A video of a church service from Oct. 30, 2022, has caught traction on X (formerly Twitter). Christian commentary site Protestia posted the video mashup of zeitgeist phenomenon Baby Shark and mainstream Christian radio worship songs with text reading “A lot of you are acting like you’ve never seen an SBC Church perform a ‘Baby Shark’ mashup during a service, replete with smoke, canons, and a pirate ship.”
A lot of you are acting like you've never seen an SBC Church perform a ‘Baby Shark’ mashup during the service, replete with smoke, canons, and a pirate ship. See the story https://t.co/bHvgdq7GZG pic.twitter.com/IBo66Hcu9b
— Protestia (@Protestia) September 12, 2023
The Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Fla. used a pirate theme to “embrace the costumes and the spooky and the candy to, hopefully, entice a lot of families to come check out our church,” Pastor David Hughes explained at the opening of his sermon following the musical spectacular. He went on to say that the previous evening’s services were so full of sugar-laden kids that it was a challenge for him to navigate as a communicator. He told his congregation, “I’ve got, like, 1,200 kids in their costumes hyped up on sugar. It’s like preaching to a room full of puppies on cocaine. It’s awesome!”
Hughes continued justifying the pirate “shenanigans” by comparing the church’s approach to reaching the unchurched to Luke 5, in which Jesus teaches about putting wine in a wineskin. Pastor Hughes teaches the Gospel is the wine and the church’s creativity is the wineskin which is “just the device or the vehicle to carry the truth.” In other words, we should be less concerned about how the truth is presented as long as it’s presented.
Imma stop you right there, Hughes. Let’s read the verses you’re referencing, Luke 5:37-39:
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’
In ancient winemaking, the wealthy put freshly pressed grape juice in large jars or containers with small holes at the top, but common people used a wineskin, usually made of an animal skin or bladder, to ferment the liquid. New skins were still pliable so they would expand and accommodate the gases and expansion that come with fermentation; old skins that had previously been used were dry, so any new fermentation that would take place would break the vessel. Anyone who has had a sip of decent wine will know that well-maintained older vintages always taste better than new.
As much as I love a solid lesson in oenology, let’s get back to Luke 5, where Jesus was asked why His followers were allowed to eat and drink when the Pharisees encouraged fasting. His answer via parable was that the Gospel cannot be poured into the existing practice simply because the existing practice cannot hold it without breaking.
Pastor David Hughes says the skin doesn’t matter: put on a black Jolly Roger t-shirt and some eyeliner because we’re putting the Gospel into today’s culture to make it relevant to the unchurched. I’m not one to put words in Jesus’s mouth, but I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what He said not to do in Luke 5.
Which brings us back around to Baby Shark. Anyone with small children in their lives will be able to expound at length about Baby Shark, the famous earworm bestowed upon us by Pinkfong, a South Korean children’s educational brand. If you’re unfamiliar with Baby Shark, I recommend you either find another PJ Media article to read or continue with this one but, whatever you do, if you’ve not heard the song, don’t start now. Please, darling reader, I am pleading to protect your innocence.
The video shows a healthy production budget to support at least 10 large screens, indoor pyrotechnics, a light board for 20 or more spots, plus sound, costumes, and superior-quality projectors. The auditorium boasts movie theater-style seating. In short, it’s the quintessential American megachurch. Since becoming a Christian at the age of 17, I have had my fair share of Protestant church services. Pastor Hughes’s blatant disregard of Christ’s wineskin parable is one of the many reasons I ultimately left the Protestant promised land of lattes and candy-coated sermons — and that is what this Baby Shark thing ultimately translates to: noise.
To illustrate my point, I’ll refer to the Gospel story of Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus who often hosted Jesus in their home. Luke 10 starts with Jesus sending out His appointed 72 in pairs ahead of Him in every place He visited. The Lord’s directions were plain: don’t take anything with you, don’t get distracted, and don’t move once you are settled. When He arrives at one of His destinations (Lazarus’s house), Mary sits at Jesus’s feet while Martha scurries in and around the kitchen.
