Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Travesty in Corpus Christi

Day 42 of 46 c Lenten Season 2010
Passion Week - Holy Tuesday

Oh, folks: this one is just too easy. I’m almost embarrassed to even bring myself down to this level. But as I re-read an e-mail sent by a friend last night, I find I just can’t resist.

Have you heard about the seeker mega-church in Corpus Christi, Texas, and their million-dollar giveaway this coming Easter Sunday? You heard right – Bay Area Fellowship plans to give away one million dollars’ worth of goodies to people who show up to services this weekend in the city named for the body of Christ.

Now, even right there, I could stop and blast away at all that's wrong with a church giving away a mansion’s worth of cars, bikes, electronics, and furniture on the Lord’s Day. Not to mention Resurrection Sunday – the climax to Christendom’s holiest week of the year.

But the pastor actually says they’re doing it to demonstrate the story of the Resurrection: salvation, free, for all. Yeah, right: more like “salvation free-for-all.”

I’ll be the first to confess that I am a sinner, and that even though I try not to, I usually superimpose my judgementalism upon other people and churches without giving them the benefit of the doubt. On this blog, I try to look at issues from a broad perspective. But in this case – can I have a witness? – I find myself in no danger of sinning when I proclaim Bay Area Fellowship is 100%, completely, unequivocally WRONG.

Somebody help me!

Only For the Love of God

No matter if you’re a predestination advocate like me, or a free-will advocate like I used to be, right off the bat you have to admit that giving away anything does not illustrate salvation. One of the holiest, purest, and dearest characteristics of salvation through Christ is that it has been bought with the very blood of God’s only Son. There is nothing on Earth or that mankind can even imagine that would be so bitter and painful a price to even come close to matching the cost of salvation to God. For any church claiming to be Bible-believing, and at the same time suggesting freebies mimic salvation, they actually proclaim unadulterated heresy. I’ve attended churches which distribute books, magnets, CDs, and other things for free, but in no way has the lack of cost been compared to salvation. Baptist or Presbyterian, you can back me up on that one, can’t you?

Second, does handing out anything of which there is a limited supply (only $1 million worth of stuff here) adequately depict the lavishness of salvation? Here again, whether you’re free-will or predestination, we both agree that God’s gift of grace is abundant and beyond our ability to fathom. God doesn’t have a “salvation budget” in Heaven. He doesn’t offer salvation to the first two million people who call right now. Sheesh – I feel creepy even entertaining such thoughts.

Used Cars Don’t Symbolize Salvation

And then, there are the prizes themselves. A lot of fuss has been made over the news that at least 15 of the prizes are automobiles. But if you read the fine print, you see that all of them are used cars. Used cars!! Used cars to illustrate salvation. What an abomination.

Not only are they used, but the list includes such notoriously unreliable brands as Jaguar, Jeep, Audi, and two Mitsubishi products! Good grief – Mitsubishi dealers can’t give away their cars! Bay Area Fellowship might actually make history just by giving away two used ones in one day. I’ve heard that an insurance agent will be on-site at the church to sign up any uninsured driver so they can take the car home with them, but the smarter move would be having a mechanic on hand as well.

Some people complain that all of this emphasis on material goods focuses too much attention on hedonism, and that’s true, isn’t it? Flat-screen TVs, recliners, and $300 gift bags apparently trump Biblical teaching when they’re for such a good cause: playing unconventional church. What if they gave away $1 million worth of free bilingual Bibles? What about $1 million in sponsorships for short-term missions trips? What about $1 million worth of living assistance to the elderly or adoption assistance for orphans – the two front lines in the church’s mission of charity?

Look Up “Cult” in the Dictionary

Which brings me to the church members themselves who support and defend what their pastor has cooked up. They say that the only way to get unchurched heathens through their doors is by wooing them with trinkets and baubles. How will they get sinners to hear the Gospel if they can’t drag them into Bay Area Fellowship with such splashes of materialism?

How out of line am I to say that people who think like that don’t understand salvation and the Gospel message?

Who does the work of the Gospel? Who ministers salvation to lost souls? Who else but the Holy Spirit Himself? If Christ is lifted up, He will draw all manner of mankind unto Himself. And you can quote me on that!

Reading through online comments on the topic, you can find instances where church members “pray” for their opponents… people like me who are incredulous at what they’re doing. Church members say that hey, just because we’re doing something different doesn’t mean it’s bad. You’re just jealous ‘cause we can do it and you can’t. We’ve got the inside track on how to snag the world for Christ – you’ve just gotta think outside the box.

I’m fighting the urge to be utterly scathing towards people with such myopic and – can I say it – cultish viewpoints. I don’t know anybody at this church, so I’m trying hard not to be personal, but this certainly proves how necessary it is to have a strong, Bible-based faith so believers don’t get led astray.

Losing Not Only Salvation, but Tax-Exempt Status

Not that any of this controversy has been lost on the unchurched world. For years, cynics have scoffed at the spectacle of mega-church excesses in general. Now, they point to the notion of a $1 million giveaway as proof that churches need to be taxed. Doesn't raising that kind of money in such a short time and spending it so frivolously (basically, just attracting bigger attendance numbers) violate the intent of our tax code?

Charitable organizations that raise a million bucks without plowing it back into the community through their value-added services aren’t non-profits. And that kind of logic is hard to refute, isn’t it? Which spells all kinds of trouble for honest, legitimate faith-based organizations who rely on their tax-exempt status to help pay what bills they already have.

I used to work in a church accounting office, and we were scrupulous when it came to IRS guidelines. Boy, I’d like to be a fly on the wall in the Corpus Christi federal building next Monday morning: “Hey, Walt: did you get all of those gift forms back from that mega-church?” “Do we have to red-flag all of those memberships for improper charity donations?” “All time off is cancelled until we get this mega-church fiasco straightened out.”

Eeyore Is My Favorite

Sometimes I feel like Winnie the Pooh, when he’s trying to think of how to fix something.

“Think… think… think… I haven’t thought of anything yet; have you?”

I’m racking my brain, trying to figure out some angle that blows all of my criticism of Bay Area Fellowships’ stunt to smithereens, and… nope, I’m not coming up with anything.

“Somebody who can’t afford a car might get one?” If the church knows of somebody who needs transportation and they’ve withheld one of these cars so they can make a show of giving it way on Sunday, I’m not really seeing any charity here.

“Flat screen TV’s help shut-in parishioners watch TV church better?” Not if it’s going to be anybody of Bay Area Fellowship’s ilk.

“The congregation has really banded together and modeled the body of Christ in action?” I’m seeing something more along the lines of Christ’s body in action as He angrily cleared the temple of the money changers during Holy Week.

Holy Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.

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