Pastor's Blog

By this all people will know that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.”
                                                                                                                          -- Jesus Christ (John 13.35)

This verse provides an ideal – a leadership goal – from Jesus for pastors. 
I want to lead Christians to love one another. 
                Which means, at the very least, they’ve got to be able to get along with each other.
                Which means they must resolve conflicts that occur between them.
                Which, when I entered ministry, I assumed would be few, because I assumed
                                (a) that Christians wouldn’t have all that many differences to start with and
                                (b) that if they did have conflicts they would be insignificant and easy to resolve, and                                      
                                (c) that Christians would want to resolve conflicts and find ways to get along.

I discovered that my assumptions were wrong, and a good many of those lessons were taught to me in the arena of church music.  People on both sides of the “worship wars” feel very strongly about their respectively favorite styles of music.

I don’t feel strongly about most styles of music.  I couldn’t care less one way or the other.  I see music as a tool, a means to an end, not an end in itself.  If the tool doesn’t do the job, it’s useless.

The job of music in the church is to express our worship.  But I have found that even there, evangelicals find enormous differences among them. Trying to bring them together is no easy feat.

The old conservatives see worship as being reminded of the transcendence of God – how high above us He is, how far beyond our grasp He is.  God’s being so much wiser than we are and so much more powerful than we are, beyond our ability or comprehension, is what makes Him great.  Many of us grew up in the days of the churches that surrounded us with things that reinforced those concepts:  churches with high ceilings and spires, with incredibly detailed classical-style art and stained-glass windows, churches that inspired quiet and meditation before a mighty God. 

And the art of the music in those churches conveyed the same thing – an almost other-worldly content.  I say other-worldly because (at least recently) it has refused to be “contemporary”.  It intentionally stayed behind the times.  It intentionally used (for the most part) instrumentation and style that was used mostly in church and not in public venues (I know I’m simplifying this; more about it in later blogs).  Church music was unlike what we used in our everyday life.  It was church music – and that otherness was supposed to be felt;  it was supposed to remind us that we are different because God is different (“holy” is the religious term).

The contemporary approach to worship finds itself, I believe, on the opposite end of the spectrum – more concerned (though not exclusively) with the immanence of God – how close He is to us, how He comes down to us and works in our lives, how we personally experience His touch here and now.  Our church architecture now tends to be oriented that way – practical functional “earthly” buildings and very simple popular style and art (if we use art at all).  And we tend to use the instrumentation and style of popular music – three or four chords in a song, nothing too difficult or too complicated.  Predictable popular music with lyrics that aren’t complicated either (and neither is the grammar – so not the case with many of the hymns).

The old view of worship gloried in God being far away;  the contemporary view glories in God being very much present.

Aren’t both theological truths true?  And if so, isn’t it possible to worship by discovering the glory of both truths – the sovereign God seated on the throne of heaven and “Immanuel” (God with us) – as well as the art that accurately represents both perspectives?

Shouldn’t that be common ground for Christians?  A starting place for bringing people together?

Perhaps you’re saying “Wait a minute.  That’s too simple.  What about . . . ? “ 
I’ve not said all I want to say.  I only get one page per week.  See you next week!

 

 

My wife is a Midwesterner.  As such, she was not taught to speak the correct way.  She always said “wah-ter”, but it’s pronounced “waw-ter”.  We drink “root beer” (double O as in “food”);  she drank “root beer” (double O as in “wood”).  And although everyone knows root beer is “soda”;  my wife called it “pop”.  I spent the early part of our marriage fixing her speech impediments.

You know I’m kidding, right?  We did have our share of laughs as we discovered our differences of pronunciation and perception, and my wife’s speech gradually changed because of immersion in our East coast culture.

Culture is the way of life that you learn among the people you grow up with – the way you see things, hear things, interpret things, understand things;  the way you speak and behave and respond.  Most of your culture isn’t formally taught;  it’s absorbed.  We do what those around us do;  we observe and mimic.  That’s how we learn life.

