Sunday, May 29, 2005

North American Christian Convention

The Corona, CA, version of the North American Christian Convention is history. Although this year's version was brief, I felt it was one of the better gatherings I've attended over the past few years. Let me give you several reasons for my statement.

The convention emphasized traditional Restoration Movement positions. Over the past few years a lot of talk surfaced charging that leaders, especially those involved in organizing the North American, were abandoning the movement's doctrinal positions. The charges usually revolve around baptism. While I often think that many churches are somewhat soft on this question, I did not hear this in evidence. Several speakers clearly emphasized that baptism is for the remission of sins.

The convention services were worshipful and mellow. After the hard rock of last year's convention, this year's services were quietly worshipful. Convention music featured the stylings of John G. Elliott at the piano. Accompaniment featured the piano, violin, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, and drums at a volume comfortable to everyone. We sang traditional hymns as well as newer praise songs. Elliott successfully brought us to the foot of the cross in every service.

The convention emphasized the need for our churches to go deep. Several years ago, I wrote Christian Standard article entitled, "The Platte River Syndrome." In the article I expressed the view that many of our mega-churches are, like Nebraska's Platte River, are a mile wide and an inch deep. Over the past few years, our churches have successfully reached thousands of people but are failing to ground them in solid biblical truth. I found it interesting that several of this year's speakers expressed the same observation and agreed that our churches needed to do more to disciple their members. Sadly, however, those same speakers gave us few practical insights on how to do it.

While I enjoyed the convention, there were just a couple of things that gave me pause. First, there was a lot of talk about "encountering God." Sadly, however, "encountering God" equalled "feelings." the impression was left that if the music and the style of worship create emotional responses, one has experienced God. This thinking fits in well with current worship philosophy that worship must create a sense of the infinite. The gurus of contemporary worship insist that today's young dults want to "experience God." The problem is, however, that someone with the right skills can manipulate emotions to create an atmosphere one can call an "encounter with God" whether or not it really is. I am not opposed to creating atmosphere in worship, but let's be honest enough to realize that the result may or may not be an experience of God. A genuine experience with God depends more on the condition of one's heart and the impact of the Holy Spirit working through the Word. Perhaps we could more accurately call conviction an experience with God rather than emotionalism.

Second, Robert Webber surprised me with his exposition of Acts 2 and his emphasis on the importance of Acts 2:38. At the same time, Webber spoke at length about the need for preparatory instruction (catechism) prior to baptism and the use of ritual and symbol in the process. Just as he did in his book, The Ancient Future Church, Webber drew most of his illustrations of ritual and symbolism from the church of the second and third century rather than the New Testament Church. In other words, Webber simply didn't go back far enough in his search for the "Ancient Church." Still, there were some insights worth chewing on in his presentations.

This year's convention is worth attending, but as in every instance one must keep their analytical thinking cap on.