Promoting a sermon series called “Hogwarts Halloween,” the Church by The Glades posted on its website, “Calling all wizards! Muggles, too… Where do you belong? Maybe you’re stuck in the wrong ‘house.’ Unlike Hogwarts, we can choose who we surround ourselves with. Join us as we discover what the Bible has to say about relationships and belonging in the family of God.”
Located in Coral Springs, Fla., and pastored by David Hughes, the Church by The Glades “is a hyper-creative and fully-charged church where no perfect people are allowed.” Being authentic is also a priority for CBTG. (Announcing authenticity is like announcing that you’re weird; in both cases, if you have to tell people, you’re most likely not.)
For Pastor Hughes, being authentic looks like a sermon series with a Harry Potter theme.
On a stage complete with set pieces and props, Hughes opens his sermon sitting on a plush leather couch shrouded in smoke from smoke machines. The set and Pastor Hughes are upstaged by a large screen showing Hogwarts’ library with people (costumed students of Hogwarts) constantly walking in and out of frame; Pastor Hughes is upstaged both literally (it’s upstage of the set) and in the “stealing focus” definition of the term. (In the grand scheme of things, this is really a small quibble, but I don’t understand why the church’s stage manager and technical director didn’t realize that having people constantly walk behind David Hughes would be distracting. That’s stagecraft 101.)
After a brief introduction, Hughes invites three young girls onstage to be “sorted” into a house. If you’re unfamiliar with Harry Potter, students at Hogwarts are placed into houses by a talking witches hat.
The hat is placed on each girl’s head, the hat speaks, and the girls are sorted. Given scarfs and hats, they are then escorted to a special seating area where they enjoyed candy and butterbeer throughout the worship service.
Speaking of worship services, does any of that remind you of the praise and worship of our Creator God?
Of course, it doesn’t.
Pastor Hughes then spends the next few minutes defending his church’s use of Halloween and Harry Potter themes and images in a worship service. Some people were concerned about Harry Potter’s themes of “magic and sorcery,” and so Hughes claims that he was asked, “aren’t you concerned we might turn our kids into wizards or something?”
To those who might be concerned that children will become wizards because of the theme of his service, Hughes responded, “Well, I don’t know. We’ve done this before. … A few years ago we did a theme. It was the attack of the religious zombies. And it was kind of on religious legalism, you know, and how sometimes religion can be a little brainless, you know, and unkind. Here’s the crazy thing: we did this series ‘Attack of the Religious Zombies’ and nobody turned into a zombie.”
After over eight minutes of a 29-minute long sermon, Hughes transitions (somewhat) from pageantry, showmanship, and silliness into the preaching of God’s Word.
In that transition, Hughes compares a Harry Potter book with the Bible. He rightly claims that Harry Potter is fiction and the Bible is fact, but Harry Potter is woven throughout the rest of his sermon, and props and special effects are utilized.
I am thankful for David Hughes’ high view of the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I am also thankful that he recognizes that all humans are sinners who stand in judgment before a holy and just God, and that salvation from their sin is only found in repentance and faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, I’m not offended by Harry Potter or Halloween. My daughter reads and loves Harry Potter and my family goes trick-or-treating every year. But, the worship service is to be about God; Christians are called to focus their praise and worship on Him. Tricks and attempts at cultural relevancy distract from God, at best. And, at worst, they cause those in attendance to look inward, to rejoice in cultural relevancy, and to compartmentalize God alongside pop culture.
God should never have to compete for attention, especially not in the praise and worship of His name that He’s commanded to take place on His day.