you’ll have to boycott believers

made|new|hymns

Recently the article It’s Time to Boycott the Worship Industry came across my feed through a friend of mine, Alex Bersin, who subsequently wrote about it at The Christian Skeptic, taking on an ancillary topic – the lack of honest representation of the Christian life and ethic through modern worship.  He suggests that instead of a boycott, disciplinary action should take place.

Thinking through these two articles left my mind bubbling with ideas, so naturally I had to grapple with them.

Jonathan Aigner’s post on boycotting the worship industry brings up a lot of important criticisms: for instance – and I think most importantly – that the priority and responsibility of worship should be with the congregation and not the leaders.  The denouncements of money, idols, and remaining dissatisfied customers are important as well.  Truly, the modern worship movement has problems.  I don’t disagree.

But then I step into Church.

The fellowship of believers, company of redeemed, people who have accepted Christ and are united under whatever physical roof they’re under to know Him and make Him known, full of sinner-saints and grandstanders and rebels and those who are ashamed, broken, ambitious and beautifully loved.

And the Church is different.  In context of this post, the worship of the Church is different. This isn’t the place for celebrity or ambition just as much as it isn’t the place for judgment of those around me.  I would argue that the worship of the church should be dissatisfying to you on multiple levels, because in essence it’s not about you.  It’s absolutely impossible to please everyone in a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-background, multi-class congregation, and nearly as impossible to find a congregation that matches all of those qualities – probably for that reason.

Jonathan petitions us:

There are many of you: all ages, denominations, and cultural backgrounds. What we’ve done with worship makes you cringe. Your senses are dulled by the lack of artistry, the pervasive emotional manipulation. But you remain in churches controlled by the worship industry, maybe for your family’s sake, maybe because all your friends go there, maybe because you find a certain theological like-mindedness. But it’s time to speak up or move on. We must. Corporate worship is more important than programs for your family. It’s more important than your life group relationships. It’s theological at its very core, so the like-mindedness you sense may be shallower than you realize. We have to make ourselves heard. The industry’s chokehold is starving us of the vital nutrients we so desperately need, Word and Sacrament, and offering the empty carbs of commercial entertainment in its place. It’s killing us, and we’re consenting to the slow, agonizing death.

That “certain theological like-mindedness” – maybe, Christocentric in nature? – demands something much more robust of us than running away or running our mouths off.  It demands consistent faithfulness to Christ and His Church, warts and all.  Maybe we’re uplifting an ideal of corporate worship when we should be uplifting Christ.  And maybe we’re blaming the ubiquitous “industry” for our own apathy when we should rouse ourselves to love.

Alex’s pungent (in a good way) reply to Jonathan layers on a comparison of modern worship to prosperity gospel.  In his rebuttal of said gospel he points out that:

Hope does not laugh at frailty nor does joy wink at misfortune. They endure. They persevere. They do not expect from God but rather accept his will. They remind God of his promises but they also remind us of our place. We hope in God, not our persistence, and we take joy in his plan, not our ignorance to it.
Evil will happen. We will experience trial and loss, but we must not spit in the face of divine sovereignty by ordering our own steps. God designed our suffering, like that of his son, for a purpose–a purpose we reject if we sing songs glorifying our commitment to our own happiness.

What he describes here is a full perspective of the “now but not yet” Christian life – one which is vital to corporate worship.  Many enduring songs of the church provide this perspective (which is why they have endured), but many more fell off the grid in the interim.  Some modern songs will also endure, and many will fall away.  It’s the prerogative of time to winnow out what we can’t seem to shake off now.

It’s important, I think, to remember that songs that endure are always penned by humans – frail, with stuttering tongues and faltering pens, writing song after song dedicated to chronicling the story of Christ because they just can’t escape what He did for the world and in their lives.  What makes historical feeble attempts worthy and modern feeble attempts unworthy besides the fact that we don’t see the rejects in real time?  Is full metal jacket worship attainable in the schizoid melee we currently inhabit, or only back when the printing press started this whole crazy information overload?

I think fuller perspective is attainable in corporate worship.  And I think we want it.  I also think we won’t find it solely in songs.  We’ll find it in Scripture.

