Some not-so-contemporary Christian music for your listening pleasure
From my reading “The Attributes of God” by the eminently quote-worthy A. W. Pink :
Before all else “In the beginning God” (Gen 1:1). There was a time, if “time” it could be called, when God, in the unity of His nature (though subsisting equally in three divine persons), dwelt all alone. “In the beginning God.” There was no heaven, where His glory is now particularly manifested. There was no earth to engage His attention. There were no angels to hymn His praises; no universe to be upheld by the word of His power. There was nothing, no one, but God; and that, not for a day, a year, or an age, but “from everlasting.” During eternity past, God was alone: self-contained, self-sufficient, self-satisfied; in need of nothing. Had a universe, had angels, had human beings been necessary to Him in any way, they also had been called into existence from all eternity. The creating of them when He did, added nothing to God essentially. He changes not (Mal 3:6), therefore His essential glory can be neither augmented nor diminished.
Pink, Arthur W. (2010-04-05). The Attributes of God (Kindle Locations 67-76). Unknown. Kindle Edition.
On September 11, I visited a church not far from my house. From the information on their website, I was aware that they aligned themselves with Rick Warren’s purpose driven paradigm. Given such, I went in with my discernment hat on.
Upon entrance, I was immediately welcomed warmly and sincerely. These people were not just volunteer ‘greeter bots’ assigned by some greeting team coordinator. There was a very real and tangible warmth to all those who spoke to me. I picked up a very attractive vibe from this smallish congregation.
In the meeting and greeting, I spoke to one gentleman who described the ethos of the church. He reiterated the websites affirmation that they were indeed a Purpose Driven Church and were aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention. He informed me that their music was contemporary, that they did not do hymns. In visiting other churches, I find it interesting how many almost define themselves by their preference to contemporary praise and worship music.
The ubiquitous video count-down timer did it’s declination to zero, prompting everyone to take a seat at one of the dozen or so round tables. There was a brief announcement, and next, the praise and worship set began. Following the three contemporary praise and worship songs, nicely performed and understated, the sermon started.
I came away from the sermon with mixed emotions, with some tensions. The framing metaphor for this sermon, the first of a series, was ‘The Plan’ that God has for your life. That well-known verse, Jeremiah 29:11,
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (ESV)
was the springboard for the speech, and quite frankly, it bothers me how pop evangelicalism sometimes misuses this verse, how it is so often taken out of proper context and applied as a kind of ‘health, wealth, and prosperity’ promise. It is with some contextual irony that Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. God’s plan apparently involved much anguish and suffering for Jeremiah.
The idea that God has a ‘plan’ for everyone was reinforced by the pastor asking the congregation to repeat after him that “God has a plan” for each of them. He mentioned the we may be struggling with financial difficulties, with problems in our marriage, with prodigal children, but we should not worry, because God has a Plan, and that plan, it was inferred, involved fixing those problems.
While listening to the pastor speak of God having a plan for our lives, I found myself thinking of the martyr Steven, of the hardships Paul experienced, of the hall of the heroes of the faith found in Hebrews 11 who were slain, who wandered about in animal skins, pariahs. I thought, too, of the sufferings of the Messiah, as the pastor continued to talk about The Plan. Sometimes His plan for your life means you are fed to the lions.
I have grave issues with this evangelical exhortation of “God has a wonderful plan for your live’ because His plan may not involve your marriage being fixed, it may not mean you will be free of financial difficulties in the here and now, that all your felt needs will be met. While God in His grace and glory does often give such gifts to His children, His plan may entail that your marriage and family may not flourish as you think it should. One need only read Matthew 10:21, Mark 13:12, and Luke 21:16 to see that being a Christian sometimes causes divisions within families. Quite honestly, I think God’s plan for our lives may involve no small amount of suffering on our part in order to bring us to a place where we find our ultimate satisfaction in knowing and being known by Christ, a satisfaction that will transcend circumstance.
