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SLICE on Worship -or- How to Pretend that God Only Likes Your Music

Scott on October 3, 2006 at 3:31 pm

With the gang over at SLICE in a constant state of verklempt (Yiddish meaning “overcome with emotion”) it doesn’t take them long on a regular basis to find something or other in the Church and Body of Christ that they feel is of the devil. And as with much of what is posted there, it isn’t difficult to find huge, massive, enormous, GIGANTIC holes in the thought processes and spiritual paradigms employed to arrive at those judgments.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this grieves me deeply because they do have some valid points to make at times. But for each valid point the writers at SLICE try to make, they throw in about 10 or 20 horribly illogical, pharisaical, ill-conceived ones.

Case in point MUSIC

Going back over the last couple months, Ingrid and her peeps have thrown up many posts that reference music in one way or another. Most, if not all, of these slam contemporary music and worship styles in favor of the “good old music” of hymns (and hymns pre-1850 seem to be their songs of choice). Ingrid typically makes a statement like this:

When I hear of churches comprised of Christians with mohawks, body piercings, and worship music that sounds like a rehearsal for hell, I am concerned.”

Or this:

This music is hatched in hell itself. It is the sound of spiritual revolt against all that is holy and true. It is spiritual rebellion against God.

Or this (in reference to the worship leader at Saddleback Chruch):

What does it take to be a “top worship leader”? Does it mean that your congregation has the coolest worship moves? Does it mean you have the biggest attendance, the best riffs on the guitar? The best bump and grind moves up there with the house worship band? The hottest selling CD or the most downloads on the web? There are no band leaders mentioned, no jiggly females, no writhing and twitching and no screaming audience members throwing their fannies and their arms around.

Call me crazy, but I’m guessing that any music that wasn’t composed for a church organ makes Ingrid nervous. Or perhaps she has forgotten that at some point, even the church organ was viewed as the “worldly interloper” into the sanctity of the church. Of course, using Ingrid’s rubric for assessment, even music for church organ must be shallow and displeasing to God because just as there are no band leaders, females, etc mentioned in Revelations 5, neither are there choir directors, organs and organists, preludes, etc.

Here, as with the other issues that Ingrid and SLICE take on including where churches should meet, proper attire and hair styles for Christians, and what activities should and shouldn’t be allowed at Church gatherings, etc, etc, etc we see what is missing: CONTEXT.

Ingrid and her posse are missing the context of those things that they criticize and that make them hyperventilate with judgmental pronouncements. CONTEXT could at least help them to make sense of what they are complaining about. CONTEXT would at least provide them with some historical and societal prospective which they are sorely lacking. Besides claiming Scriptural support for their opinions (support which typically doesn’t exist, short of prooftexting the Bible and twisting it like a pretzel), they ignore the context of history and society, which have always shaped the modes that the Church of Christ has used to engage those who are lost. I don’t mean that history and society have changed the message of the Gospel, nor should they; but they have certainly helped shape how things like preaching, teaching, worship, evangelism, etc have taken place.

Deceptively, SLICE throws up the occasional example of the ridiculous (such as their recent posts regarding Showbread and Zombie Gutz) in an effort to portray most/all contemporary Christian singers/song writers as shallow, brain-dead morons with little or no talent. Ingrid points to the fringe in an attempt to condemn the entire genre. And of course, as always Ingrid and her SLICE-posse use this fringe (which are admittedly sad, lame, and even dimwitted) in an attempt to draw some sort of connection to the Seeker Sensitive/Emergent Church and movements.

Much of the material on SLICE hearkens back to the hymns of yester-century as examples of what music in the Church SHOULD be. They criticize today’s Christian music scene as being ignorant and way-too-youthful, with lyrics that are shallow and music that is worldly and of the devil. But they ignore that those same hymns that they exalt now were denounced by the Christian leaders of the day for being man-centered, man-pleasing, temporal/carnal offerings that could never be pleasing to God.

