Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Church group faces off against another over subsidized gas
Auburn, California - As the community celebrated the opening of a new church in Auburn Sunday, another church protested the services because of objections to the congregation's "merchandising" and "business-like" strategies.
At issue was the New Life Christian Church's gas subsidizing event last weekend in Auburn. The church paid for more than 200 people to purchase gas at a discounted rate of $1.99 per gallon.
New Life Senior Pastor Bill Jenkins said recently the event was designed to show that God is interested in things that affect people's lives, such as gas prices.
Members welcomed many newcomers to the church's first services at 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday at the Canyon View Community Center. Jenkins describes the church as having a "coffee house" style.
But members from the Church of the Divide in Garden Valley greeted churchgoers with another message outside, with signs proclaiming, "Jesus cares more about your sin and burning in hell than gas prices."
"Christ said, 'Do not make my father's house a house of merchandising,'" said Dick Otterstad, a member of the Church of the Divide. "The true gospel is repentance, but people are going into these services and coming out exactly the same. They might hear an ear-tingling sermon of what they want to hear, get some coffee and leave."
Otterstad said the trend in American churches is toward "megachurches" and "coffeehouse churches" that mimic businesses striving for "customers." But as more people join these churches, he said, community standards are still going down.
The New Life Church would be better to focus on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage, Otterstad said, but many churches don't because they fear a drop in membership.
"It's a gimmick," he said. "Do you think God cares about cheap gas when we're seeing the murder of the unborn?"
New Life church members invited the protesters to hear the sermon Sunday. Otterstad's son, Luke Otterstad, 20, said he would listen to sermon but suspects the church is misleading people.
"I don't want to see (churchgoers) deceived in that way," he said. "The gospel is the only way to come to Christ and they're luring people in with a cheap marketing trick."
Many people attending services at New Life didn't understand the protest.
"(New Life) is doing something good and people are protesting it?" said Karen Ivan. "Jesus said his true disciples would be persecuted."
Denise Cardona of Auburn said it was exciting to have a new church in the community. She disagreed with protesters.
"That's just silly," she said. "There are many things to protest in the world, and this is not one of them."
Other members said a Christian church protesting another Christian church was divisive.
"It's confusing. Hopefully, we all worship the same God," said Keith Hentschel, a member of New Life. "I don't think anyone's going to turn around (and not come in here) because of that."