The sermon moved on to the core text, the first 12 or so verses of Ephesians. The pastor essentially taught verse by verse through the text focusing on ‘who we are in Christ.’ He did a fairly good job with the metaphor of adoption and did not side-skirt the doctrine of election though I do not think he gave the doctrine the weight it was due in the context of the text. With no small irony, in light his affirmation of the doctrine of election, of adoption, as put forth in the preached text, he did use some ‘decisional regeneration‘ language later in his sermon.
In exegeting the texts, the pastor focused on the blessings we have in Christ, and he did a fairly good job, but the blessing mentioned in the text were not defined clearly in the sermon. I think illuminating the contrast between the heavenly gifts we are freely given with what we actually deserve from God, His wrath, would serve to more clearly define how we are actually blessed. Perhaps if he continues reading through Ephesians, chapter two will bring this contrast to the table. To reiterate, the nature of our blessings in Christ can only be apprehended if you understand what we actually deserve in light of our fallen nature and God’s perfect holiness.
In thinking more about ‘the plan’ for our lives so often spoken of, I think the New Testament text makes ‘the plan’ fairly clear. We are work honestly with our hands and minds, working for our employer as if for Christ, providing for our families and for those in need. We are to avoid silly, irreverent, and coarse speech. We are to care for strangers and sojourners,for widows and orphans, for the weak and needy.We are to love our spouses. We are to love those who hate us and do wrong to us. I could go on, but I hope my direction of thought is clear. I honestly do not see a call in the Biblical text to discern some personalized plan that God has dangling in front of us like a tease, somewhere just out of sight. I think losing ‘the plan’ metaphors and perhaps speaking more directly about God’s absolute sovereignty over all our circumstances, good or bad, and God’s trustworthiness and goodness therein would be more useful, Biblical, and encouraging.
Above and beyond the aforementioned concerns, I actually felt the pastor delivered a needed message of encouragement to this humble, warm, and friendly congregation. Again, I was inundated with a sense of welcome by these lovely people.
As an aside, I did see a copy of The Shack on one of the tables. I should probably avoid any of their small groups that may reading through that book. I would probably present a difficult test their graciousness 😉
Some people follow sports, some follow reality television, some follow the news and the markets, while others, like myself, have in their quiver of interests more obscure fascinations. So….I still occasionally observe the going’s on of a growing ecclesiastic franchise that was fundamental in shaping, both for good and ill, my perspective of the church-scape of America.
Yes, I am again pontificating on the business-driven corporate culture of the megachurch, specifically as represented by NewSpring.
About once or twice a month, I make a point to visit Perry Noble’s blog, just to see which way the wind is blowing at that particular place. Just recently, I found this gem of insight, Two Types of Church Planters, wherein Noble, artificially and self-servingly I think, bifurcates church planters into two groups, those with The Victim Mentality and those with The Victory Mentality, a success-driven framework that would make any C.E.O., or L.Ron Hubbard for that matter, proud.
What I find in Noble’s post is an abject lack of anything resembling grace and humility, but more of an American and business-like ‘just pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,’ attitude that stands in sharp contrast to the Christian ethos of generosity, humility, and mercy. Perry infers that he and his church did it, got successful without outside help or handouts, and it is inferred, so should you. Such attitudes are understandable because you generally do not expect quiet mercy and grace from a measurable-driven corporate entity, and that is exactly the foundation upon which so many American churches set themselves.
My overarching question to Perry is this: Good for you that you never had to humble yourself to ask for ‘hand-outs’ or discounts, but how did your acquire the funds to grow your church and to attend those ubiquitous ‘leadership’ conferences to begin with? I will tell you. You shilled for funds and then people gave you money in the form of tithes and donations. You did not design a product and sell it on the market to make a profit so as to use said profits to fund your excursions. So, how dare you chastise a poor, struggling church plant, essentially call them losers, that dares ask your multimillion dollar church for help. What one finds in Perry’s post is a breath-taking example of hypocrisy and pride. Quite frankly, I think a Divine favor has been set upon a church that they should not be able to attend one of Noble’s business/leadership seminars.
