VBS Gone Wild (Part 2)
VBS gone wild! Hopefully, just the sound of it makes you cringe. Our God is not a God of Chaos (I Corinthians 14:33). As mentioned in the first article, the Vacation Bible School atmosphere should encompass learning God’s Word. The time spent holding a VBS ought to represent good stewardship of time and effort unencumbered by worldly distraction. If Christ held a VBS, without a doubt, it would be reverent and conducted in a manner according to the authority of the Father. Knowing what a VBS ought to be, this article will focus on where VBS activities become sidetracked from their proper objective.
The comments and recommendations in this series of articles stand to be rejected in part or in full by a number who read it. This author does not want to offend or enrage anyone. However, we must do Bible things in Bible ways and when our activities find themselves questioned even by the world, reflection and discernment about our actions must occur. Whether rejected or embraced, please examine each component individually and consider what scripture says in regard to it (Acts 17:11). Keep in mind not only the immediate impact the actions of a VBS create, but the chain reaction of events that may occur as questionable practices enter the congregation. When legitimate concerns arise on the part of Christians should those concerns be tossed away or be regarded as a beacon from those who watch for our souls (Ezekiel 33)? Would your conscience be free of guilt by advancing when others cry for you to yield (Acts 24:16, Romans 13:5)? Will your actions wound the conscience of others or cause them to stumble (I Corinthians 8:10-12, Matthew 18:6)? Remember in all activities, by the member and body, the appearance of evil should be avoided (I Thessalonians 5:22).
Recall the potential description of a VBS: “They decorated the entire Church building to look like the ocean and the teachers dressed like crabs. We made crafts, watched a play, heard a Bible story about a guy who got eaten by a whale, sang songs – I clapped and stomped my feet with my favorite one – I won a prize in kickball, and we ate hotdogs and hamburgers afterward.” Let us break apart this statement piece and examine issues that revolve around it.
“They decorated the entire Church building to look like the ocean…” That concerns arise presently and arose in the past regarding whether or not to decorate a Church building for VBS represents fact. Does the decoration of a building represent a mandate from God? No. Before non-essential elements begin to enter the worship arena, exercise caution. An opinion may not be wrong, but exercising it may not be wise. If decorating a building for VBS creates division within the body of Christ does that represent edification? No. If going ahead with decoration despite objection causes a brother’s conscience to be weakened does a congregation stand justified in their actions? No. Why decorate a place for Biblical Study (objective of VBS)? If decoration occurs for the stated purpose of enjoyment, amusement, or entertainment, where in scripture does a congregation find such authorized? No such scriptural objective exists. Enjoyment, amusement, or even entertainment can exist incidentally to the learning process, but does not by any means represent the duty of Christians. Does decoration achieve the command to revere God? Past preparation for VBS at various congregations involved decorating the building like a beach, jungle, pirate lair, heaven, train depot, space, amusement park, and an endless variety of other ideas. Does this convey the seriousness of coming to know God and the danger to souls that exists in the world? Really consider this. No earthly trade in value exists for the human soul (Psalm 49:5-9, Matthew 16:26). Christianity isn’t a game. What kind of atmosphere do we want to present? Is it one with plastic seashells and a pretend turtle taped to the wall? Does the amount of time and financial/physical resources spent on decoration demonstrate good stewardship or time that could have been used more effectively (Luke 10:38-42)? Some folks claim the decorations represent an expedience for teaching. Recall, an expedient should bring about an advantage to the student. Do space decorations or beach decorations create more or less confusion when trying to study scripture? The gain cannot make up for the loss.
“The teachers dressed like crabs”. Many a VBS sees a wide variety of costumes. Members dress as crabs, pirates, horses, trees, Roman soldiers, governors, Caesar, Jesus, Mary, planets, monkeys, mummies, and so on. Where in the first century Church did the apostles dress up in the appearance of Moses or Daniel or a lion’s den to teach men about salvation? If this an expedient to learning, why in the great era of Grecian drama (which will be addressed later on in this series) did this not occur? Recall the words of Paul: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 – “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Paul did not need to dress up to share Christ. He did not need to have lofty speech or the wisdom of man. Many solid Christians depart congregations over dress up. Costumes bring division in many congregations. Many members sit silently, consciences wounded while such activity goes on around them. Other congregations refuse to encourage lost souls to attend the congregations with drama based on the obvious lack of reliance on the Word of God. If costumes serve as an expedient to knowing what something from the past looked like, would not a picture of the real thing more swiftly and accurately convey the truth? Is scripture itself not sufficient to guide a man to salvation (2 Peter 1:3)? Is dressing like a donkey or crab or Jesus to teach the Word reverent to God? Is the amount of time and resources spent to develop costumes good stewardship?
