The latest religious phenomenon to hit the US is one that is being viewed as the most significant since the advent of televangelism in the 1980s, writes Oliver Poole
An advertisement for the Saddleback Church invites congregants to attend “God’s Extreme Makeover” – a revival of Christ in their hearts named after the latest television fad, in which volunteers undergo plastic surgery.
Leaflets at the door to the main hall proclaim “You Can Bring Your Coffee Into Any Venue”. Children run around in baseball shirts proclaiming that they are part of God’s own squad. The thousands inside are able to sing along to spiritual songs – not traditional hymns – from the words on giant karaoke screens suspended above a light rock band.
This is the United States’ latest religious phenomenon. As Americans like going to shopping malls for all their consumer needs in one spot, so self-styled “megachurches” are the fastest growing form of service in the country.
…At Saddleback’s 11.30am Sunday service there is talk of love and togetherness. The pastors wear microphone headsets and chinos, use slang in their sermons and certainly avoid anything that resembles “thee” or “thou”.
The multi-ethnic congregation is made up of nominal Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics. They are taught that through God they are victors not victims, and no one is called a sinner.
Aping the popular self-help books popular in the modern age the approach adopted is “Jesus meets the power of positive thinking”.
Eddie Gibbs, a professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary, has described it as a conscious process to “remove every obstacle that keeps people from coming into the Christian Church”.
Unfortunately the obstacles removed might also be the Cross. The last thing we need in the U.S. is to be affirmed and taught the watered down theology that has been so prevalent since the 1960s. The world has made more inroads into the church over the last century then the Church has made inroads into the world. There an no chapels in Starbucks, but there are now many Starbucks in mega-churches. Coffee cup holders in the pews of church “venues” might be conducive to worship, but is it worship of God or materialism? Detachment is required to follow the path of perfection and when the church and a shopping mall are ascetically equal are you on the narrow path? I have very mixed feeling on this since I am glad that people are trying to follow God and attending these churches. Unfortunately I believe it is Christianity with training wheels with no plans to remove the wheels later on.