Ultimately, the hyper-focus on business-driven, and often narcissistic, leadership skills and the elevating of tangible measurables as an indicator of success leads a church to a place of arrogance and pride. The counting of ‘salivations’ is ultimately not the job of the church. Such is reserved by God for the angels on the day when wheat and chaff are separated. It may be bold hubris on the part of a church to take that task upon themselves so as to measure the success of their efforts and methods.
Further, the measuring of a persons righteousness by the percentage of their income given to a church is wrong on so many levels that I could exhaust hours on the subject, but so many churches do just that, teaching an errant doctrine of tithing, using inferred condemnation upon the already-redeemed Christian as a manipulative catalyst for giving in order to increase the bottom line of the business. Income is an easy measurable. Ask yourself this, if you attend NewSpring, how many times, in the course of a year, do you hear a message on tithing. When I attended, I would roughly estimate I heard a tithing message at least six times a year.
Sadly, many aspiring and eager church planters, seeing the growth, glamor, and success, seek in good intention to model their churches and methods after NewSpring, Elevation, and fellow travelers. (As an aside, if Elevation’s Code does not make the Christian nervous, make one squirm, over their somewhat cultic proclamations, especially that ‘pastor’s vision’ thing, nothing will. It deserves it’s own polemic post) Quite honestly, these franchises are not always wrong in all they do all the time. I believe you will find many therein who are fervent in their love for the Messiah. That all being said, one cannot give a pass to those who are fundamentally redefining the nature of the church. I think, on the day of Judgement, there will be some small church in some big city that never grew large numerically but was faithful in their selfless caring for one another, that did not compromise the Gospel, that did not sacrifice orthopraxy on the altar of pragmatism, that will be far more highly exalted in the Kingdom that some multi-campus megachurch video franchise that lost sight of the fact that the Messiah is our faithful Shepherd gently tending after His sheep rather than an example of cooperate American leadership.
In closure, it is so interesting that NewSpring has ‘ownership’ classes rather than membership classes wherein you can speak to other ‘owners’. More disturbing business-speak. I thought Jesus was the ‘owner’ of His bride.
On Free Will, by the same speaker, thinking my thoughts, but with more lucidity:
(a bit long for a YouTube, but worth the time spent in viewing it)
What should happen when one embraces the truth of Sovereign Grace is eventually an attitude of overarching humility and a destruction of prideful moralism. Without regard to the correctness of our Christian soteriology, we all still struggle with the bent of our old nature, though. I have collected all the swag, those metaphorical tee-shirts and bumper stickers, to know that such is true. I still have those struggles.
As an aside and in context to discussions that revolve around issues of free will, I really, intensely, dislike that “God does not want robots to love Him” thing. I have heard it too many times and from good people, but I know that conceit is sometimes driven by a prideful emotionalism that leads to errant, unbiblical conclusions. It ultimately leads to place where we find a needy God Who tries to make Himself attractive to us so as to woo us. We often find, too, a faux therapeutic gospel.
There is nothing attractive about the cross, that Roman torture and death machine. The foot of the cross is for rebels who hate the true God and have no place for Him, ultimately for you and me. It is only His sovereign grace and His ability to replace a heart of stone with a heart of flesh that draws us to the beauty of the Messiah. Too, that door you hear about in altar calls upon which sad, patient Jesus is always plaintively knocking, hoping that somebody might open it for Him….it is not the door to the heart of the unregenerate, an evangelical call, but was the door to the church in first century Laodicea, a damaged, complacent, body of believers.
I think about the following, and quite popular, video, one I have watched and commented on before. I know that it has ministered to many people on some level, and I do not question the authenticity of their faith.
However, and without regard to how strongly this video tugs on ones emotional strings, I think it unbibically portrays fallen humanity more as victim than rebel, than sinner. I also find egregious error in its depiction of a god who waits helplessly on the sidelines for the victim to decide, or find within themselves the ability to reach out for help to Himself.
