Dressing up Jesus

By Joel Hess

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When I came out of Seminary I was a staunch liturgical dude. Don’t need no screens or even printed out service. The organ will do just fine. I got myself some incense and added a chasuble to my fine wardrobe. I wore my collar almost every day.

Those megachurch style worship services disgusted me. “It’s all entertainment!” “It’s like a big show, just to get people in the door.” “They are just trying to capture a mood.” “They want people to judge the service by their emotions instead of their brain.”

Huffin’ and puffin’ I rebelled against the wave of contemporary worship styles that was diluting the hardcore 2000 year apostolic tradition. (Which tradition? Liturgy? Customs?) I was proud of myself and my hardcore liturgical church as it grew in a hillbilly town of Appalachia! I was gettin’ snake handlers to chant! Soli deo gloria!

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But I have come to realize that I was trying to create a scene! A mood. A feeling. I don’t like the aesthetics of the megachurch contemporary factory. It’s so plastic and fake, and frequently effeminate. I still feel that way.

However, pushing to be “high” church can be equally vain! It too can be an attempt to chase an aesthetic, a look, a feeling. If the megachurch contemporary people are trying to achieve a U2 concert experience, the high church people are like civil war re-enactors doing their best to do everything right to look exactly like some arbitrarily chosen historical era in the church. Both parties spend gobs of money on aesthetics, from expensive chasubles to outlandish AV setups.

Chasing aesthetics. Chasing the perfect worship/divine service. Chasing the mood, whether it is finding pleasure in a sophisticated organ prelude or the humming of a Stratocaster overusing the delay pedal. I find myself too often treating the Sunday service as an art project.

Lately “high” church proponents have brought out the latest polls proving that a growing number of young people want “church to be church.” Some guys get all giddy about young people wanting to hear chanting and organ. Who cares!  It’s the same road to nowhere – chasing after a look, an image, a feel.

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I say stop it to pastors and members. Start chasing the only life giving, life changing, divine-meets-earth touchstone: the Word of God and the body/blood of Christ. Let Jesus be incarnate there. Let Him dwell with the people in His way. Stop trying to create a scene. Just speak His Word, properly distinguish law and gospel, give out His gifts, and let Him do His thing with the people.

We don’t need to dress Him up. They dressed Him as a King and mocked Him. They stripped him of everything and hung Him. He doesn’t care what He wears. He cares only that you wear His mercy and life. Isaiah says, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him and no beauty that we should desire Him!”

I suppose I want to be low church, ordinary, unbecoming, cross bearing, incarnate.  That is the greatest work of Art.

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