Friday, October 31, 2003

OK, brief note on the drama we went to: Click here if you want to read its own promotion.

Basically it provided a version of the gospel that was too thin, and therefore ultimately inadequate. “You might die at any time, so accept Jesus or you’ll go to hell.” It portrayed this particular message effectively in an emotional sense, and I suppose might be effective in getting conversions of a sort among people who enjoy being emotionally moved. Personally I resent it (even when I think the emotion justified), so in that sense perhaps I’m not a competent judge of its effect on such people, but even among them I doubt how long they would stay true to such a “conversion.”

But intellectually the drama left me almost ready to ask the classic anti-God question: “How can a loving God do this to people?” The impression was of ordinary Joes, doing their thing, suddenly discovering that because of an oversight they are condemned to eternal torment. There was little impression that these people deserved what they got. Which, if God is just, must be the case—and if we truly knew our own hearts, we’d know we deserved it ourselves. The real problem was that the law was left out. Punishment without judgment can only be capricious cruelty. There was some attribution of various “sins” that had kept people from accepting Christ (alcohol and partying, mainly), but none that truly reflected God’s law.

Hell was also depicted in a manner that is contrary to the Bible, but commonly presented in cartoons—a sort of concentration camp run by Satan.

What I would like to see now is a drama that really showed the ultimate issues, in a way that made heaven and hell the natural outgrowths of human choices, not the arbitrary imposition of a divine dictator. I can think of two forms. One would be an adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, in which souls must choose between clinging to whatever “good” or evil thing is to them more important than accepting the rule of God, or surrendering it and being able to enter into the ultimate reality of heaven. But the landscape of Lewis’ heaven might be too much to stage—it might work as a radio type drama. Although it is not explicit in the Bible, I tend to agree with Lewis’ interpretation that ultimately those souls who go to hell go there because they want to—because in hell they can continue in some sense running their own lives rather than reaching the ultimate joy through submission.

The other would be a courtroom drama in which the accuser of the brethren would be pleading as to why certain souls deserved eternal damnation. (I don’t think Satan runs hell, but he apparently keeps tabs on who deserves to go there.) People could serve as their own counsel, pledging their absence of various overt crimes, or various good deeds. Then the prosecutor could—perhaps via video footage (my siblings and I for some reason believed when small that our entire lives would be replayed verbatim at the gates of heaven—not true as far as I know, but useful for a play)—break apart their pretensions. Show the smoldering hatred that was kept back from murder only by an even more damning pride. Uncover the self-righteousness that poisoned their best deeds. Expose the lust, the covetousness, the bitterness, that poisons the souls of ordinary nice guys (and gals). Except for some defendants, who would have willingly accepted the court appointment of an Advocate, and who would find that all their tapes had been erased.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Thus far, two churches visited.

Church A: Unfamiliar denomination, further into town, know some of the people through music. Nice service, classically-trained musicians, beautiful old church building. Nebulous doctrine and correspondingly nebulous sermon.

Church B: Semi-familiar denomination, 1 minute drive, didn’t know a soul. Pole barn style of building, service the sort of blend between “traditional” and “contemporary” that occurs when a pastor is trying to change things to the latest trendy church-growth methods without disturbing the old guard too much. Reasonably definite doctrine; sermon was OK but was all part of a prepackaged deal that the church is going through, so don’t know what it’s like when the pastor preaches his own.

We went back for an evening drama (on which more later if I get really inspired). The pastor’s wife seemed surprised to see us and came over to talk, explaining why they did things the way they did things. Some points that came up either in our discussion with her and with each other later on and as I’m writing stuff down right now:

1. Tradition for the sake of tradition is bad, but change for the sake of change is worse. And worse yet is change in style of worship for the sake of attracting a certain segment of the population. Traditions undoubtedly had some sort of reason for them when they started—it might be good to find it out before discarding it. And a church should never be making changes so it can increase its numbers, or even concerned about them except as a symptom.. Worshipping God and serving people are the appropriate focuses of a church. Any other focus is going to happen to the detriment of the proper focus. (I doubt that this church would claim this was its focus, but it was mentioned numerous times in the sermon and in private conversation.)

2. There is a big gap between what is inherently evil and what is appropriate and conducive to corporate worship. Big band music is cool, but no matter what lyrics you put to “Boogie Woogie,” it would not be suitable for public worship. Sure, I think one can boogie to the glory of God, but there are lots of activities I can do to the glory of God that I wouldn’t dream of doing in the weekly gathering of believers. So merely saying that “God likes all kinds of music” (repeated several times at the church) is a long way from proving that a particular style of music is going to focus the gathering’s attention directly on God and his attributes.

3. Both the traditionalists and the contemporists (for lack of better terms) tend to come back to a similar basis: how this or that music and style makes them feel. Which is irrelevant. Worship is not feeling good about God. It is ascribing worth and value to God. And frankly, I don’t see how much worth and value one ascribes to God with the “Jesus is my boyfriend” sort of songs. (A fair amount of hymns don’t talk much about God’s worth and value, either.) Nor does repeating the same phrase over and over a gazillion times seem an appropriate method of worship (warnings about “vain repetitions” come to mind here—it’s hard to keep your brain in gear when you just keep repeating the same thing.)

4. Categories are not really that helpful. For example, “moving your body is bad” versus “moving your body is good”: if someone finds raising their hands in the air or clapping expresses their worship to God, fine. Hip-dancing with your saxophone during the invitation is a different matter entirely. A good general rule might be that actions drawing attention to one’s self are inappropriate in worship. People should be looking at God, not at you. Another unhelpful category is “hymns” versus “choruses” or “contemporary” or what have you. What makes one something versus the other? The question should be Biblical accuracy, divine focus, and excellence in style. (I cannot believe God is glorified by bad grammar in people who should know better.) ;

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Having been rebuked by our sole reader for a long delay in posting, we attempt to resume.

Being young is seriously overrated. I am starting to suffer from severe generational envy, looking at people whose children are grown, whose careers are established, whose personal items are no longer stored in boxes in the living room, and who actually have some sort of clue what they are doing every day.. The only compensating factors for being young seem to be health, energy, and good looks, and I have never had much of the first two, and whatever I have of the third (DOB: I think she has plenty) doesn’t get the house cleaned up.

Actually, we have at last realized the benefit of having friends in one’s own age bracket, because spending all one’s time with older people makes one feel hopelessly falling apart. We came away much encouraged from a visit Monday night with another young couple. We are not the only ones whose first home was mostly decorated with unpacked boxes! Now if we could only find a church and actually get some friends who did not live an hour away. On the church hunting issue, more later.