The white church buses parked in the dirt lot outside Mountain View Community Church looked downright old-timey. The huge white church building rising up behind them was anything but. Inside was high and wide and cool and green, with plenty of carpet and acoustic paneling on the walls to absorb the ringing music pouring from the band. “Let’s give it up for Jesus!” cried the bandleader, and the congregation gave it up. He and his guitar wailed and riffed, the backups harmonized, and a stylish grayhead stirred in overlays from an electric clarinet.
Lately, as I make my way from church to church, certain notions have been hitting me with startling force. Sunday’s gobsmacker assailed the notion of Christian belief in a friendly, fluffy God, cheerfully loving the world from up in heaven. After singing a song with the chorus “I am a friend of God” repeated again and again, the bandleader asked, “What’s so significant about that? The Bible says that before you received Christ, you were considered an enemy of God. Those are the most terrifying words I could ever hear someone say. The most powerful being ever saying, ‘You are my enemy.’ But when we receive Christ, we are called God’s friend.”
The singer did a fair bit of this lyrics-based preaching, to the point of calling for a kind of examination of conscience prior to singing a song that begged God to “break all my guilt and all my shame.” “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar anytime.... If there’s something that’s distracting you, something taking you off the altar of God...ask the Lord to obliterate it. Every dream... that’s become an idol — obliterate it.”
Pastor Youngkin, too, paused over dark possibilities in his expository sermon. His text was Ephesians 2, and to join Paul in emphasizing the Gentiles’ plight before Christ’s coming, he quoted Catullus: “The sun may set and rise again, but once our brief life is set, there is one unending night.”
Post-Christ, however, things looked better for those not included in God’s original covenant. Youngkin’s sermon veered toward the cheerful, and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he preached. “God loved the world and He wanted to redeem it. The Jews existed, not for themselves, but for the rest of the world. God was going to put Himself on display through a nation, and ultimately bring a messiah through that chosen nation. He said to Abraham, ‘The nations of the world will be blessed through you.’” Ephesians: “Christ Jesus...is our peace, He who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through His flesh.”
“The Jewish temple had four courts,” explained Youngkin, “the outer court for the Gentiles, the court for the Jewish women, the court for the Jewish men, and then for the priests. In 70 AD, the temple was destroyed, and Paul is making a veiled reference to the destruction of the temple. He’s saying that in Jesus Christ, all those walls of separation are gone. We’re all one in Christ, with the same benefits and privileges” — and responsibilities. “Nothing thrills our hearts like relationships that are harmonious; nothing breaks our hearts as much as relationships that are ruptured. We’re supposed to love each other. It’s very hard to love someone when you’re critical. Jesus Christ is saying, ‘I’ve taken on the judgment of God, so quit judging each other over your petty differences.’ If you won’t partner with what God has done, you’re outside of His will.”
In place of the temple, said Youngkin, stood a new structure: the church. Where there had been Jew and Gentile, there was now a “third race” — as Paul had it, “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
“So often, we revel in the fact that ‘I’m saved, I’m forgiven, I’m going to heaven,’” concluded Youngkin. “Paul is saying, ‘I want you to think outside of “me”.’ Start to see yourselves as a people group, the place where God wants to put on display His love. The church is the most important social entity on the planet. Because Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, I believe it can be seen in Scripture that the hope of the world is the church. We are God’s dwelling among His people. Let’s be the church that God would have us be. Let’s be the lovers that God would have us be.”
At the far edge of the parking lot, a cutout metal sign proclaimed, “You are now entering mission territory.”
What happens when we die?
“Our mission statement is to know Christ and to make Him known,” replied Youngkin. “And so we believe that knowing Jesus is the best way to live and the only hopeful way to die.”
1191 Meadowlark Way, Ramona
Denomination: Baptist General Conference
- Founded locally: 1953
- Senior pastor: Charlie Youngkin
- Congregation size: 600
- Staff size: 9
- Sunday school enrollment: 125
- Singles program: no
- Dress: semiformal
- Diversity: mostly but not entirely Caucasian
- Sunday worship: 9 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 6 p.m.
- Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- Website: mvccramona.org