Our songs will elevate our worship to the extent that they elevate the scriptural view of God and man and the collision of the two.  But there’s no rule that they have to do it all on their own.

It’s also true that God can speak through [donkeys].  Modern worship songs do exist that possess transcendence and truth.  In our pursuit of God’s Word, both inspired and Incarnate, we find heavy yokes lightened, tired souls refreshed, deep sorrow transformed into deep joy.  The resolution, in the end, will overwhelm the pain God ordained by a thousandfold.

That’s why we tell the story.  God became devastatingly human so that we could be made new in Christ.  It’s two parts of a whole that we enact again and again in our corporate worship.

This is not a “leave your brain at the door” deal.  Engage your mind and your heart and your spirit with the truth and beauty of the Word, inspired and incarnate.  It’s your responsibility as a believer.  Our own personal ideals, aesthetic preferences, and critical eyes should not be shut off.  But it might be important that they shut up until the appropriate time.

Then, to practicalities. Turning around a consumeristic trend in the worship of a church could mean some of the following:

  1. Pray.  It’s, like, a big deal in the Bible.
  2. Get involved in worship, the worship team, and in worship planning if possible.  Remember, this isn’t just a musical thing – the entire service and life of the Body is worship.
  3. Work to create spaces in the musical worship itself for times of silence, lament, confession, and definitely congregational participation.  These are sorely underrepresented in many churches.  These days creative worship techniques are fashionable anyway, so take advantage of that.
  4. Incorporate Scripture into every corner of the service and life of the congregation.
  5. Worship wholeheartedly when you are in the position of a congregant.  What’s happening on stage doesn’t have to divide your heart.
  6. Open thoughtful dialogue with people about the issue.

So, let me ask the question: are you determined to break fellowship with redeemed sinners over an admittedly real issue, or are you determined to stick it out and lovingly speak the truth?  Because I’m pretty sure the latter is what Christ decided He would do.

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creative tongues

made|new|prism

Christians are creative forces in the world.

By the word creative, I’m not referring to innovative idea-mongers or artsy collectives.  To me, “creative” refers to calling into existence that which is not yet (ex nihilo, if you will).  For Christ-followers, this creation and re-creation is our lifeblood – both in our very existence and every day as Christ makes us new.  And thus we have this as our common responsibility and joy in a destructive world: to create that which is not yet, within our given spheres of influence.  In a given situation, this could mean calling into existence beauty, truth, peace, grace, etc.

I find that the most difficult creative tool for me to master is my tongue.  Which is unfortunate because it’s the foremost tool I’ve been given.

It seems sometimes that I absorbed everything about my Bible school upbringing that taught me to think critically and defend all that is excellent and right, but somehow practicing at gracious, honest dialogue slipped my mind.  My tendency, in a pinch, is to either avoid conflict altogether or to verbally body-slam my adversary (for the record, that’s the only way I could ever body-slam anyone).  Or, more often, I complain to my friends and family under the guise of venting about problems.  There is no better excuse for gossip than being a verbal processor.

And here’s where creation comes in.  First, to remind me that I am forgiven, redeemed, and free from the fear and pride that characterizes my communication.  And second, to provide me with the motivation and the means to change.

Our words, in direct correlation to the power of the Word Himself, have the power to create or destroy.  We have the opportunity to dignify or vilify, love or hate, lift up or ignore, seek to understand or seek to be understood, provide peace or impose stress.  We have the power to breathe life or deal death with our words.  And as Christ-followers the latter is not an option.

The motivating force behind a creative tongue is charity, otherwise known as, well, love (agape), but I’m using it for the connotation of leniency in judging others, especially when it comes to encountering their art.  This requires perspective – crawling into another person’s viewpoint and making ourselves at home there – and the constant remembrance that blimey, God loves this person too.

When it comes to our tongues, it also involves shutting up and listening.  Sometimes when our tongues hang out behind our teeth with nothing to do they end up having a nice little chat with our hearts and minds and maybe God, and end up speaking God’s words – i.e. words of creative power.

We can never forget that our daily interactions are not with philosophies and rhetoric – they are with real live humans created in the image of God and dearly loved by Him.  When we talk with non-believers or believers about the art, culture, and events that surround us (no matter how broken they are) we should be creating, not destroying.