Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Doggy church

I confess that often there are cultural movements that fly completely off my narrow radar screen. For istance, for months, I was ignorant of the cult following generated by the MTV hit show, "Jersey Shores," I confess that I often have no idea with what is going on with Brangelina, and don't even start asking me about the Kardashians. But when it comes to pop movements in the church, I try to keep up to date the best I can by reading Christianity Today and by periodically surfing the internet for the latest "ministry" trends. If you have an interest in catching up with what is "cool" in contemporary evangelical church life, I invite you to consult the "churchapreneuers" series here on Calvin on Tap. However, it has recently come to my attention that a chic, cutting edge ministry is on the rise and it has been flying well below my radar screen for some time. The new ministry craze I am thinking about is the whole new phenomenon of "doggy church." Let me explain.

Just a couple of weeks before Christmas, a parishoner handed me an article from the L.A. Times entitled, Presbyterian church in Westchester offers dog-friendly Sunday services a href="http://">. Naturally, being a huge dog-lover, my attention was immediately captivated. The story began in typical fashion. A new minister comes to an old, yet once thriving church, which had a shrinking membership, aging members, and little connection to the surrounding community. Obviously, any minister worth his salt would want to reverse the trend and restore the church's mission. The plan the minister of this church came up with was anything but the usual. Reasoning from the premise that any expression of human love is an analogue or even expression of divine love, Rev. Tom Eggebeen decided "He would turn God's house into a doghouse by offering a 30-minute service complete with individual doggie beds, canine prayers and an offering of dog treats."

As odd as all of this might seem to those of us who attend more traditional services, and who probably look aghast at local churches who advertize exciting worship including belly dancing, batton twirling, and light shows, this probably catches most of us well off guard. The author of the story reminds us though, that dog worship is not all that unusual, explaining that, "The weekly dog service at Covenant Presbyterian is part of a growing trend among churches nationwide to address the spirituality of pets and the deeply felt bonds that owners form with their animals." Apparently, a tsunami of canine services are sweeping the land and Laura Hobgood-Oster, a religion professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, sees this as not only a good thing, but a theologically sound thing. Not only does such a practice challenge the traditional thinking that dogs don't have redeemable souls, which she thinks is incorrect, but also it reflects a certain sensitivity to changes in social, community, and religious life wherein "pets are really central and religious communities are starting to recognize that people need various kinds of rituals that include their pets."

What should we say about all this? Should Biblical Christians even attempt to make any response? After all, giving attention to lunacy, in the eyes of some, often is an indication of legitimizing it to some extent. Ordinarily, I would be happy to showcase the folly and briefly satirize it, however, in this case, because it has to do with dogs, I think a word of response is in order. As already mentioned, I am a dog lover. I grew up with dogs, and as family we have had dogs. Not long after I first read this article, I took my dog, Captain (a wonderful Golden Lab), to the vet for what I thought was going to be a simple check-up only to find that he had a very aggressive form of cancer. In the space of a week-and-a-half our family had say a very painful good-by to our dog who had filled our home and hearts with deep joy for several years. As I left my Captain-dog with the vet attendant and said good-by for the last time, I looked into his eyes and told him how good he had been to us. There was no choking back tears here, because they were flowing like a river. Leaving him behind to be put down was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. It has been several weeks now since I had to put him down, and I still cannot get him out of my mind. I often hear in my head the clickety-clack of his feet walking across the hardwood floor, and my house still retains some of his familiar smells.

Why bring all this up? Well, because I am painfully aware of how much a dog can mean to a person, and I understand the bond and companionship that people share with their pets. All that being said, I understand how people want to think that their dog has a redeemable soul and that they will see a deceased pet in the new heavens and new earth. But none of that has to do with the worship of God. God is the object of our worship, not our pets or our feelings for them. It is not just odd, but idolatrous and blasphemous in the extreme, for churches to make humans and their relationship with their pets, an object of worship. Whether or not we will be reunited with our cherished pets in heaven (and for my part, I hope I see Captain again in heaven), the fact remains that worship is for God, not for man. To obscure this or de-emphasize this is to exalt the creature rather than the Creator, and that is grossly sinful and idolatrous. Beyond that, playing on the emotions of these people who share such a deep bond with their pets and making that a part of worship is not only idolatrous, it is unthinkably cruel and shameful. I used to think that the fraudulent and false worship perpetrated by the purveyors of CCM with their emotionally charged praise songs was not only idolatrous but a very shameful and cruel manipulation of people's emotions. But this dog worship, I am sad to say, is even more cruel. How selfish of churches, to lust after and covet having a crowd at church so much that they would manipulate people and their emotions by using the deep bond they share with their pets, in order to draw them into worship, and give them the false hope that bringing them to church is a bringing them to Jesus, and is a means of ensuring their pets place with them in heaven.

Ours is a dark and sinful age due to sin. Paul reminds us in Galatians 1:4 that this is and always will be a radically evil age until Christ returns in triumphant glory. It is not surprising then, that we see darkness, deception, and sinful distortion of the created order all around us. What is especially disheartening and soul wrenching is that people, in the name of God and His worship, would practice such gross deception and manipulation, in order to serve their own selfish ends. Shame on you Rev. Eggebeen and all you other religous fools who carve up the souls of the simple minded and turn God's house into a house of corruption and idolatry. The church gathered for worship is God's house, not a doghouse.


Jane said...

I completely agree, Rev. Sawtelle.

Anonymous said...

i consder your artical is so nice!........................................

danielj said...

I try to keep up to date the best I can by reading Christianity Today and by periodically surfing the internet for the latest "ministry" trends.

It says a lot about a person, and I'm grateful it does, what kind of magazines they read uncritically.

I understand what you're getting at here, but at one point, Calvin's Institutes was Christianity "Today" wasn't it?