Also, that worried, hand-wringing portrayal of god is not the sovereign, settled, in-control of everything in the created order Triune God revealed in the Biblical texts. He does not struggle to draw His people too Himself. This portrayal of God in the following skit, comforting and approachable as he may seem, stands in sharp contrast to the completely sovereign God, the one who captured my own darkened heart and sin-bound will.
I do not need a God who simply throws me a rope and then struggles to clear a path for me so as to, when I finally make my way to him, simply dust me off and dance with me. None of that is the Gospel. I need a God who breaths life into me. Again, I am not merely a victim, but a perpetrator, and I need a sovereign Savior. I love Him, albeit so weakly, so falteringly in my humanity in contrast to which He is worthy, because He sovereignty drew me to himself when I was in death-bound rebellion against Him. If you think that makes me a robot, than so be it.
One more thought: How bold must someone be to portray God in a skit? I think of Peter who deemed himself unworthy to even be crucified in the same manner as our Messiah, asking instead to be crucified upside down.
In conclusion, here is some text from the same Gospel that gave us John 3:16:
John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 6:65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
John 15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
My group at work recently provided for its members an opportunity to attend a Get Motivated seminar. Among the noted speakers were Robert Schuller, Rudy Guilliani, and Steve Forbes. I have a strong, perhaps unique and maybe errant inclination towards cynicism in regards to such positive-thinking schemes, and I carried that cynicism with me to the seminar.
While we did not attend the entirety of the seminar before retiring to a local restaurant for a meal, one which I enjoyed, I came away from this team building exercise with some thoughts that validated my ingrained cynicism. I also came away with some perceptions and insights. In all the ‘three steps to success’ and ‘dream it and achieve it’ exhortations being pandered to the massive auditorium full of starry-eyed salespeople and entrepreneurs, I could, with little imagination, picture myself in typical Joel Osteenesque mega-church where the greatest sin perhaps is not living up to your potential and achieving your dreams. With tangible irony, Schuller, a minister ostensibly of the Protestant faith, his church financially and spiritually bankrupt, was the first to speak. While trotting out iterations of his thread-bare “If you can dream it, you can do it!” schtick, I was thinking to myself, you are lying, you bankrupt minister. Try hard as they might, not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up. Sometimes life, Providence, puts you in a place from which you cannot escape. Preach your positive-thinking to an inner-city gang of youths and tell me how it floats with them. Try motivating someone impoverished in Africa, dying of AIDS. Trot out your spiel in North Korea. Such positive-thinking rhetoric only works for those who really have a chance at your definition of success to begin with. It offers no hope, or false hope to many.
What I mulled over, also, was the meaning of success in this success-drenched circus. The making of more money was always an underlying goal, and not necessarily a bad one. Success was at times defined as having lofty goals and putting plans in place to achieve them, perhaps despite daunting obstacles, and again, not necessarily a bad thing. We were given three steps to achieve this and five steps to achieve that, and until then, it had never dawned on me that this uniquely American vision of success was apparently so easy as to be distilled into kindergarten platitudes. I mentally palmed myself on the forehead upon that epiphany. But what I really arrived at was the conclusion that, by their definition of success, I am a loser. I have no overarching goals other than to work with my mind and hands to provide for my family, perhaps enjoy the fruits of my labor now and again, and help those in need. I have no goals or desires of ticking off entries on some bucket list. I want to live honestly, not worrying about money because I have little to worry about (at least my American standards – big picture – I am stinking filthy rich). If you say you trust in a God Who says He will provide for His children’s basic necessities, then you should be content with that.
