Ed Young, Candyland, Ulrich Zwingli, and Church in a Stable

Ulrich Zwingli

Ed Young is the pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. Young is known for provocative sermon series, and his current series is titled “Candyland.” Here’s the promo video for the series. Warning, my emotional response to this video has ranged from amusement, to anger, to pity.

Let me begin with two acknowledgements. One, I realize Young’ Fellowship Church is not the only church that designs elaborate sets for sermon series. Two, elaborate themes and sets are not the only issue I have with Ed’s approach to ministry.

With those acknowledgements aside, I think Young’s Candyland series is a visible reminder that we are in desperate need of a new Reformation. This year is the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, and 500 years later it seems we Protestants have come full circle.

The Reformation in Switzerland was led by a man named Ulrich Zwingli. One of Zwingli’s notable reforms was the removal of all visual distractions from the church building. To be sure, he did this for theological reasons. Zwingli wanted his people to focus on Christ alone through the preached Word.

Zwingli’s reforms were not seen as positive developments by all. In fact, in 1530 Johann Eck wrote to Charles V lamenting that, “The altars are destroyed and overthrown, the images of the saints and the paintings are burned or broke up or defaced … They no longer have churches but rather stables.” Zwingli wanted nothing to distract from the glory of Christ in the preached Word, even if that meant turning an elaborately decorated cathedral into a ‘stable.’

Can you imagine Ulrich Zwingli, 500 years after the Reformation, walking into a Evangelical Protestant Church elaborately decorated as Candyland?

It’s time for a new Reformation in worship. I’m not calling for the removal of instruments and screens and PowerPoint slides. I am praying that Evangelical Protestants would stop trivializing worship through childish, distracting decorations.

Here’s my plea to Ed Young and those who follow his practice: You don’t need to do this! Here are three truths for your consideration.

  • The Word is more powerful that you think. Historically this was proved in the Reformation. Zwingli’s reforms didn’t slow the gospel. Rather, his emphasis on clear, Christ centered preaching accelerated the gospel. Biblically this is seen in 2 Timothy 3:16. In addition to the inspiration of Scripture, this passage reminds us that Scripture is sufficient. You don’t need a Candyland set to teach about the Promised Land, to just need the Word of God, living and active.
  • Clear preaching is easier than you think. I don’t want to give the Candy Man himself a big head … But Ed Young, you are a great communicator! You don’t need elaborate stage props and flashy videos to make the Word plain to your people! This is probably true for most who devote themselves to a never ending stream of catchy and provocative sermon series. This is probably true for most who fall for the trap of expositing popular movies and tacking on Bible verses at the end. You don’t need the flash! Clear preaching is easier than you think.
  • Your people are smarter than you think. I know there is a segment of church attenders who love the flash and the props and the edgy series. But most of your people are way smarter than you’re giving them credit for. They don’t need elaborate sets on the stage to understand and apply the Word. Ed Young, your people will not walk away if you give up the elaborate sets. They will respond to the Word made clear. They will respond even if you ask them to attend church in an undecorated stable.

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