From the Wall Street Journal [“In Europe, God is (Not) Dead,” by Andrew Higgins]:
Consider the scene on a recent Sunday at Stockholm’s Hedvig Eleonara Church, a parish of the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran institution that until 2000 was an official organ of the Swedish state. Fewer than 40 people, nearly all elderly, gathered in pews beneath a magnificent 18th-century dome. Seven were church employees. The church seats over 1,000.
Hedvig Eleonara has three full-time salaried priests and gets over $2 million each year though a state levy. Annika Sandström, head of its governing board, says she doesn’t believe in God and took the post “on the one condition that no one expects me to go each Sunday.” The church scrapped Sunday school last fall because only five children attended.
Just a few blocks away, Passion Church, an eight-month-old evangelical outfit, fizzed with fervor. Nearly 100 young Swedes rocked to a high-decibel band: “It’s like adrenaline running through my blood,” they sang in English. “We’re talking about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
Passion, set up by Andreas Nielsen, a 32-year-old Swede who found God in Florida, gets no money from the state. It holds its service in a small, low-ceilinged hall rented from Stockholm’s Casino Theatre, a drama company. Church, says Mr. Nielson, should be “the most kick-ass place in the world.” Jesus was “king of the party.”
If you were raised in a traditional church, my guess is that you’d chose church #1. It’s stable, it’s traditional. Chances are that its worship style is thoroughly traditional, with the focus on quiet reverence.
However, if you weren’t raised in church, or were at the place in life where you were convinced that church was “boring, untrue and irrelevant,” you’d be more likely to go for Passion Church.
Purists on either side can argue that the other church is compromised by its attachment to mainstream culture. The Hedvig Eleonara Church, though apparently traditional, sees the leadership of the church as sufficiently secular to accommodate leadership from atheists. The Passion Church, though apparently counter-cultural, uses the language of pop-cultural hedonism.
Getting beyond the verbiage and hype (“The church is run by an atheist” or “Jesus was ‘king of the party'”), and questions as to who is more compromised by culture, we need to ask questions of life change. Which church is reaching people for Jesus? Where are sinners coming to faith? We’re not told about what’s happening at the traditional church, but we hear a story from Passion Church:
The message has lured some unlikely converts, including a heavily tattooed, self-described former mobster. “I’ve gone soft,” says Daniel Webb, the son of an English father and Swedish mother, who spent five years in jail for illegal arms possession and assault. He was baptized, like most Swedes, in the Church of Sweden but never prayed. He went to church for the funerals of fellow hoods but scoffed at Christian sympathy for the meek.
Mr. Webb first went to Passion Church three months ago with a female friend. Expecting to be bored, he got hooked. “An ocean of anger has calmed,” he says. His ex-wife, he says, “thinks I’m ridiculous.” He says he’s turned his back on crime.
What are we more concerned with – getting everything right, or seeing lives changed? While being right is not unimportant – after all, Jesus didn’t just seek life change in general, but life change oriented to the Kingdom of God – the New Testament pictures Jesus majoring on the latter, the Pharisees on the former. We can say that Jesus got things right by focusing on people and reconciling them to God (think Luke 15 here).
As a UM Pastor, I go where I’m sent. I don’t get to chose what church I go to. As a leader, I’d like to lead my church so that it’s more like Passion Church than Hedvig Eleonara Church. I want to bring people to Jesus, not just do what we’ve always done.