And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
The Culture Of Epic
Recently I went to the movies with some friends to see a long-anticipated film on its opening night. After spending our children’s college funds on soda and popcorn, we took our seats and waited patiently for the movie to begin.
As is customary with any cinematic experience nowadays, one must first endure the coming attractions. And so we did. For what seemed like an hour, preview after preview unfolded in an adrenaline-pumping sequence that was replete with post-apocalyptic wars, high-speed car chases, and climactic fight scenes—each one more epic than the last.
As these coming attractions concluded and the movie began, I was struck by an observation that has lingered in my mind since. And it’s this, we are addicted to the epic.
In fact, you might say that we live in a “culture of epic.”
Today’s world is all too ready to assume that that which is big and exciting is automatically preferable to that which is small and ordinary. We seem to crave the flashiness of the next big thing that promises to rescue us from our mundane lives. This is how we are often trained to think by the entertainment zeitgeist.
Therefore a trip to the movies is never just a trip to the movies. It is an attempt to fulfill the desire that every human being has had since the dawn of time—for life to have meaning and significance. The truth is, we all want to be part of something epic. And that affects every area of our lives, including how we come to church.
A Gospel-only Approach
Over the past few decades, the American church has explored what it means to be “culturally relevant.” As a result, many church leaders have sought more innovative ministry practices, looking largely to the culture of epic in an effort to save the church from mundanity. Thus churches became more savvy, employing impressive, state-of-the-art productions designed to give churchgoing folks the impression that they are now officially part of something epic.
While not everything about this approach is wrong, biblically faithful churches should resist that level of conformity to the zeitgeist. At the same time, however, we shouldn’t assume that such resistance means our church experience is doomed to mundanity. In fact, I believe that when we embrace the culture of epic at the expense of biblical faithfulness it actually makes church less epic, not more. Let me explain.
One of Christianity’s central claims is that God is greater than this world (1 Jn. 4:4). The Creator is high above His creation (Rom. 1:25). As the unrivaled Lord of all, He has provided His church with something immeasurably more epic than anything the world will ever be able to produce. By sending His Divine Son down into our world, He is telling an unparalleled Good-News Story of cosmic redemption—the Story in which we, the church, now participate by faith.
Simply put, the greatest epic of all belongs to God, not to our culture.
This reality has been revealed to us on the pages of the Bible, which is why we read the Word each day and gather to hear it preached every week. Through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit gives us a renewed sense that in Christ we are indeed part of something epic—something God has been doing since before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 10). Thus regular exposure to the Bible in the context of the local church is God’s ordained means of conforming our lives to His Story. It’s how He takes our longings to be part of something epic and redirects them away from this world, aiming them instead at a Kingdom that will last forever.
Arguably, no one understood this better than the apostle Paul. In his day, the Greco-Roman world had as its celebrities people who were known for their exceptional oratory abilities. And the church at Corinth seemed to be enamored with such figures—even to the point that they began to deny Paul’s credibility as an apostle. Since Paul wasn’t as impressive as the orators they idolized, the Corinthians dismissed him.
But in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (quoted above), Paul insists on a Gospel-only approach to ministry. To him, any approach that was based on the wisdom of man rather than the power of the Gospel was not worthy of Christ.
Today we must insist on the same approach. We too must recognize that the true Story of our slain and risen Messiah is altogether superior to any spectacle the zeitgeist can come up with. Whether it’s the Greco-Roman orators in the first century or the Hollywood elites of the twenty-first century, none of it can hold a candle to the world-changing epic-ness of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
This is why when it comes to LifePoint’s worship gatherings we, like Paul, must remain insistent on a Gospel-only approach. We must resist any practice that is not worthy of Christ. Failure to do so would inevitably distract from that which is “of first importance” (1 Co. 15:3); thereby robbing the Lord’s Day of its God-sized epic-ness.
Let me be clear. I’m not so foolish as to deny that savvy productions have the potential to provide people with a sense of excitement. They absolutely can, and often do. But when we allow such things to become more prominent than God’s Story, the thrills they provide will not bring any lasting change to our lives. For when it’s all over, we are still left with the complexity of trying to make sense of life until next Sunday rolls around.
Not so with the Gospel. Through it, God’s Spirit infuses every moment of life—even the most mundane ones—with meaning and significance. When our place in God’s Story comes into focus, every moment of the week counts for eternity, not just 80 minutes on Sunday.
But at the same time, let’s not underestimate the real impact that that 80 minutes on Sunday can have. The Bible teaches that gathered worship is one of the principle ways God conforms our lives to His Good-News Story (Eph. 4:11-16; Heb. 10:24-25). Therefore we need to show up to church eager to hear God’s Word preached. We need to sing loud and raise our hands high. We need to joyfully give our tithes and offerings. We need to pray for one another and serve the Lord together. We need to welcome one another as God has welcomed us.
These are vital practices which Christ-followers can’t do without. Through them, our lives are being changed profoundly. In fact, longer we observe them the more we will find that we are no longer just watching an epic; we’re actually living in one.