (NIV) "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." So, does it really matter whether this church meets in a theater or in a shack on the side of 29? I don't think so. God has promised to be in our midst if we are truly gathered in His name, and this is the case in this theater. Great things have already happened, and great things will continue to happen, praise be to God!

You are welcome to have your own opinion, and I admire you for expressing it so openly and for not using the church's name, but I also felt the need to respond.

The old saying, Don't judge a book by it's cover comes to should not judge this church or its message/outreach until you have visited and experienced it for yourself, or at least talked to people involved in the ministry, so you know for sure what the ministry is about, and not just judge based on their flier or their website.

Thanks for taking time to read and consider my comments! God bless!

Robbie Jones said...

Also, after looking back at your previous post...said church is not like this church in Richmond at fact, those on the launch team at said church and others, including me, went and visited this church and did not care for it or the ministry.

Said church does have a praise band, but they play contemporary Christian praise music. The pastor of said church tapes a video of the sermon he preaches at the "home church" and shows it at the new site, so we receive the same sermon as those at the main site of the church. There is a site pastor to take care of specific needs of the members of the new church and the pastor of the "home church" is available by email and is happy to meet with members of this new site, and even has specific activities planned to meet people from the new church and give them information/chat with them about the main's mission etc. and why the new church was formed.

You are not comparing apples to apples and not doing the new church justice by comparing it to Velocity in Richmond. It would be wise to examine both closely...namely, visiting and talking to the people, before casting judgment.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for your feedback and gracious tone. Thanks for reading, thinking about, and responding to this post. Since it's pretty far back in the archives, I hope others will get a chance to read your comments.

Here are some responses:

You defended the church by saying it is "not denying judgement and not avoiding preaching the cross." Let me go back to the words quoted in the flyer brought to me by a member of my church who was seeking my opinion on the mailing. It read:

"A priority at _____ (new church site) is journey, not judgment."

Is this not a denial of judgement? Is this the attitude John had in John 3:36 when he spoke of those who do not believe in Jesus as standing under the wrath (judgement) of God? Further, there is a lot about music, fun, etc. in the flyer, but I could not find the words "cross" or "gospel." How often is the wrath of God preached? The doctrine of hell? The depravity of man? The necessity of separation from the world? Purity and holiness? How necessary is clear exposition of these things to the right preaching of the gospel?

You also suggest that the place where the church meets is unimportant. Is that the case? Can we prove that from Scripture? What of God's concern for the Tabernacle and the Temple in the OT? What of God's judgement on Nadab and Abihu for the offering of "strange fire" in Leviticus 10? What does this say about what God desires in worship? The early church met in the temple complex, in members' homes, and in a rented lecture hall, but there is no reference to them meeting in pagan temples, ampitheaters, or brothels. What does this tell us about the importance of place? That is just the question my post is raising: Does it matter where the church meets?

You also take me to task for premature judgement. I would say it is a matter of discernment. In fact, I do know something personally of this church and of these kinds of ministries. Further, I do have some fairly significant experience in missions (cross-cutltural)and pastoral ministry and have seen various trends come and go (multiple services, seeker-friendly services, purpose drive, and now multi-site ministry) on the evangelical landscape. In the post I was offering my reflections based on my discernment. I tried to do that honestly but not harshly, because, as noted, I do not doubt that the motive--to share Christ--is sincere. I question the wisdom of it, not the zeal.

In fact, after some research, I did a long paper on this topic at the November 2006 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington, DC. There were even a few chaps from churches which do multi-site ministry who offered favorable comment on the paper, though they did not agree with its thesis. The paper goes into more detail on things like evaluating the wisdom of video sermons. If you send me your email (to I will be happy to send you a copy of this paper for your further reflection and would welcome your feedback via this blog, by email, or in person. Call the office (293-6175) anytime to set up a face to face chat.

Again, thanks for your feedback.