Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Reformation Project: Visiting Prestonwood Baptist Church

PLANO, Texas, November 3, 2013 -- The entryway and lobby area of the Prestonwood Baptist Church feature wide hallways that have the distinct feel of an upscale shopping mall. That is likely intentional, as the church was built during the hey day of the mall as a shopping destination, and megachurches have sought to create a comfortable feel for seekers, rather than a "churchy" one. Adding to that mall like feel is the presence near the sanctuary of a small Christian bookstore, featuring paintings, various kinds of knick knacks, gift cards, Bibles and books of a popular nature:  devotionals, books on various issues related to Christian living, and those on dealing with family life.  One modest shelf was devoted to works by Senior Pastor Jack Graham. I also noted titles by other area ministers:  Robert Jeffress, Matt Chandler, and James Robison. There was also a food area near the sanctuary.

The worship center featured a large stage with a small podium at the front serving as a pulpit, and space for both a pop style band and orchestra behind a railing.  A large choir space was behind it all, with a baptistery above everything.  Two large video screens filled the space on either side of the choir.  Sophisticated backlighting added additional ambiance.  For much of the musical portion of the service, the lighting consisted of light shades of purple and green.  It changed to varieties of red and gold during the sermon, and blues at the end of the service.

Pew racks contained copies of the ESV translation of the Bible.  As lyrics would be posted on the video screens, there were no hymnals.

The service began with the baptism of two adults and one child. No explanation of the meaning or significance of baptism was given, though each candidate was asked if his baptism resulted from his having “trusted Christ as personal Lord and Savior.  Applause followed each of the baptisms.
Music followed these baptisms, and a praise team spread across the stage.  At first, it was difficult to know if the congregation was supposed to listen or sing along with the praise team and choir (nobody in the audience seemed to be singing, though the words were posted on the video boards.  Eventually, the leader of the praise team urged everyone to stand, clap, and join in.  We sang choruses words such as “I will bless the Lord at all times with praise in my mouth” and “My soul loves Jesus.”  These words were repeated incessantly, along with others declaring our commitment to praise Jesus, though very little about Him or why we were praising him was included in the lyrics.  Another song assured us that God was “fighting for us” and mentioned “resurrection power,” though it was not altogether clear what either the fight or the power were about.  A contemporary rendition of “The Solid Rock” provided the first substantive content of the service.

A brief prayer quoted a portion of Romans 1:16, and that was followed by another chorus proclaiming that we are not ashamed of the Gospel.  Like the earlier choruses, the song emphasized our commitment not to be ashamed without giving any indication of the declarations explaining what the Gospel is in the remainder of that verse.

Jack Graham then appeared on stage. Immaculately coiffed and gravelly voiced, the 63 year old Graham explained that they had been studying the Book of Acts under the theme “Ablaze.”  Today’s talk was based around events in the latter part of chapter 5 (he never really read the text in its entirety, though he referred and summarized much of it over the course of the sermon), in which Peter and John were arrested and then miraculously freed, whereupon they began preaching again in the temple courtyard, much to the chagrin of the religious authorities. The first portion of the sermon discussed the fact that Christians continue to face persecution in various portions of the world.  Graham said that in the United States that we are fortunate not to face the kinds of physical persecution experienced by Christians elsewhere, though we do face opposition.  In the United States, people are not threatening to kill Christians, though they will seek to shame us. 

From there, Graham pivoted to discuss the apostle’s continuing boldness to share Christ, and he used the remainder of his sermon to urge (at points, the guilt was laid on pretty thickly) all of us to share the gospel more boldly with others.  Quoting an anonymous source, he claimed that “the problem with the church today is that no one wants to kill us any more – in America.” Some of us avoid persecution by doing good deeds without talking about Jesus.  It is talking about Jesus that is the need of the day – and that will likely get us in trouble with our culture.

Evangelism was emphasized as a human activity, and the primary motivation was guilt.
Following an invitation to which some people appeared to respond, the service concluded with a pray for an evangelism activity promoted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  A large number of people had committed to hosting events in their homes, and those people came forward for the prayer. An offering concluded the service.

Prestonwood operates two satellite campuses. * While sermons are sometimes delivered by Graham via simulcast, on this Sunday the campus minister, Chris Kouba, preached.  The text, themes, and related scriptures were the same for the two sermons, which were clearly coordinated, though the campus pastor clearly was permitted to use his own material, as well.  Whereas Graham had emphasized persecution for insisting on the uniqueness of Jesus for salvation (quoting Acts 4:13), the young campus minister focused more on the troubles of Hobby Lobby’s owners over the contraception mandate in Obamacare and issues related to gay marriage.  He also urged the congregation to evangelistic activity, arguing that “obedience to God leads to godly results.”  Even more questionably, he told the congregation of several hundred that “God is not able to show his supernatural power unless I step out in faith and allow him to.”  He did not appear to recognize that God in fact would not be God in that scenario.

* The satellite location I visited has since closed, with the property being sold to Gateway Church. They now only operate one satellite.

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