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.) ;

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