Having money to retire on was a goal spoken of at times. As I look back down the corridors of the past, I dawns on me that only in recent western history has the concept of not having to work during your latter productive years so has to enjoy a perennial vacation been the common expectation. We either put money aside to retire on, sacrificing during our now for a hoped-for leisurely later, or our employer pays a lifelong pension. Again, retirement is fine, but it not an entitlement. It never has been over the course of history. I think of that laying up of treasures on earth with the rust and moths and thieves thing the Jewish King and carpenter spoke of. While it is wise and prudent to put aside money for a rainy day and hard times, do we really need to plan on not having to work for thirty years? I will work till I cannot. There is, I think, honor in that. Without regard to the market, I refuse to worry about money or spend substantial amount of time thinking about it. If that makes me a failure, I will wear that label proudly. I could pontificate ad nausea, but enough for now……
I sat on this post for awhile due to the issues described here, internally debating whether or not I should post it. After all, how could I authentically speak to issues of ecclesiology if I struggled with doubts of even belonging to the church militant? Without regards to such issues, I decided to unveil my thoughts, anyway.
If I ever were to pastor a church, which would only happen if God has a great sense of irony and loves to use the weak, the foolish, those prone to sin and despises it, and those with no leadership or interpersonal skills, these are some things I would insist upon:
- Sundays would not be a polished affair with state-of-the-art audio and visual accouterments. Musical instruments would probably be in the back of the church. Focus is to be on the Word unfolded so as to feed the sheep, not on a musical performance. I would refuse to play any music that was programmed to draw in people who would not otherwise go to church.
- I would never, never, never, ever lay the burden of the tithe, an unbiblical practice as taught by the contemporary church, upon the sheep. I will not pastor over the church of Galatia. There would be relatively few sermons or speeches on financial stewardship. Though important, you don’t need Jesus to teach you to balance your checkbook and save for a rainy day. Plus…I am not so good with money, myself. It just does not mean that much to me as it does others.
- I would probably be bi-vocational.
- There would be no sermons with seven steps to this or five keys to that. Legalism lite leads to Jesus lite. Legalism is a path that leads to Hell
- I would do my best to talk a lot about Christ using few if any personal anecdotes. I want you to learn about the Messiah, not about me. If I cannot teach redemptive Biblical history, the historical and true story of Christ alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, by the authority of the Bible alone, to the glory of God alone without telling stories about me and my life experience (boring thought it would be), I do not need to claim to be a pastor. If I ever become a pastor, which is highly unlikely, I will not be there to entertain you. When I die, I would just as soon be forgotten then be remembered as having been a charismatic leader.
- I would not ask for your personal testimonies, though you are certainly free to share – but, foremost, tell me Christ’s story in church, not yours. Your changed life, though I am happy for you, is not necessarily the Gospel. Paxil changes lives, AA changes lives, art changes lives, Mormonism has changed lives for the better. The Gospel story is what breaths life into rotten corpses. The apostle Peter probably had many interesting stories, but he told Christ’s story every time, all the time.
- There would never, never, ever be any altar call nor any other crass emotional manipulation of the flock. If Jesus and the apostles did not need them, then neither do I need that extra-biblical and rather recent and often detrimental appendage to the Gospel call. No. Sappy. Music. In. Church. Ever. Too, why do I need to close my eyes and bow my head during altar calls? Seriously….
- I would seek to heal you with the Gospel rather the Law. Too many preachers wield the Law like an anvil against the sheep when a salve of grace is called for.
- Preaching would be mostly expostional. Exceptions to expostional preaching might entail, for example, teaching about the lives and doctrines of the early church fathers and martyrs. I would also like to learn and teach on church history. Doing a class on systematic theology in the evenings would be cool, too. Theology is a fundamental part of the church. If I ever pastored a church, it would be lovingly doctrinal. Doctrine is the spine and immune system of the church.
- I would strongly discourage the turning of hobbies into ministries. You like to golf, hunt, and ride motorcycles. Such is fine with me; just don’t baptize them. Let me know when you want to go for a ride though. It would be fun to join with you.
- The crippled, the poor, the mentally ill and emotionally scarred, those not so articulate would welcomed and embraced. Along the same lines, introverts are welcome and loved. I understand because I am an introvert, too. If you are uncomfortable in certain social circumstances, we can fellowship, you and me, over a cup of coffee or can of beer where ever you are most comfortable. I personally like sweet tea. Occasionally, a shot or two of Evan Williams is fine. Church is not easy, sometimes, for introverts.
