My son, Really Right Jr, is taking American Sign Language (ASL) in school. As part of the class, he is expected to attend a number of outside deaf events each grading period. With a few weeks remaining in the grading period, he wanted to get his outside event completed during his Thanksgiving break.
We looked at a few options and decided to “stay within the lines” as they say here in Elk Grove and opted to attend the second service at Creekside Christian Church—the former First Baptist Church of Elk Grove.
FBC changed their name a few years ago and rebranded—this seems to be the fad in many Baptist churches. I spent over a decade of my life in and around Baptist churches so I thought I knew what I was in for but wow!
I have been on the campus of the church for various reasons in the past but never attended a service there before.
We arrived and took the first parking spot that we found which was far from the door. Parking is at a premium at this venue. We headed for the main building which was labeled as “Auditorium”. This is your first clue that this will not be a traditional worship experience. Why not a traditional name like church or sanctuary? Or even the more modern term worship center? Nope just auditorium.
Entering the auditorium building takes you into an outer room about the size of a large house. It was filled with a myriad of people. Near the entrance was a Christmas tree over 20 feet tall. Further in on the left was a generic Starbucks with gallons of various types of coffee and an assortment of donuts. The donuts were apparently for sale and not just given to members. I couldn’t tell if the coffee was complementary or for sale also. Many information tables were setup in the middle of the room. Of course the restrooms were located in this area also.
After navigating thru the chaos we finally made our way to the entrance of the auditorium proper. As expected, ushers were handing out bulletins to people as they entered. We let the usher know that our son was there to experience the deaf interpretation as a school assignment. He left his station and walked us to the area in the front where deaf and hearing impaired people were seated. Our son took a seat amongst the deaf folks and we found some open seats a few rows back.
The seats themselves were the kind that I really hate. They were padded but have interlocking hooks so all chairs in the row are linked together so you really get friendly with your neighbors whether you are comfortable doing that or not. I hate being cramped like a sardine. These seats make me feel like I’m in the lap of the person next to me. Think the stereotype of a Southwest Airlines flight.
After getting seated, we noted that there were no Bibles or hymnals available. We opened the bulletin and it was devoid of any information on the service order for that day. There was no kind of information on worship order or welcome to visitors or anything like that. It was devoid of song order, what we believe or similar doctrinal statement, and never even told us who would be preaching that morning. However, the back listed an extensive array of names that seemed to be mostly paid staff.
The other thing that you notice when you gaze around the room was the stage. It looked like a Hollywood stage for American Idol or some other television show with a little bit of a Christmas flavor added just to have an excuse for even more lights. There were two complete drum sets on the back left side of the stage which were both played simultaneously during the music, several singers, and guys playing electric guitars. A piano was on the right side but clearly missing was any semblance of a pulpit. On the back wall were large projection screens.
A few minutes after we were seated, the show began. The band cranked it up and started belting out songs that I had never heard anywhere before. Apparently if you go there a lot or happen to listen to “The Fish” radio station, you might know them.
Given the volume of the music, I can see why the church has hearing impaired people in the crowd. I thought the music was entertainment and not worshipful. By the second song, I was wondering if I had missed the popcorn line at the entrance. Maybe it was on the opposite side from the coffee. Anyway, as I watched the show, I was in the mood for a salty snack and cold ice tea. After a few more tunes, they took an offering and did another song.
Partway thru the show, a guy steps up to the microphone and starts talking. He made an announcement about the importance of a charity called Compassion International. And then he kept talking about Compassion. About 40 minutes later he finished talking about the charity. This was the sermon or done in place of it. I felt that I was at a live telethon and didn’t even know it.
Please understand that I like Compassion International and I’m happy whoever this guy is, does too, but typically I’ve seen stuff like this done at Sunday school or other non-worship time. Dare I say, even at concerts.
The program then continued and things really went strange… oh yes, there was more. Shortly after the presentation on Compassion International was finished yet another incongruity occurred. People were then invited to do Communion. Folks, I had a boatload of theological problems with how this was done.
First, the elements—bread and wine (or grape juice, not sure which)—were never blessed. There was no Scripture recited, no pray of thanksgiving, no “Do this in remembrance of me”, nothing. I’ve seen some fast and loose ways of doing Communion and felt a lack of reverence before but this one was just not there at all.
Second, the table was not fenced either verbally or in actuality. Folks this is a really big deal.
Communion was literally self-service and at a number of locations. I think Scripture makes it clear that there was one table where Jesus broke bread and said “Do this in remembrance of me.” Every Christian church service that I have heretofore attended has always had one table where Scripture and a prayer are said and then elements are distributed from there to the congregation. Jesus is The Bread and The Life. He is The Bread broken for you… This important symbolism of a foundational truth claim of the Bible was completely absent.
Also, Jesus’ body and blood were given for us. The symbolism of taking the elements out of unattended dishes where you literally help yourself instead of it being given to you by an ordained servant of Christ is just wrong. Yes I’ve seen unordained folks help in distribution but only after the bread and wine were consecrated.
Next, Scripture instructs us as to when to come to the table. We are told not to come unworthily. We come as sinners clothed with the righteousness of Christ but we are commanded to examine our hearts and be right with our brother before coming. No announcement (or even note in the bulletin) was made that you need to be baptized and not under church discipline to partake in Communion. Folks the biggest reason for someone to be ordained is to administer the Sacraments and these folks completely reneged on their responsibility. As I said before, no effort to fence the table at all.
Given the casual nature with which these guys approach the Sacraments, is it any wonder they dropped “Baptist” from their name. Baptists are well known not just for demanding that a person be baptized to receive Communion but also the method of baptism be immersion or it is not a valid one. “Believer’s baptism” is a real and unique theological term. The fact that it was never mentioned was frankly troubling given what I was expecting. Bread in a tray like Chick-fil-A mints and shot glasses of juice in unattended trays was deeply disturbing and irreverent. We didn’t go because we weren’t invited to and the elements were never blessed (consecrated). It was a mockery or parody of the Sacrament.
As I left the service, I was left wondering whether they held to anything other than good works as their “Christian” duty. Other than the pronouns used, what I witnesses could have passed for Methodist or any other group. Was this a clubhouse or a church? I couldn’t tell.
- You have money changers in the lobby hawking coffee and donuts
- A “worship band” that drowns-out congregational singing instead of leading them
- A sermon that wasn’t (I like Compassion International so I can’t complain too much plus they prefaced the presentation by saying it was out of format)
- Self-serve Communion with absolutely zero clergy involvement
Folks I love most Christian rock music and listen to it often but I also feel that congregational worship is not an appropriate venue for this type of music. Rock is entertainment and I don’t go to church to be entertained. Entertainment is a musician saying look at me, while worship should be look at God. Confusing who is truly worthy is not helpful. I think of Christian rock as outreach not an up-reach.
But the real deal killer for me was the Communion service. I do believe that a Biblical alter call is going forward for Communion with God not visitors doing the sinner’s prayer and walking the aisle but the way Creekside did it was outside of the practices of the historic church.
Sorry, but I have zero interest in returning—except maybe if they actually have a good concert. I can honestly say that the sound system rocks and there’s plenty of free parking too.