Some Examples of preferred hymns:

Christ the Lord is Risen Today was written in 1739 by Charles Wesley when he was 32 yrs old. He wrote this hymn in celebration of the first service held in London’s first Wesleyan Chapel. This chapel was also known as the Foundry Meeting House, because it was created out of an abandoned foundry and metal works. Wesley purchased the building to house his growing number of converts to the Christian faith. Many in the “establishment” objected to his use of such a “worldly” building for the purposes of God, but he proceeded with his plans anyway.

(Interesting that the SLICE peeps don’t have a problem with a foundry being converted to a church, but they sure do take exception to a movie theater being used for the same purpose.)

By the standards used by Ingrid and SLICE, Wesley would be out in the cold: He was young AND advocated the use of worldly things like less-than-sacred buildings to house the teachings of God. By the way, he also had a huge following and was making crowds of converts, which by SLICE standards is BAD because successful, large ministries are a sign of a weak, watered-down gospel message and the selling out of our Lord.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing was written in 1758 by Robert Robertson. Robertson was 23 years old when he wrote this as a hymn for the conclusion of his sermon for Whitsunday. It was published the following year in A Collection of Hymns used by the Church of Christ in Angel Alley, Bishopsgate (1759).

Again, using the SLICE standard, Robertson never would have survived the cut. Being a kid of 23 would immediately disqualify him from being able to write anything of substance, let alone a song worthy of leading older, more mature followers of the Lord.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross was written by Isaac Watts in 1707 when he was 32 years old. Watts wrote this in preparation for a communion service in 1707. Considered to be one of the finest hymns ever written, “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” is the first known hymn to be written in the first person, introducing a personal religious experience rather than limiting itself to doctrine.

In Watts’ day hymns like this were termed “hymns of human composure” and they stirred up great controversy. At the time, congregational singing was dominated by the ponderous repetitions of the Psalms. But this hymn gave Christians of Watts’ day a way to express a deeply personal gratitude to their Savior.

One prominent church leader of the day complained, “Christian congregations have shut out divinely inspired Psalms and taken in Watts’ flights of fancy.” The issue surrounding the hymns of Watts and others split churches, including one in Bedford, England that was once pastored by John Bunyan. And in America (in May of 1789), Rev. Adam Rankin told the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, meeting in Philadelphia: “I have ridden horseback all the way from my home in Kentucky to ask this body to refuse the great and pernicious error of adopting the use of Isaac Watts’ hymns in public worship in preference to the Psalms of David.”

O God Our Help in Ages Past was also written by Isaac Watts as a paraphrase of Psalm 90. His desire to write the hymn was born, in part, out of his dissatisfaction with the church music of his day. At 20 years of age, he complained that the metrical psalms they had to sing at Above Bar Chapel in Southampton were grim and ponderous. But to sing anything other than the actual words of Scripture was said to insult to God. Isaac himself was considered a radical churchman, since he was one of the young radicals who endorsed the use of “hymns of human composure,” viewed as radical songs that did not directly quote Bible passages.

One last time by the SLICE standard, Isaac Watts would have missed the mark. He was young, advocated the personalization of the worship experience, advocated a departure from the traditional forms of worship (the Psalms), was denounced by church leaders on both sides of the ocean, and was the cause for church splits rooted in the controversial and radical use of his new ideas.

I’m not against hymns at all. In fact, I didn’t grow up in the church but over the years I have certainly gained an appreciation for the history and tradition that they carry, as well as the Truths they convey about the Lord and our lives as Christians. I enjoy the hymns when we sing them, but I don’t yearn for them if we don’t (as Ingrid and the gang apparently do).

These few examples demonstrate that even in the times when they were written, these hymns and the men who wrote them were not accepted as the height of perfection or the ideal of worship. The establishment of the day doubted these hymns and their uses, as well as cast aspersions on the men who crafted them.

Perhaps if Ingrid and her SLICE contributors took a step back and tried to employ a little PERSPECTIVE and CONTEXT, they would be able to look past their outrage and recognize that not everyone who is a Christian has to do things the way they do in the mid-Western United States.

Or not.

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Category: Music, Religion & Faith |

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