- I would insist that the elders and teachers hold the the Doctrines of Grace.
- No. Skits. Ever. No drama teams, either. You want drama, entertainment, go to a theater. The Word, being potent in and of itself, does not need our help. Drama merely adds extraneous layers. As an aside, it amazes me that people can feel comfortable playing the role of Christ in musical dramas and plays. I recall Peter requesting his body to be crucified upside down because he deemed himself to be unworthy to be crucified in the fashion of the Messiah.
- I would not make too big a deal about secondary issues such as eschatology, though they would not be ignored.
- Communion would be a real meal, I think, not a piece of bread or a plastic shot glass of grape juice. Wine would be available if desired. I also am not wed to the amount of water used in baptisms. Sprinkle or dunk, I can accommodate either. No major problems with either paedo and credo-baptism. I see valid Biblical arguments for either, though I lean towards credo-baptism.
- I would never say, as many do from the stage and pulpit, that I would not sacrifice my family for of the church, though I would hope I would never face such circumstances. Such statements, though common, seem strange and present a hopefully false dichotomy. I would die a thousand times for the church of the Christ. If my wife or children are not with me on this, then they turn their backs on the bride and body of Christ. I would not.
- I will not be a Christian culture warrior, ever. I will not try to dress unregenerate corpses up with the Law when they need the Gospel. You want a moral nation above all, have Utah succeed and move there. They are nice, family-friendly, moral people even without the Gospel delivered by the apostles. I would never preach pure moralism. It is the anti-thesis of grace.
- Children will not have to go to kids church when big people church starts if the family wants their children to be with them. Distractions are OK, to a degree, and a part of life, and a part of the body, a part of families. You hear me on this one Furtick and Noble? I will not force families to split up when the preaching starts. Shame on you, Furtick, for removing Christ from your service for being a distraction to your show…..as you do the the least of these……
- I would probably not let my church grow much beyond 200 people if I had such control. Should it do so, and this would be a great thing, we split into two sister churches, each with trained and approved elders and pastors. If a pastor cannot at least recognize his sheep, he needs to have others step up to help feed, lead and shelter the flock. Move half of them to another pasture. Keep growing the flock, and then splitting off to new pastures.
- Naive on my part, perhaps, but I would hope the hypothetical church I fed would not be success oriented with tangible metrics. Leave that for businesses. I would not count salivations. That is no ones job but the Holy Spirits; no one else is qualified to separate wheat from chaff. I would hope we would have an orientation of humility. If the seats are filled, fine. If not, fine. It will be Christ who grows His church, not me.
- I would literally die to protect my sheep from wolves, from bad theology. You will not see Wild At Heart or The Shack as recommended reading the churches library. I would never endorse heretics like TD Jakes as have many nominally orthodox pastors.
- I would never, ever have a fund raiser. If someone is in deep financial need, I would sell my possessions, give up vacations, and work overtime to help you. I hope the flock would do the same. Saddest thing I have seen in a long time is a large, evidently wealthy church holding a bake sale fund raiser for a child needing surgery.
- If you want to volunteer to help in the church, that is great. If not, that is fine with me, too. I know your probably work hard to support your family and need no extra burdens. Quite frankly, when you get rid of all the extraneous parking teams, media teams, creative teams, hospitality teams, volunteer coordination team volunteers, you find you do not need volunteers so much.
- Small groups, meh. I have seen them too often be pools of ignorance to which, not so long ago, I helped make even more deeply ignorant. If we do small groups, it will be elder led and Word focused. They are what you make of them.
- If you want a God of second chances, go to where the Gospel is light and cheap. I will give you a Gospel for dead men and women who float hopeless in the dark waters. They don’t need second chances. I, and they, would mess up the second chance, and the third, and the forth. I will point you to a Savior, to paraphrase Paul Capon, if memory serves, who dives into deep water to breath life into sin infused, rotten corpses, dies in the process, and later appears on the shore alive and waits for you having defeated death and sin.
Enough of my orthopraxic utopianism…