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Sex for Lent

February 24th, 2007
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My congregation is so boring. During our Lenten services we are meditating on the wounds of Christ in our services and singing old hymns like LSB Hymn 421 "Jesus, Grant that Balm and Healing." We don’t have a praise band or contemporary services. But what do we know? We only have between 1200-1300 people in our services on Sunday.

Maybe we should learn a thing or two from this hip and happening mission church: Epic Church, which features, during Lent, a series on sex. No, I’m not making this up. I wish I was. See for yourself. I think this is the same group that some time ago had people dressed up like Wookies waving at drivers to attract them to church. If memory serves, this is happening in the same state where, about twelve years ago, there was a congregation offering mime Eucharists featuring a clown/mime dipping a crucifix in a chalice to consecrate it.

I’m trying very hard to think of some way to speak well of these kinds of thing, to defend them and to put the best construction on them, but so far I have not been able to. I’m sure though I’ll be urged to understand how this is a matter of adiaphora and this is what "missional" congregations do as "mission outposts" do as opposed to us who are stuck in a maintenance ministry.

So far, the only thing that comes to mind when pondering Epic’s "pure sex" program is our Confessions’ rejection of "useless, foolish displays, that are profitable neither for good order nor Christian discipline, nor evangelical propriety in the Church. These are not genuine adiaphora!" [FC SD X.7]. 

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Categories: Lutheranism
  1. February 22nd, 2007 at 21:52 | #1

    Yeah, I’m probably the one in the Lutheran blogosphere that gets called…well…I hope I’m not called “liberal” TOO often…more often than not and I’m having a bit of an issue with this being a series for Lent (but I don’t have a problem with it being a series). The wookies and the mime? Well mimes creep me out and wookies? What’s the theological statement with a wookie?
    Just for the record, from someone who is intensely interested in things “emerging” and “missional” – This isn’t missional. Missional is living your Christian life outside the walls of the church, in order to show them Christ’s love, so that maybe you don’t have to use wookies.

  2. February 22nd, 2007 at 23:09 | #2

    Rev. McCain. No doubt that this, in my mind, is a not-very-well thought out move by this congregation. These unfortunate things happen without a corporate liturgical conscience as a guide.
    I don’t think, however, that there is anything wrong with a series which focuses on the theme of sex. Christians, married and single and young and old, would be all the more better if there were open and honest Christian teaching on this topic. I think you would agree. Just not during Lent. Bad timing!
    Lastly, and not to pick on a small point in your post, but the word “missional” is a valuable term – even if it is prone to faddish use by hip, cool, and relevant folks. In my mind, the best sense of the word is spoken of by Bonhoeffer when he wrote that “the church is the church only when it exists for others”. This has been a good reminder to me that being the church is more than occupying that 10 – 12 slot on Sunday
    morning, something I know in my head but something doesn’t always make it to the feet.

  3. February 23rd, 2007 at 00:29 | #3

    Well, I guess I should feel good about the fact that my request to plant a new mission church in another region of this non-geographic District was denied to fund this “more viable” prospect. My proposal, after all, was to start a deliberately liturgical mission church. That model is so very outmoded, don’t ya know?
    Oh well, God placed me in a very grateful congregation where we are delighted with our new LSB’s and our awesome pipe organ, and we are building up a numerically declined congregation in the city with Evangelical Catholic integrity.

  4. February 23rd, 2007 at 08:24 | #4

    Just as an FYI: this “Pure Sex” package is exactly that. It originated with a big community church somewhere and is now sold through wiredchurches.com.
    And as an aside: I hope, at least for this series, this church is following the whole megachurch model and excuses the chidren before the sermon.

  5. Jenna
    February 23rd, 2007 at 08:41 | #5

    The wookie/mime church – yep, that’s Epic. It’s not in the state where the “clown Eucharist” was held, at least I don’t think so (I live in the same metro area as Epic). Even worse, my congregation is in the same district as Epic. It makes me sick, sick, sick to think of all the money my church has donated to district missions…and that Epic is the result or our sacrifice.

  6. February 23rd, 2007 at 10:39 | #6

    Hmm. No question it’s definitely trying to be attention-getting. And the main problem I have with attempts to be “relevant” to the culture is that you tend to get drowned out by those who were using those same messages in the first place. After all, what stands out more these days: “We’re talking about sex!” or “You are utterly depraved. And God loves you and has completely forgiven you.”
    Anyhow, clearly this topic doesn’t jibe with Lent, but the subtext here seems to be, “Well, you HAVE to have mid-week Lenten services, and they HAVE to be about these topics or evoke this emotion.” Nobody seems to be objecting to a series on sex itself, just the timing. So is this about adherence to man-made rules?
    Also, I find it curious that anyone would defend their ideas by pointing to congregation size. So if my church has less than 125 members, we should give up on liturgical services, because it’s a clear sign we’re doing something wrong? And that Baptist megachurch over there, they’re doing everything right?

