In talking around the dinner table the other night friends were describing a church service they attended, where the drum solo was a takeoff on some well-known pop band and the drummer and lighting were in the style of another. Something seemed out of kilter for me. The absolute first thing we learn in the Bible is 'In the beginning, God created....' God is a creative God. An ancient principle says that Satan cannot create, only imitate. James Blish used this effectively in the novel A Case of Conscience.
So what is the role of imitation in Christianity? Paul says in I Cor. 4:16 for us to imitate him, and in Ephesians 5:1 for us to imitate God. There's the Christian classic devotional The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. (proud of myself for actually finding the acute-a in this thing!) On a more contemporary note, the all-pervasive WWJD: "What Would Jesus Do?" based on imitating Him. The major problem with that is: I can't. As a friend pointed out, if you read the Gospels with a fresh eye, as if you don't know how the story's going to come out, you have absolutely no concept what Jesus is going to do. Even if I did, he's healing or working miracles. So I'm afraid imitating Him is rather unrealistic. So it looks like the WWJD and imitating Him just boil down to 'be-good Christianity." This is where we obey the golden rule and treat everyone nice and call it Christianity. I'm not sure this is the Real Thing.
Beyond the role of imitating Christ or the Apostle Paul, or some other saintly believer, what's the role of imitating other churches? I remember one church whose planning seemed to be: "See what church X is doing, and let's do it, too!" Today, small local churches seem to look to the megachurches and imitate what they're doing. Is God's creativity so limited that it only is given to the few, with the rest left to copy them?
Then what about churches or believers imitating the world, as the church stage show in the first paragraph? If God is the author of all creativity, and the world copies His creation, and the church copies the world, haven't we just made a copy-of-a-copy and starting to blur the original image?