Martha: Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!
Jesus: Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.
Don’t take anything with you or worry about what you do and don’t have. Don’t get distracted, but maintain focus on Jesus. Don’t move once you’re settled at the feet of Jesus. Our loving and well-intentioned Protestant brothers and sisters are Martha, fussing with and focused on the stuff — the pirate ships, the production, the next big schtick that will draw in the lost souls wandering Coral Springs, Florida. They are, knowingly or not, relying on their human efforts and work to reach people for the Lord.
The very first church I attended in 2001 was a healthy nondenominational mix of DC Talk and organ hymns. There were padded pews with New King James Version bibles and tithing envelopes in racks attached to the back; small circle holes gave congregants a place to put their empty thimble-sized communion cups. When the pastor retired, a young, dynamic man was hired. Next thing we knew, we got a coffee bar in the lobby and cushy seats with cupholders to encourage the coffee sales that supported the church.
People came. Services were added. Renovations were scheduled. I was at that church almost every weekend for six years, volunteering in the youth ministry and as a greeter, participating in women’s Bible studies; when I suddenly stopped going because of a personal crisis, no one noticed or cared enough to call.
Every time I moved (and since becoming an active-duty Marine Corps wife, it’s been a lot), I sought a new church home. In Austin, ushers handed out earplugs along with the paper programs because the music was so loud. In California, believers were baptized in the ocean on select days that were highly promoted; you had to sign up before the slots were filled. In Virginia, the pastor wore designer jeans that a quick Google search indicated cost just under $400. In North Carolina, there were hashtags and Instagram filters.
“I just wish there was a way we could move and not have to look for a church,” I lamented one day to my husband. And that’s when it hit me: maybe we should look at the Catholic church. It’s the same no matter where you go. The scriptures each day are set and, while the homily will be different, there might not be as much “creativity” taken in the interpretation of the readings.
After approximately seven years of asking Kruiser every question I could think of, as well as a six-month class on what Catholicism is and isn’t, I finally understood why I was so comfortable in a Catholic Mass: it was all about Jesus. From the kneeling and standing and sitting to the smells and bells, every minute detail was committed to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
There wasn’t a concert that made me feel the music in my bones, but I didn’t need that experience the way I thought I did to feel close to the Throne of God. I wouldn’t raise my hands during a song, but I also wouldn’t be racing to check every scripture reference for accuracy. Sure, we still have to turn around and greet our neighbor (introverts hate this part no matter what faith is practiced), but it always starts with kissing my husband, son, and daughter, which breaks the ice.
When the tray of juice and crackers was passed up and down the pews, even as a Protestant, I felt rushed, like I didn’t get to spend enough time worshipping and loving Jesus. Catholics dedicate entire hours, days, and even perpetuity in some places to adoration, the open display of the consecrated Host, just so people can sit at His feet.
At the end of the day, in my view, Protestants are Martha and Catholics are (coincidentally, or maybe not) Mary. One is frantic for attention, believing the success of the thing is contingent upon their actions; the other is only interested in Jesus. I don’t say this to be disparaging of Protestants (I was one, after all!) but to suggest they may be missing the fact that Jesus’s promise is appeal enough — we don’t need to dress His love up in cheap gimmicks for people to see the value.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love it when the worship night lights go down and my voice is lost in a sea of humanity; when I can raise my hands in the air, close my eyes, and let the tears stream down my face; when I feel like the veil of Heaven is thinner than a spiderweb.
Is that self-expression indulgent? Perhaps, but singing for joy, adoration, and worship is, in fact, in the Bible. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket but, when I feel anonymous and drowned out, I can give my whole self to Jesus without worrying about being off-pitch because it stops being about me.
Rather than identifying cultural trends and attaching the Gospel to them, it’s time we Christians stopped chasing the world and started enjoying the green pastures and still waters the Lord shows us.
Wait, y’all thought Psalm 23 was only for funerals?! That’s another article for another day.