Posts Tagged ‘christianity’

rock concert church

June 7, 2009

Today I got the following question via text message from a friend:

“What are the implications of the parallel between the rock show/movie theater experience and the contemporary worship service experience? Positive and negative.”

First off,  I love having friends who write text messages in English rather than that awful hybrid “txt” language. Makes me feel like the medium isn’t necessarily plunging the English language into oblivion (as if I had room to make such judgments – see: my punctuation in this post)

Now that I have sated my need for a tangent, on to the question at hand. I am a bit of a biased source for these sorts of questions. I moved away from mainstream Evangelicalism almost entirely for this reason.  Because I did not want to attend a rock show on Sunday mornings, I wanted to worship God.

I can hear the backlash already: “Rock music can be worship!” “You are just a sour traditionalist,” “Make a joyful NOISE unto the LORD” etc. I know, I know. I was there at one point in my life. I made those arguments. And those statements are not invalid. This discussion often hinges on electric guitars and drum sets, which are part but not the root of the issue.

I dislike when worship looks more like a rock concert exactly because of how powerful I know rock concerts are. Or, I should say, because of how that emotional power happens. When I saw Five Iron Frenzy play on their farewell tour, I was swept away. This was a band that I had come to love and fanatically pledge allegiance to for years of my life. They were playing not just songs from their final album, but a wide range from their entire library including a medly off old songs that had not been played for years. It was amazing. When they finished their set with their timeless ‘Every New Day’ (still my favorite song of all time), I was a big ball of emotion. The response of everyone in the room was palpable. I will remember that concert for a long time.

“So should that not be a model for worship? A palpable experience that we remember? A time where we get swept up in how great God is?” Maybe, the experience alone can’t be the aim. I love those concerts, but they accomplish something very different than what worship should be. Worship – and therefore Sunday morning (or Wednesday night or Saturday evening) worhsip services – is all about giving glory to God.  It is about coming together as a congregation and singing to Him. But often in ‘contemporary’ (a broad term which almost has no definite meaning at this point) worship service where there is this rock band feel, the congregation can’t hear themselves sing, they can’t hear each other sing, and they are all drowned out by the band on the stage.

Even that term, ‘stage,’ makes me want to cringe.  By calling the front of your sanctuary a ‘stage,’ you are saying that there are performers, not leaders. You then have to call the congregation an audience – who are then not joinging in song but observing. When worship is a rock concert, it is not congregational worship, because it is about an audience watching someone else worship.

And while rock concert churches might say that they don’t actually believe this,  there is a phrase I learned this year in school that sheds some light: “lex credendi lex orandi,” loosely translated “the law of worship is the law of belief.”  How we worship shows what we believe.  The church fathers used this to defend Christ’s divinity – He is worshipped as God, so either they were idolaters or Christ was truly divine. Similarly, someone might say that loud music overpowering the congregation does not intend to make them feel excluded from worship – but look at the rock concert for an example. When is the audience most encouraged to sing along? When they cut the music and turn the microphones away from the stage. When you use terminology and methodology that turns your congregation into an audience, no matter what you say about worship, your actions have spoken your beliefs.

Now, this goes the other way as well. A congregation that sings hymns with no feeling, that seems to hate having to sing in the first place, and that seems to dread music says a lot about worship through their actions. To give some positive spin on the ‘contemporary’ (there’s that word again!) worsihp scene, there is a reminder to ‘traditional’ folks that God cares about our hearts. God wants us to love Him, and that happens with our emotions. As my pastor said today in his sermon “doctrine does not work until it is lived.” If you are singing to God, and make it look like you are bored, something is wrong.

To sum up my rant here, the issue of the rock concert church is one of properly leading God’s people in worship. If you turn them into an audience, either through terminology or performance choices you have failed at your job of guiding them in an offering of music to the LORD.

P.S. Big thanks to my dad, Dr. Melvin Unger, who has talked with me about these things for countless hours, and is influential in my theology of worship. He is also a terrific writer


It can’t be about me

March 19, 2009

This ties into what the last post was about, but what I do can’t be about me.

