Wednesday, October 22, 2008

City Harvest Church and St. Peter on Beauty

Upon reading the recent reporting of a beauty pageant being held at City Harvest Church's (CHC) annual Emerge! (youth) Conference, I'm led to ask, "Is beauty pageant compatible with Christ, particularly within Christ Body, that is the Church?"

I'm all out for promoting aesthetics within churches and among Christians, but I have always referring to the architecture, the message, the public appeal of the Church and individual Christians. I have never thought about the physical appeal of the members of the Church. So yes I agree that beauty must not be overlooked in churches, yet when it comes to the individual Christians' adornment, I have yet to consider. Hence CHC's event is intriguing.

Since my approach to aesthetics is rooted within the purpose of such beauty (for eg. meaningful architecture that points to the reality of life and the transcendence reality of God) and our vocation to beautify reality, I think it does help to ask what values is CHC promoting through Beauty Pageant?

The only value that I can come up with is to present ourselves as decent people. Decent as contra to sloppiness, not ugliness. Hence we ought to beautify ourselves not to attract or seduce people, but making ourselves approachable by others. Here I'm indirectly drawing from St. Peter.

What St. Peter said about beauty?

In 1 Peter 3, St. Peter was writing to "wives", sharing some insights on how to be good wives. He remarked, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."

St. Peter was trying to cultivate values that transcend the physical appeal. He emphasized the "inner" beauty rather than the "outer". Eugene Peterson paraphrased it well, "What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in."

And it is interesting to place St. Peter's remark alongside that of CHC's pastor's judging criteria (included physique, confidence, eloquence and overall appearance). We find that St. Peter's criteria do not get along with those of the pageant. Both differ in their emphasis on beauty. St. Peter directs us to the inner beauty while CHC the outer.

Isn't it puzzling to see a CHC's event that does not conform with its own Statement of Faith that says, "The scriptures are infallible, inerrant and the sole and final authority for all matters of faith and conduct."


Steven Sim said...

Is this an example of the Church trying to hard to be "relevant"?

“I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.” - Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, 1989

and my reflection of his insight -

Steven Sim

Sze Zeng said...

Oh ya, CHC always try to be "relevant", but they are confused on the purpose and manner of "relevance".

Alex Tang said...

I agree with Steven that there is a thin line between church and culture. Following Christ who is the head of the church may make us irrelevant. So what? That's the Way.

I am glad that Willow Creek Community Church and The Willow Creek Association has begin to realise this mistake in being relevant i.e. engaging culture by being seeker friendly and is revising their approach.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Alex,

You are right. That's the Way. The recent re-working of the program at those two churches is indeed a big surprise. Just that, hopefully others mega churches take notice of it.

Kar Yong said...

Perhaps the next event to be relevant would be a body building contest to promote physical wellness so that we can prove to be deserving "temple" of God??

God help me to be irrelevant...

Thy Word Is Truth said...

Kong Hee has consistently fed CHC with this "culture relevance" poison to justify his way of doing church. To understand CHC, one must understand KH and asked if what he is saying is in line with God's Word.

(See Harvest Times Issue 29 -Online)

"Among the unchurched,Christianity is often thought of as an irrelevant, antiquated, religious belief system that dates back 2,000 years ago. And when we the Church keep presenting the gospel in an archaic and outdated way, who could blame them? But the tragedy of it all is that when we insist on doing that, the world won't just think that we are outmoded, unexciting and boring, they conclude that God is outmoded, unexciting and boring! (Which is an insult to Him because He certainly is not!)"

"We must change how we think and communicate the reality of Christ to the world. The gospel needs to be re-presented, not just represented. The onus is therefore on us to re-present Him anew in the 21st Century."

"As such, the whole challenge of engaging culture is not for the fainthearted. It is really a contest of influence—who is influencing whom."

"When you understand the mandate of kristos kai kosmos—Christ and culture—you understand the many conscious efforts the heroes of faith took to make themselves relevant to their contemporary society. To them, the message was sacred, but their method to communicate it was not. They used different means and ways, sometimes even appearing somewhat "worldly," to earn the right to speak into the lives of their intended audience."

As far as KH and CHC are concerned, you just need to ensure leadership of the world by being better: its Ok to be worldly,just make sure you are the best in worldliness not just a follower.

To KH & CHC, the "shameful" and "foolish" Gospel of the cross is no longer the power of God unto salvation, it needs to be updated with version 1.1.

We need to ask:
Has God changed ? or Is God Unchangeable?
Has God's Word changed ?
Is man less depraved now ?

The end does not justify the means !

Benjamin Ho said...

I am not sure where in the Scriptures you can find verses exhorting the church to be "relevant". Christ's Sermon on the Mount was a most radical message and chllanges the existing patterns and way of modern life. We are to engage, challenge and transform culture, not mindlessly following its fads and fashions. Perhaps Christians should read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship.

reasonable said...

Risk: becoming so relevant that the church becomes irrelevant!