First, it was sex on the church roof.
This past Resurrection Sunday, it was a live, caged lion at morning services.
Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, is a contemporary seeker multi-campus megachurch. Yeah - all the things I don't like about modern evangelicalism. Their pastor, Ed Young, is a slick showman, a closet Baptist, and an aging hipster who, with his church, strives to appear "relevant" to the image-obsessed denizens of Dallas - Fort Worth.
Oh - and Miami, Florida, where one of his satellite campuses is located.
Young has done wacky stuff before, like driving a quarter-million-dollar Rolls Royce onto Fellowship Church's stage to tell his parishioners they are valuable to God. And to be fair, we don't know for certain that Young and his wife had sex on the roof of their church - they just spent a night up there with a camera crew and some thinly-veiled innuendo to promote their new book encouraging other husbands and wives to, well... you know...
Anyway... back to this weekend's stunt. On Fellowship Church's website, a video of Sunday's sermon shows Young holding court in front of a sleeping, caged lion. Perhaps to keep his audience from focusing too much on the lion, Young was wearing a pink sportcoat tailored tightly across his chest. And his chest featured a shirt with several buttons undone to show off his perfect tan. Of course, the raw video one of his parishioners says she shot at an outdoor service on Resurrection Sunday was quite different, showing a caged lion, yes, but with its trainer taunting it to react aggressively, obviously to capture the crowd's attention.
Animal-rights activists have protested Young's use of live animals at a church service. I say "animals" in the plural, because Young also held a cute lamb in his arms, using the two animals to ostensibly depict Christ as both a lion and lamb, as described in Revelation 5:1-10. Turns out, Fellowship Church was supposed to have a permit for having a lion within the city limits of Grapevine, but they didn't bother to get one.
All things considered, having live animals at a church service isn't exactly horrible, is it? Episcopal and Lutheran churches have "blessing of the animals" services, and a church my parents used to attend once had a goat and a sheep as props in a Nativity play. Indeed, several local churches have what are called "living Nativity" scenes every Christmas, and nobody makes much of a fuss.
Granted, a lion isn't the same thing as welcoming parakeets and dogs into a sanctuary, or farm animals. You'd have thought people would be making more of a stink that the church didn't acquire the proper permits, considering all of the stories in recent years of exotic animals in urbanized areas.
No, I'm sorry to disappoint the animal rights activists, but the major problem with Fellowship Church and Ed Young is his insistence in our local media that he needs to do things big. He told at least one station that he wanted to glamorize the Resurrection story a bit, as if Christ defeating sin and death wasn't a good enough story on its own.
"I think it just makes the Easter message bigger and better,” said Young, defending his use of the lion and lamb this past Sunday.
Making the Easter message "bigger and better?" Seriously? Is that even possible? Hey, Ed: it's not about bunnies and eggs, remember? It's about the Son of God rising from the dead.
The DEAD, Ed! You think you can top that with your live lion and lamb?
Let's face it, Rev. Young - and pardon me for using both terms loosely ("reverend," for the spiritual lethargy you consistently display; and "young," for your obsession with the youth you and I both lost a couple of decades ago): you're in it for the publicity. That's why I have few qualms about calling you on the carpet not only for all of these stunts you think work in Christ's favor, but your increasingly bizarre personal appearance. I'm trying to be a considerate brother in Christ cluing you in on this stuff, and I know you can't handle subtlety: You don't have to wear dour suits and stop blow-drying and highlighting your hair, but how much credibility do you think you earn by spending so much effort denying your fifty-plus years? It's not even like these days, 51 is considered old. Worshipping youth at the expense of maturity isn't even Biblical.
Not that I can spend too much time criticizing your looks. I'm hardly in a position to throw rocks when it comes to personal appearance. I'm just saying that with all of the Biblical admonitions to look at the heart rather than the body, it sometimes seems like your priorities are reversed. You're all into show and sizzle and publicity, hoping they pose an attractive distraction from doctrine, theology, and Christlikeness.
The more people look at you, are you diverting their attention from God?
Oh yeah - getting back to Christ. The Son of God. Your Savior. We should be able to agree that Resurrection Sunday is His day, not yours. It's His message, not yours.
You just get the privilege of getting paid to tell people His message. You can talk about "spirit-led swagger" and Christ getting into your "grille," which I'm assuming has something to do with one's face, but no matter how much you think you need to try to make the Gospel bigger and better, you can't. You can't get bigger and better than Christ.
Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us! Therefore, let us keep the feast - not with the old leaven of wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth! (1 Corinthians 5:7-8 paraphrased)
Sincere truth, Ed. Stick to that.
It's "bigger and better" than you apparently think.