Beginning in the early nineties, Cindy and I made the jump from a high church format (no, it was not a church of stoners) to a casual church that included contemporary worship music. (There wasn’t even an organ in the building.) It was a dramatic change for us. We felt uncomfortable for a long time in the contemporary church. They actually had drums and guitars in the sanctuary. (How gauche!) Not that high church is bad or inferior, but the contemporary format and the style of preaching eventually stirred deep emotions in me. It often led me on an inward journey where God’s spirit revealed some things in my life that needed to change. Oddly, it was uncomfortable and fulfilling at the same time.
I would never want the high church format to disappear from the ecosystem of Christianity. It functions quite well for millions of Christians. In fact there are times when I am simply not in the frame of mind to worship to a contemporary beat and listen to a hip message delivered with polished stagecraft and energetic oration. In other words, I occasionally crave a more reverent tone. That’s when it’s wonderful to slip in and worship with high church believers.
One of my in-laws is in a mixed marriage: He attends a high church while his wife and children attend a contemporary church. Just recently, my wife asked him why he doesn’t go to church with his family. He said it was because the theology of the contemporary church was wrong. Specifically, he said the contemporary church in question believed in decision-based salvation. (Funny, I expected him to say it was because they have guitars and drums in the sanctuary.) At least his reasoning was not superficial.
I’ve always thought that all genuine Christians, at some point in their life, made a “decision” as to whether they believe in the divinity of Christ and that he suffered and died for their sins. Still, I ran this controversy of decision-based salvation by a friend who happens to be a deep thinker. Here is a paraphrase of what he said:
The evangelical church has this tendency to present the message of salvation a little too much like a sales pitch. After all, who doesn’t want to go to heaven and who doesn’t want to stay out of hell. And who doesn’t want a Savior who is there to help them through their problems. So when a pastor or a Christian friend pitches salvation to an unbeliever, the formula is simple: The unbeliever is coached to pray the sinner’s prayer whereby they admit their sinfulness, ask for forgiveness, and invite Jesus into their heart. There! The decision is made and the deal is closed.
My friend suggested that it’s possible that many people who come away from this type of salvation sales pitch are not saved. This type of quick decision-based path to salvation bothers the high priests of high churches. They may be right.
Perhaps contemporary evangelical churches need to proceed a little more cautiously when presenting the gospel. I am not suggesting we embrace legalism, but maybe salvation should not be treated like a sales pitch where the customer is presented with only the positive features of the product. Entering a covenant with Christ is a lifetime proposition that will have challenges along with rewards.