Brother ApatheticOrWhatever was kind enough to travel all the way to Lancaster Baptist Church this Christmas to bring us a report of the goings on there during their Sunday service.
White shirt? Check.
Out of style tie? Check.
KJV? Uncheck. I couldn’t seem to find one so I had to grab another version off my shelf.
Other than the Bible faux-pas I am perfectly disguised as a fundy. Since my Bible is in a cover there is little chance that my cover will be blown. I am ready to enter the heart of California fundydom-Lancaster Baptist Church.
I arrive barely in time due to a GPS that actively plots against me. I had a bit of trouble finding a parking space. Eventually a man directing traffic directed me to park in the area reserved for senior citizens. The service is scheduled to begin at 11:00 AM. No Sunday School or evening service is scheduled.
First impressions: Wow! This place is like Grand Central Station at rush hour. I have a hard time squeezing through. Why is it whenever there is a crowd of people trying to reach a doorway there is always some oblivious muggins who will stand in said doorway and have a conversation with their equally oblivious friends?
I am wished Merry Christmas between 8 and 10 times before I find the restroom. I am offered a bulletin 3 or 4 times. People stop me and shake my hand and welcome me to the service.
An usher offers to help me find a seat and I accept his help. The auditorium at service time:
The auditorium is decorated for Christmas. A large, wrapped box is set on the platform behind the pulpit. There are trees and wreaths everywhere.
Opening hymn: Joy to the World. Lancaster projects the hymns onto large screens.
Special music: 8 boys and 8 girls of about ten years of age file onto the platform. Each of them holds a separate microphone. They each hold it in their right hand. Each one holds it at the exact same angle while their left arm hangs unmoving at their sides. I am distracted by this and forget to write the song name down.
Time to greet the visitors! We are instructed to turn around and wish someone we don’t know “Merry Christmas”. Dutifully I turn around and for the first time notice that my old fundy Mog from TN is seated two rows behind me. My cover is blown! He looked as happy to see me as I was to see him. The rest of the greeting time was taken up with awkward small talk. “Fancy seeing you out here” & “How long are you staying?” etc.
Another special: Teenagers this time. 13 of them and they all hold their microphones in their right hands and keep their left arms rigid at their sides. The song is called “Distant Voice”. I had never heard it before.
Time for the next hymn: “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” (a carol of unimpeachable Biblicalness) We make it through the first verse okay but on the second verse things derail. The verse on the screens is very different from what the director is singing. He stops and laughs about the mix-up. He tells us to grab a hymnal and to turn to page 172. He starts off singing the second verse again while we in the audience stare blankly at whichever hymn was written on page 172. The director realizes that he got the page number out of a different hymnbook. He then asks for someone to shout out the correct page number. Instead someone shouts out “That song isn’t in this hymnbook”. To his credit the director laughs and says “Well I guess this has been pretty much a trainwreck”.
We are then instructed to fill out the Visitor/Members Card. Visitors are told to include whatever information we feel comfortable sharing. I opt for Name and City. Strangely, members are all instructed to fill one out as well. They are told to just write their name.
Another special. This time it is a young men’s quartet. Of course they hold the microphones in what I presume must be the only way allowed in the church bylaws. “It Is About the Cross”. I miss the message of the song because I am wondering whether I should even take notes since I am left-handed. Perhaps I will be escorted from the premises under armed guard.
Video: They show a short video telling the Christmas story. It paraphrases Bible verses as part of the flow of the story. However, the verses sound strangely non-KJV as a result.
The Main Event: (I only wish I were ringside instead of in the cheap seats)
Preacher: Paul Chappell.
Text: Luke 2:1-7. (Of course)
Theme of the message: Joy at Christmas
I. Joy in His Providence.
A. He Originated History.
Isaiah 7:14, Proverbs 21:1
a. He Prophesied.
b. He Performed. I Timothy 3:16, I Peter 1:9-11
B. He Orquestrated History.
Quote: History is His-story!
1. Political Structures.
Some jokes about paying taxes. Apparently leaves his notes and starts talking about Caesar Augustus. Says that Caesar Augustus was the son of Octavian Caesar. (No. They are the same person) He puts a map up on the screen of ‘The Holy Land in the time of Christ’. Oddly, the modern country of Jordan is clearly marked on the map.Chappell seems to realize that he is rearranging Roman and Middle-Eastern history and decides to return to the beaten path.
2. Perplexing Problems.
(My hand is already cramping)(I had surgery recently and I am starting to be in pain so I pop a pain pill)
II. Joy In His Presence.
A. The Place Was Determined. John 6:32-35
Joke: Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem? Because that is where his mother was!
B. The Saviour Was Delivered. (Yes, KJV spelling was used)
I John 4:9
More Jokes: Why were the first gifts not wrapped? Because the givers were wise and they were men!
Shows photo of a manger.
Yet Another Joke: Tells about a little boy who asks if he can be the lion in the Nativity play. When asked why he responds “You know, the lion (lying) in the manger”.
(At this point the kindly gentleman beside me leans over and points out that the entire sermon outline is included in the bulletin. Boy do I feel stupid.)
What follows is a weird addition. It seems like it was dropped in at the last minute. It doesn’t seem to naturally fit into the sermon. In the bulletin it is a shaded box that sets it apart from the rest of the sermon.
There Was No Room For Him in the Inn.
The Material Man Has No Room.
References the War on Christmas.
The Intellectual Man Has No Room.
I Corinthians 1:18-19
The Religious Man Has No Room.
Time for a fish story: Years ago (in a galaxy far, far away) Chappell went out ‘door-knocking’ (That phrase could be mistaken for a euphemism). He met a very religious lady who believed very strongly in the works that her false church taught. (He never says which false church) He climbs up on the staircase and tells her to imagine the building were on fire and asks her how he could be saved from the flames. She responds that she would have to jump. The story ends with her being saved and the audience gives the obligatory ‘Amen’ upon hearing this. How this actually happens must have been edited out.
(FYI prescription narcotics make fundydom much more entertaining but even less intelligible than normal)
III. Joy in His Provision.
A. A Personal Presentation. Romans 1:3, Philippians 2:5-8
Quote: “The life of our Lord is marked by the Virgin’s womb and the empty tomb. He came into the world through a door marked ‘No Entrance’ and left through one marked ‘No Exit’!
(Other than making Jesus sound like a boor who disregards signs I am not sure what this means) (I find this quote vaguely creepy but I can’t quite put my finger on why)
B. A Spiritual Presentation. Romans 1:4, Colossians 2:9, Luke 1:32
Quote: “Christmas is not about presents but about His presence”
Salvation appeal. Talks about Black Friday and people hurting and stabbing each other over shoes. Quote “A few years ago people were stabbing each other over Cabbage Patch dolls”. (Breaking News: Sting just left The Police)
Stand. Bow head. Close eyes. (I don’t think the order matters but I always do it in the order commanded)
Invitation song: ‘Have Your Way Lord’
Two people were baptized.
Video about upcoming attractions. I start plotting how I am going to avoid talking to my old Mog.
Dismissed. I see my Mog is climbing over people to exit his pew on the other aisle from me. For once, he and I agree on something; not talking makes us both happier.
Since I am a first-time visitor I am entitled to some swag. I am given a book written by the pastor. “Christmas is a Gift”. I also am given a pre-printed “personal invitation” to keep attending.
I walk to my car. A brass ensemble is out on the sidewalk playing Christmas carols. I stop and listen for a moment. It almost seems normal.
~ Apathetic or whatever.