  7. Monte Meyer
    February 23rd, 2007 at 12:02 | #7

    The timing is obviously a bit odd for Lutherans – but I do think the series itself is interesting. People all over are struggling with connecting faith to life issues. And yes, – good catechesis is the key – but for some reasson, it doesn’t always make the connection. I’m not willing to condemn this until I could see what is going on.
    Be very careful of calling this series “useless displays….” Those of us who fall in the 50% bracket of failed marriages might have found this interesting and helpful. Bringing the power of the Gospel to bear on these issues might prove valuable.
    McCain: I’m all for what you say, but I do not believe running titillating videos is the solution. I think the same goal can be accomplished without the irreverence and “show time” approach. And, as always, I would love to know precisely how many non-Christians, people who have never been in church, have never been baptized, are being served, or does this stuff appeal more to transfers, people church shopping, etc. etc. etc.
    Either way – I always enjoy your take on these issues. Thanks for taking the time to blog.
    Monte Meyer

  8. Rev. Al Bergstrazer
    February 23rd, 2007 at 14:42 | #8

    Come April 6th, as you’re sitting in your church contemplating the betrayal arrest, suffering and crucifixion of the Lord, remember-God wants you to have great sex.
    A Biblically based series on human sexuality and marriage is definitely worthwhile, but its the “lets make morality fun,” spin that is offputting. Why should anyone take the church seriously if everything we do is a ploy to get the numbers up? And why should we think that the 20-30 somethings this is aimed at (who are marketed to from cradle to grave) can’t figure out they’re being pandered to, that this is just more slickly packaged hype that they get from everyone else who wants something from them?
    Unfortunately ‘missional’ invariably means a church that looks more like an overripe youth group that hasn’t gotten the memo that the 80′s are over and they’d like their back issues of “Group” magazine returned.
    The term “Missional” rubs many of us the wrong way because in practice it tends to make evangelism and outreach more important than the church it purports to be building up. It is rather like saying having babies is more important than marriage and having a healthy nuturing home to raise the child.
    “Anything for mission” often devolves into tossing the communion of the Saints out the door in favor of ‘whatever gets them in the door.”

  9. Jenna
    February 23rd, 2007 at 15:27 | #9

    “…or does this stuff appeal more to transfers, people church shopping, etc. etc. etc.”
    Rev. McCain, this is secondhand and only answers your question as it would pertain to Epic, but I’ve heard that it’s not so much those who have never attended church who are attracted to Epic, but those who are “bored” with their current church. (I get my information from a 28-year-old colleague who has attended Epic’s services. She’s involved in a church plant that follows the “Emergent” blueprint and was really excited to check Epic out).

  10. February 23rd, 2007 at 16:39 | #10

    I would just like to clarify a few misuses of language in these comments. The term “missional” does not apply to churches who “make evangelism and outreach more important than the church it purports to be building up.” In fact, it is quite the opposite – a “missional” church would be one that seeks to send its members into the surrounding community on a mission. It focuses exactly on the people who are in the church and building them up to bring others in. (There are striking similarities between this and Starbuck’s hiring practices actually). If anything, “missional” churches seek to leave anything that is overtly over-marketed (like the use of wookies…still makes me laugh, and cry).
    “Emergent” is a sort of “mini-denomination” of the Emerging church movement or at least a school of thought within that Emerging Church movement that aligns itself with people like Brian McLaren (whose views on Scripture are questionable).
    “Emerging” is a catchall term for a movement within new churches and Christian bodies to appeal to people within the 18-35 age range with particular postmodern-friendly ideas like being missional, having a different ‘looking’ (but not neccesarily sounding or acting) worship service, etc.
    Hope this helps.

  11. Rev. Al Bergstrazer
    February 25th, 2007 at 10:33 | #11

    Winters, you’re correct, the Emerging church is almost an anti-church growth/Mega church (‘missional’ being a current synonym of church growth). You will find many of the people in Emergent churches are disenchanted former members of Mega churches. They left because they didn’t like the trend following cookie cutter Christianity or being a number.
    But as an outside observer, it appears to me that they’ve gone from a ship that has a rudder but no sails, that follows every tide, to a ship with sails and no rudder. That is, they’re moving in a different direction, but its still a trend.

  12. Rev. Al Bergstrazer
    February 25th, 2007 at 11:26 | #12

    One last clarification. I do not dispute the definition of “missional” given that it means evangelism, outreach, bringing Christ to the nations, etc. nor am I saying that the church should not engage in outreach and evangelism.
    What I am saying is that over the years the term ‘church growth’ has acquired a lot of baggage -most of it negative.
    What has happened of late is that “missional” has been cut and pasted over “church growth” in order to sneak Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, George Barna, et.al. in under the church radar. The effect of this re-labeling is that when I or one of my brothers in the ministry have a question or concern about a congregation’s practices, we’re accused of being against missions-which we are not.
    I wish this were not so, but it is a game of semantics that has been played in our church and others for several years.
    Peace to you all.

  13. February 25th, 2007 at 19:59 | #13

    Rev. Bergstrazer. I think you are missing the point about what many missional folks are talking about when they use the term.
    They are in most cases defining themselves in reaction to and in distinction from the church growth mentality. They are hardly synonomous.
    I don’t agree with eveything on this site, and suspect that you won’t either, but friendofmissional.org lays out some key elements of missional thinking that may be useful in continuing this discussion (if Pr. McCain finds the conversation to be constructive. I’ve also posted a comment about it on my new blog site as well).

  14. February 25th, 2007 at 20:21 | #14

    Toward a missionalLutheranism?

    Over at Paul McCains site there is a discussion going on titled Sex for Lent. The original post brings attention to a church which is having a series called Pure Sex during Lent, which leads some, including myself, to…

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