“We made crafts”. 1 Corinthians 15:3 –“ For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once… [handing out little crosses fashioned from popsicle sticks]”. No, the bracketed words do not represent scripture. However, according to the wisdom of man, Christ would have helped the children remember Him by giving out crafts. Crafts fill time. Crafts busy little hands. Crafts do not teach the Word of God in an expedient manner. How many children run from VBS class with their crafts having no idea what they did or why they did it. Oh, but they got to eat glue and use a stapler… that was fun! The young Jewish children were studying the written Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) at the age of five. “Make work” demonstrates lack of knowledge and inability to provide proper Biblical instruction. Yes, teachers, there does exist sympathy here. Because parents fail in their duties to raise children who will listen and learn without pandering, a great challenge stands before you. Do not flinch! Send them back to mom and dad until they can behave. Put the crafts away and get out the Bible. VBS should never be daycare. That is the job of the parent, not the Church.
“[We] watched a play.” Drama seems to be the flavor of the week for many VBS undertakings. Used here the word “drama” refers not only to actors playing a part but the utilization of puppets to act out parts as well. The utilization of drama poses a great number of hurdles for the Christian. Books have been written over its failings. In the least, drama cheapens God the gospel as if it were something common, at its worst drama delivers souls to gates of eternal hell. It lacks reverence toward God. I once approached drama with ignorance. As part of a congregation’s VBS I played the part of Jesus, our God and Savior, twice. To this very day I am sorry for what I did and the example I gave. How dare anyone assume to play God! My acting treated God, holy and above all (I Samuel 2:2), as something common. And how did the acting affect the youth? For years later, the children called me Jesus. It pains my stomach now to even think about it.
Drama does not equal the precision of reading scripture. Indeed, the countless hours spent preparing drama only demonstrates poor stewardship of time in comparison to the time required to read and explain a passage of scripture. Peter established that scripture can be difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16). Why would anyone throw the difficulty of interpreting a dramatic performance into the mix? What can an actor convey quicker and more clearly than the spoken Word of God? No backdrops need creating, no costumes need making, and no lines require memorizing… the most expedient form of learning happens to be preaching. Imagine that! (I Corinthians 1:21-25) If drama does not result in expediency, it exists without authority. As stated previously, if God desired His word to be performed, why did the apostles not do so in the era of Grecian theatre? No command, authority, or implications for necessary inference exist to support drama.
Drama falls hard on its face when it comes to edification. Rather than one man delivering a clear message from the Bible, men, women, boys, and girls “take the stage” and perform. Scripture does not teach this! (I Corinthians 14:26-31) Actor’s minds dart over appearance, remembering their lines, the thoughts of parents and friends, the actions and emotions coming next, and trying to perform better than everyone else. To be edified, their minds should be upon the word of God. Acting outside of their God given roles, women stand before the congregation where a man should stand sharing the message of God. God gave men that authority, not women (I Timothy 2:11-15). A preacher constantly battles controlling his pride and remembering he stands only as a messenger before God’s people. Yet, congregations put women and children on a stage and expect everything to be acceptable and with authority? What about the people who did not get roles? How did being left out edify them? What behind the scenes bickering developed because someone got the “special” role while another got to be the backside of a donkey? Edification remains far from drama. Pride, chaos, division, backbiting, gossip, and a lack of authority flourish. In the end, the emphasis of drama focuses on the actor’s behavior and costume rather than God.
When drama sets itself before its audience, its frequent objective equals amusement, social attraction, and emotion. Can you imagine anyone finding something amusing at the crucifixion of Christ? Drama enabled my eyes to see it and I am ashamed. Is there anything funny about the resurrection of Lazarus? Ever see that performed in the mode of Kung Fu theatre? One of the greatest miracles of all time demonstrating Christ’s power over death simplified down to a twenty second laugh track. Why drama? If honest hearts answer, drama comes to congregations in hopes of drawing a crowd. Only by Jesus does man come to the father (John 14:6). Jesus through the gospel draws men. Congregations condemn themselves trying to draw people to God by means of social interaction. The denominations and the world at large will ultimately out duel any drama, performance, musical, or carnival atmosphere a congregation dreams up. What makes the church unique is the power of the gospel to save (Romans 1:16). Emotions cannot substitute for truth. Emotions lead men to their destruction (Proverbs 14:12). Drama attempts to play upon the emotions of an audience, swaying them one way or another. However, God does not authorize drama and it does not lead to life (Matthew 7:13).
Do not let yourself think drama does not wound the consciences of others in the congregation. Do not let yourself think drama does not act as a stumbling block for the actors. Do not believe for a minute that other congregations do not notice the slippery slope those engaging in drama walk. They notice and separate themselves as far as they can from it. Drama represents a serious issue and departure from the faith.
Dress up, craft time, and drama inhabit many VBS enterprises every summer. Say goodbye to them and return to God’s authorized manner of knowing Him: teach, preach, study. Rely only on the Word of God. Truth sanctifies you (John 17:17). Truth sets man free (John 8:32). The inspired Word of God is suitable for doctrine, conviction, correction, and instruction (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The truth enables man to be adequately equipped for the purpose God made him. When man chooses cheap substitutes, his actions only result in failure and a displeased God.
VBS Gone Wild (Part 3) closes out this series and focuses on four more failings of the VBS.