I heard recently from a friend that pastors should not stay at churches longer than 10 years (or even 5), because at that point what becomes most important is not God or the gospel but the pastor. The person can’t be the center of the ministry.

So, I can’t be what Zao Anglican Youth Ministry is all about. I can not be the center. When students show up, it can not be because they want to see me, but because they want what the ministry is all about – a community that draw them closer to Christ.

But it is hard to make that the case. It is hard not to try to be a funny, charismatic person (not that I succeed at that…). Being funny helps people like you. People like to come to hear someone they like.

I pray that I learn how to point past myself, so that students know that the real reason I do anything is to try and figure out how to get them to love Christ and others more.

I think I’m turning into a pacifist…

February 18, 2009

Yesterday’s church history class opened up with our professor telling us that we would be covering all that was wrong with the Medieval period of Christianity. We then trudged through the inquisition, rival popes, and the crusades.

There is no need to talk about how bad the crusades were. It did, however, encourage me to think a little bit more about what I think about violence.

I don’t think it is hard to come up with a Biblical argument for non aggression. Personal aggression, that is. There seems to be little or no interpretation room to think that we ought to be a bunch of bullies, pushing each other around. Feel free to prove me otherwise, but I am not sure that citing Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is proof-texting. I think it is pretty clear that the way of Christ is not one laden with physical attacks.

In fact, even the cross (often used to cite that the Christian God is an angry, violent God) is an argument for personal non aggression. God, in his infinite wisdom, chose for the path to salvation for many to be sacrifice rather than siege. Christ’s victory is found in his submitting to his assailants instead of destroying them, and then raising from the dead showing their physical attacks to have been in vain.

So, enough preface, on to being a peacenik.

So where do we get a justification for war at all?

It is clear that God does not condemn the idea of war. The New Testament seems to allow for soldiers to remain in their occupation (although you could make the case that some Roman soldiers were just meant to keep internal peace rather than external, but I don’t think that argument holds up), and in the Old Testament God calls the people of Israel to war.

Luther made the argument for a just war based on the idea that governments have the right to protect their people – and have been given that charge from God. Romans 13 (among many other passages in the Epistles) makes it pretty clear that Christians are not supposed to try and overthrow the government, because God has given rulers their authority (we can talk about how that works with oppressive dictators another time). Therefore, as just war advocates say, governments have authority to use their power for governing their people, including their protection.

Other may dispute this, but practically it seems unthinkable that any country would not have an army or any system of defense. And whether or not you agree with the current war being waged, the logic of strike first is not completely flawed, nor is the idea that the big kid on the playground has a duty to look out for the little guy (a concept that would not be hard to draw out of the sundry commands in the OT prophets for Israel to watch out for the oppressed). You know, Uncle Ben “With great power comes great responsibility” business.

So what is my problem?

My problem is that when I over simplify the situation, I believe that killing someone else to stop them from killing you is not right. It is more than possible that this has different implications in a war setting, (God did not allow murder in Israel, but did allow for war), but it is still a mental, ethical hurdle that I struggle with.

My problem is the fact that when I became a citizen of the United States, I pledged to take up arms to protect Constitution if necessary. And I have no idea if I could do that with singleness of mind. I understand that there are many brave, and honourable Christians who are part of the armed forces, and by no means do I think that what they do is wrong.

I do think that Christians (particularly Evangelicals) support sending missionaries to the 10/40 window and sending more troops to the middle east without ever thinking that there might be a contradiction in those efforts. This is an over simplification, but the internal struggle should be there.

I don’t have answers to this one. This is my personal, ethical gordian knot that I am working through. War may be a necessary evil, a product of a fallen world that still needs to be redeemed by Christ, an unfortunate last option when peace is not an option, but none of that changes the undeniable fact:

War is bad.

Product Christianity

March 26, 2008

So, my blog may go more and more towards my experience in youth ministry, but without any dedicated readers, I suppose it won’t make much of a difference ¹

After reading a post on Once a Youth Pastor, I thought I would write something about product Christianity.

