Rev. Ed Young pastors Second Baptist Church in Houston, a megachurch of five campuses and 58,000 members. Five years ago Young, 75, decided to revamp Vacation Bible School (VBS) in efforts to make it more appealing to children living in today’s secular culture. This month, nearly 10,500 children attended VBS at Second Baptist’s various locations. The New York Times shares some of the rationale behind Young’s concept:
[Young] has overseen the creation of Vacation Bible School for the 21st century — an over-the-top amalgam of Christian rock, humorous skits, Broadway-style musicals and, lest we forget, strobe lights and fog machines.
Second Baptist had always run a Vacation Bible School, but five years ago the church recast it in a high-tech, high-gloss version intended to compete against secular pop culture. In so doing, Second Baptist forms part of a trend that defies the stereotype of evangelical Christianity as being hopelessly old-fashioned. While movies, popular fiction, rock music and hip-hop have already been adopted and adapted by born-again Christians, the institution of Vacation Bible School has remained, until recently at places like Second Baptist, less amenable to innovation.
This is a clear example of pragmatism at work in the visible church. The Christian must ask, then, if it is appropriate to desire to “compete against secular pop culture,” especially by means of redesigning church activities to resemble a sinful, fallen world.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15–17
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Pet. 1:14–16
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Rom 12:2
Very likely, Second Baptist Church would argue that their means and their methods are merely a way to draw thousands of children and share with them the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The report from The New York Times continues:
All the planning and effort go toward what might be called directed fun, an entertainment package always mindful of imparting a gospel message. Vacation Bible School lasts for four mornings, each of which is oriented around a Christian concept, a Bible story and several key verses.
On a recent Tuesday at Second Baptist’s Woodway campus, for instance, the theme was “God knows me,” the story was the Woman at the Well from the New Testament and the verses were from John and Psalms. All of these elements aimed to underscore the essential Christian concept that even though humans sin, Jesus can see the goodness as well as the sin. And Jesus, dying on the cross, took away the taint of sin from those who believe.
One error here lies in the claim that an “essential Christian concept” is “that even though humans sin, Jesus can see the goodness as well as the sin.” This statement is false. Apart from Christ, man has no goodness or righteousness of his own.
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Rom. 3:10–18
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Rom. 3:23
The Gospel is not that Jesus “can see the goodness as well as the sin,” because there is no goodness to see in men. Jesus did not die to merely remove the “taint” of sin, rather it was His blood which perfectly and fully atoned for the immeasurable sin debt amassed by each one who would believe. It is the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers that allows them to stand before God on Judgment Day without fear of incurring His just and eternal wrath and condemnation.
Ed Young is the father of well-known pastor Ed Young, Jr., who is no stranger to executing outlandish stunts in his own Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. In January of this year, Young, Jr. and his wife set out to spend 24 hours in a bed on the roof of their church as a publicity stunt for his recently-released book, Sexperiment. The stunt was cut short, however, when the pastor suffered an eye injury due to sun exposure.
Young, Jr. also came under fire for his use of live animals in his 2012 Easter service. It seems, then, that pushing the boundaries of tradition and reverence is not a new concept for this father and son.