Most of us assume our own culture is the way everyone does those same things until we encounter others who were raised differently.  At first, the differences are quaint.  But if we are surrounded by or immersed in an unfamiliar culture for any length of time the discomfort of continued difference can be annoying, angering, and may even generate hatred and hostility between two parties.

Maybe some cultural practices are important.  But wouldn’t it be silly to hate someone because they insisted on ordering “pop” instead of “soda”?

Let’s kick things up a notch.

What about people who think only pianos and organs and traditional hymns should be used in church as opposed to people who like contemporary music played with electric guitars and drums?  Would it be silly to not be able to get along because of those differences?

I’ve seen a lot of energy expended and a lot of ink-spilled by traditionalists arguing that drums are of the devil, that syncopated rhythms are morally debauching, and the contemporary Christian music is spiritually empty and devastating to the church.  I have concluded that most of that is overkill – an argument over whether God wants the beverage called “soda” or “pop”.

Does God even care?

Jesus said,  “By this will all people know that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.”  The identifying mark of Jesus’ followers is love for one another.  Getting people to love one another through their differences is what I’m shooting for as a pastor.  Isn’t that where genuine love is the most difficult but also the most important to cultivate?  Anyone can love the person with whom she has commonalities and agreement.  The real power of love must be exercised when you don’t agree, when you find yourself at the opposite end of a spectrum from another soul.

God’s concern is not our musical taste, but our ability to love and bless people, even if their culture differs from our own.  Jesus doesn’t say “love each other’s music”.  He doesn’t even say “learn to love each other’s music”.  And he doesn’t even say “try to learn to love each other’s music.”  You may never love their music!  But you must still love each other – seek to understand and accept each other, differences and all.  
Love is the great stretching exercise for the soul.

When you read in Revelation 7 about the great multitude before the throne of God, the crowd from every tribe and language and nation, all clothed in white, waving palm branches, praising the Lamb for the salvation of their souls – what language do you think they will be using?  What bodily gestures?  What tunes?  What rhythms?  What style of music?

Does it matter?

Over my thirty-plus years in ministry one of the most troublesome issues has been what evangelicals call “worship wars” – the conflicts that arise over music in the church.  They’re nothing new;  in my reading I’ve found such conflicts back as far as the 16th and 17th century – and I’ll bet I wouldn’t have to look too hard to find it earlier than that.

Why such a fuss over music?

I believe it boils down to disagreements about the proper balance between the rational (thought) and the emotional (feeling) in our spiritual lives.  Both thinking and feeling are blended into all human existence, but they are blended in different proportions and with different emphases in different people and among different groups.

For some, the rational is more important than the emotional.  For others, the emotional component is more important than the rational.

Those who lean more to the rational end of the spectrum tend to see those who lean to the emotional side as lacking self-control, more given to mere animal instincts.  Those who lean to the emotional end of the spectrum see those on the rational end as stiff and robotic – machine-like.  Each side sees its own component as definitive of human existence, and each side sees the other as missing an important component of “humanity”.

People that fall on different places on this spectrum will develop and gravitate to different forms of Christian worship and different uses of music. 

Human nature being what it is, we get comfortable in the circle we understand and uncomfortable with those who perceive and practice differently from us.

And human nature being what it is, we respond to the discomfort of difference by claiming that our own way is right, and the other way is wrong.  If you’re in the evangelical world, that means you demonstrate that your way is biblical and “of God”, and the other way is not.

That, in my opinion, is what the “worship wars” are all about.

Evangelicalism has resolved the difficulty, I think, by simply dividing into different groups, each practicing their own way and keeping their distance from the other group as best as they possibly can.  Maybe that’s the best we can do in a fallen world.

I’ve chosen a different route in shepherding the flock entrusted to me.  I’m trying to find a way to bring people from the different ends of the spectrum together, trying to get them to work together, trying to find a way to get each side to appreciate the other and work peaceably and cooperatively with the other – trying to find a sort of “middle ground”.  It’s one of the few ideals that I haven’t allowed reality to rip from me just yet.

More important than doing music “the right way” is loving one another.  This and not our style and form of worship is the hallmark of a true follower of Christ.  At least according to Jesus . . .

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