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February 22, 2010

Casa de Dios

It consists of a building complex and multiple parking lots, the whole complex surrounded by concrete walls with razor wire, an armed guard with dog on the knoll above – and even a guard tower. It’s not a prison, but Casa de Dios a megachurch just outside Guatemala City. It was quite an experience when my elder friend and her brother took me to their church this Sunday – at 7am. I expected the “early service” to be less populated; I was wrong. The auditorium was full, about 6,000 I think, and they have 5 services each Sunday. Their membership is about 20,000, I think. There is a full television production, no less than 5 cameras, and one of these mounted on a rather obnoxious boom which pans over heads in a section of the seating. About 200 ushers comb the crowd on various missions. When the offering is collected, you can even pay by credit card.
I have visited numerous churches in Guatemala and in the US. It is a classroom for me, observing and studying how “church” is done, wondering what God thinks of us, in these various forms. To be sure, the forms are various. When I think I have seen it all, I still get surprised, not always pleasantly. But here, worship I did. Preparatory to communion, when a trumpeter played “Above All”, how could I not worship? All the rest I could well do without. I like contemporary worship; this I would call commercial worship. Still, the spirit of God was there, he finds a way and has in virtually every church I have attended. He comes in the hearts of all true believers, and I believe he comes with me. The wonder is that he tolerates all our strange machinations. The truth is, it is not far from dynamic preaching to manipulation, from contemporary worship to theater, and from prosperity to opulence. For the pastor, I suspect it requires the special grace of God to stand before thousands of people and remain humble; many do not achieve it.
While I may seem cynical and hypercritical, my principal reason for concern about us and our worship practices is how much I have a heart (imperfect as it is) for truth and justice, so much so that I fear any of our departures can do injustice. If we taint the gospel of Christ with our self, we likely do harm to the kingdom of God. In medicine we say, first do no harm. The Holy Spirit does not need our theater productions, our high liturgy, or our cathedrals. He needs only one soul who lives the gospel and fellowships with others.
This megachurch and its pastor, Cash Luna (that is his name), teach the so-called prosperity gospel. In a nutshell, the message is: “you do not have because you do not ask”, taken to promise wealth. Here is how my passion for justice and this “gospel” meet: The most basic reason I have returned to Guatemala is my sense of justice for these people. You see, the indigenous people suffered greatly when the Spanish invaded. They were slaughtered and enslaved. For hundreds of years, this goes on. Their land, their lives, and their dignity were taken. True, the case can be made that the Spanish brought Christ. No, they brought the Catholic Church, which has done much good and some bad for the people, but Christ came in on their coat-tails, in spite of them, in a way. Today Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the Americas. It is also one of the most evangelized. So when I see evangelicals “repeating history”, abusing the hopes of the poor, I get a little sensitive. The people need Christ living among them, as we all do, not brought by an invasion or empty promises. Their reality is different from what the prosperity gospel preaches.
God still does work in this church, just as I could still worship there. They do many good works. They have about 3400 home groups, to me, the CHURCH. May God bless them. …It took an hour to exit the parking lot. Oh, and Casa de Dios is building a new bigger church. Copyright 2010