In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree…
— S. T. Coleridge
Faith Chapel Christian Center in Wylam, Alabama, celebrated the opening of a 26 million-dollar facility this past summer. Built on a 137-acre site, it features six domes under which can be found:
- A 12-lane bowling alley
- A basketball court
- A fitness center
- A banquet hall with a café
- A teen dance club
- An adult alcohol- and smoke-free night club
The church’s leader, Michael Moore, is quoted by the Christian News Network as saying: “People may not want to come to a church, but they’ll come to a bowling alley. People have needs other than spiritual needs. There’s a need for safe, clean, uplifting, family-oriented entertainment” (christiannews.net).
Now, to be sure, it may be a commendable thing to make the church the center of a community’s life. This is something that is fondly remembered by many of our own circle from the days prior to the dramatic array of entertainment options that have forced their way and been invited into our lives. Indeed, there were even some Lutheran churches that had similar entertainment options built into their facilities including gymnasia and bowling alleys. (German Lutherans, of course!)
These, though, were not meant to be the draw to bring people from the community into the church. Rather, they were an expression of the unity of faith, community, and family that already existed within the church. This is simliar to the way that today’s much more informal “coffee time” after the divine service is a reflection of the fellowship created in the more formal time in the sanctuary where God’s gifts are given.
The landscape is littered with projects such as this. One need only look back to the late 1970s when the Christian-themed Heritage USA amusement park opened. By the mid-1980s Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were able to claim that with an annual attendance of nearly 6 million visitors they were the third-most-visited such facility in the nation.
Today, though, Heritage USA lies in ruins. It was abandoned after the scandal that sent Jim Bakker to prison and his “ministry” into the hands of others. You can even find pictures of what’s left of this place that was once claimed to be proof of a loving God and the prosperity He promised His followers. (Or should that be “god” and “he” and “his”…as in Jim Bakker?)
That word, “prosperity,” is what links these two places together, even though over three decades divide their founding. One look at the website of Faith Chapel Christian Center will show that the siren song of unbiblical teachings continues (unsurprisingly) to wail and draw many, many to their destruction. The current teaching series is titled “The Prosperous Mind” and it’s not talking about prosperous in a good way, but in a “six-domed-church-and-entertainment-center-that’s-more-entertainment-than-church” kind of way.
We are prosperous, though. Rich in the grace of our crucified Jesus, as St. Paul states so clearly: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). The Church is all about this grace—the absence of the Father’s wrath over your sins that Jesus took unto Himself—that it offers to the world, not a grace that grants only “stuff.”
With all due respect to Olivia Newton John, one can only hope that this “spiritual” Xanadu suffers the same ignominious end as did her movie.
James Braun is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Brewster, Massachusetts.