It seems to me like there is a deluge of books and seminars about how to make your church attractive to those outside the church. Put up fancy banners. Sing songs with cool waterfall video on a screen. Do things that will make the product of our faith look streamlined and trendy and sexy. Do special things on Sunday mornings so that new people will get hooked on Jesus.

We do not need a host of new graphics and designs with the best sound systems to attract people (although, if we are going to do graphic design, we ought do it well. Stop using clip art – NOW!). We also don’t have to try and have the best programs for everyone’s needs to attract people to our Sunday morning services (although we ought try and attend of the needs of those around us).

People outside of the church need to see Christians totally surrendered to God, meeting together to worship Him, and spending their time outside of church being His hands and feet. That will be attractive enough. When our faith is tailored to look how people want it, it is no longer the worship of God but a glorified social club.

As much as Christians (particularly Evangelicals) have blasted post-modernism (or at least, what they think post-modernism is) they continue to cling to cultural problems as if they were gospel. Commercialism and Materialism have become second nature to us, and we don’t even fight it. Bigger ‘auditoriums!’ (I have a problem with that word, but I will rant about that another time) Nicer video displays! Get the best pulpit around! Make sure the ‘stage’ (don’t get me started on these words..) is nice a big. And as we focus so much on stuff, the product of Christianity gets shinier and shinier until it is covered in so much gloss we can hardly see Christ’s possession-less lifestyle.

None of these things are problems in and of themselves, but they are merely a signpost to what church and Christianity has become: something we are trying desperately to sell to others. If our LORD is really what we say he is, and if the Christian faith is so self-evidently true, why do we try so hard to gussy it up like a show pig at the county fair? ²

And so (to get to the youth ministry part that I warned you about earlier) a generation that is being bombarded with ads and their need to have stuff more than any other is being introduced to a church that fits so much in with culture it looks like just another part of America. But it isn’t. Christ is an alternative to how the world lives. A different approach.

I am all about contextualizing messages for different cultures, but not to the point where we take on the worldliness as our own.

And so, to try and tie this all in some sort of tidy bow, when the church stops thinking it is a product, an option for people to choose among many, then we can return to being the counter-cultural, life changing institution Christ intended us to be.

¹ Blog rule number one: self deprecation is not appealing. No one wants to see you all down on yourself.

²  I tried to think of a really cool Charlotte’s Web reference here. To no avail. Pretend like I did.


September 26, 2007

another post related to my experience from looking at episciopal blogs (particularly Father Jake’s  who, even though I disagree with him theologically, is a pretty level-headed guy I must say)

There is a lot of problems in the Anglican Communion. A lot. Because of the differences in theology between the conservative, global south and the liberal west (I think that is an accurate geographical split) who both consider the other to have strayed away from true Christianity, there may be a schism. Both sides are beginning to feel like staying in Communion with one another is not worth it anymore.

I will agree, the tension is definitely there, and perhaps there is legitimacy to seeing a brother who will not repent of their sins and leaving them. But I wonder how far the separation needs to go.

Do we ever excommunicate a brother and leave him to his own ways forever, or does there have to be some sort of general sense of communion to make sure that he knows that we still love him? I fear that an actual split between the factions will not help in our attempt at Christian unity, but instead take a step backwards.

I see far too many churches in the evangelical tradition splitting and starting up new churches for the most ridiculous of reasons. Church plants are one thing, but how many churches are there that have no accountability to anyone; no relationship with any other church? How is there any expectation of unity within the church when there are estimated to be over 20000 Christian denominations in the world? Add to that the number of churches which claim to not be part of any larger group. How do we teach about the universal Church,  when we make no attempts to make our church universal?

I am not saying everyone forsake their differences and hold hands and sing kum-bay-ya, but there has to be some sort of steps taken to unity. And sometimes that unity is going to require us to be in dialogue with people who believe very different things.

So would I be happy if the Anglican Communion split? I don’t know. I think the best opportunity is for there to be actual conversation between the sides, but I wonder if that ship has sailed.