There couldn’t have been a greater contrast. One building, looking very much like a church, saying it wasn’t. Another building looking nothing like a church telling us it was!
Last Sunday in Copenhagen, Jacqui and I were looking where we could join the local saints in worship. The Nikolaj Kunsthal close to the main shopping street was in the right place and gave every appearance of being a church but a church it is no longer. Its banner loudly proclaims “I’m not a church.” (See the attached photo.)
In complete contrast the Bremen Theatre, slightly rundown and mildly seedy – the kind of place you wouldn’t want your mother to know you’ve visited – is where Hillsong CPH is based. The event/service began with leader Thomas Hansen telling us “This is church!” We all cheered,
You will know of Hillsong, an Australian Pentecostal network, mainly through its music. “My Jesus, my Saviour” and “The power of your love” are just two of its offerings to the worldwide church.
Essentially it is New Wine with the house lights turned off and replaced with a light show over the audience. It’s the kind of worship where some of you wouldn’t want to be found dead while others of you would be delighted to spend the rest of your days there.
We enjoyed it, even though there was more of a feeling of being in an audience than a congregation. But great worship, sound teaching and imaginative social outreach in Syria through their active support of UNICEF – its supply division is based in Copenhagen. I sensed the Holy Spirit at work.
Hillsong CPH has only been going for just over a year; it was its second Sunday in the Bremen Theatre, hired for the day. It was difficult to see in the dark but I guess about 400 mostly young people each with a smart phone. Had Jacqui and I been visible, we would have conspicuous for our advanced age – but for cred, we did have a smart phone each.
A fascinating conversation with Andrew, one of the leaders and an Australian, before the service. Hillsong, like all denominations, is essentially a franchise. It thrives in large metropolitan areas and is self-consciously geared to Generation Y, those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.
This group is defined by the Financial Times as reliant on new media and digital technology with short attention spans. “They expect entertaining and fast-paced information and are assumed to be self-centred, demanding, and hard to integrate into teams.”
They like short paragraphs.
What I found fascinating about Hillsong CPH was that the whole service was in English – although the children’s ministry was in Danish. Andrew explained that 85% of Danes speak English, again a sign of this new generation. You could have been in Vancouver or Sydney. Incidentally there is a Hillsong in Kiev. We live in a global city with a global language.
So two buildings, church past and church future, demonstrating the need to be culturally relevant for the sake of the Gospel. Sadly the fact that so many church buildings have become redundant demonstrates that Christians find radical change difficult. It is as if the Holy Spirit has to start up new churches when he would far prefer to inspire existing fellowships to continuously adapt to a fast-changing world.
But the fundamental is that people can respond only to a message they clearly hear in their own context.
The apostle Paul had a passion for the gospel and for the church – the two are intrinsically linked. He writes to the Corinthians: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. . . . I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
In this key passage ((1 Corinthians 9:19-23) the apostle resolves to reach out to Jews, Gentiles, and those with weak consciences by incarnating himself in these cultures. He holds on to his core principles, essentially the law of Christ (verse 21). But for the sake of the Gospel, whatever it takes. This may mean architecture, worship style, music, how a church is run, how decisions are made, whatever. All are subordinate to the need to share Christ.
That may be saying the obvious but each one of us finds it difficult to abandon “the way we do things round here.”
My old New Testament professor, the saintly C K Barrett, thought that the most astonishing verse from Paul, who had been Saul the Pharisee, was 1 Corinthians 9:20 – “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.” In other words for the sake of the Gospel Paul had totally jettisoned his own background, his home culture to the extent he could speak of being a Jew in the third person. It was no longer him.
May we have a similar single-minded commitment to the love of Christ and submit even our most valued traditions for the sake of making him known.
Finally, on a personal note, at this very hour in India my son-in-law Ewan is meeting up with Bill Gates, at the ‘Reinvent the toilet fair’. Ewan is part of a team at Cranfield University designing a toilet for the Third World in response to an initiative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
And here it is:
Even toilets have to be contextual.