Is Your Church Too “Worldly”?

This is a little piece written by a long-time friend of mine, Dr. Tom Lawson. Tom is a professor at Ozark Christian College with a focus on the theology and history of Christian worship.

My Church Looks Like a Bar.

When people walked into First Christian Church on a Sunday morning not long ago, most of them were not prepared to see the newest fad in popular worship music sitting in the front of the sanctuary.  Some of them had enough musical background to know they were looking at a percussion instrument.  For a lot of people, the one thing they knew was it made their church look like a bar.

 The reason First Christian had caved to the world was the music the popular media blared out to the teenagers day after day.  You couldn’t even turn on a radio without having popular Christian music pounding out rhythms, while your kids kept begging you to turn up the volume.  Everyone knew if it wasn’t for the broadcast media, in fact, they’d have been able to keep the music they grew up with in church.  But now that wasn’t going to happen.

 Some would object.  They’d point out that percussion had no place in church.  And, the disgusting popular Christian music that needed these new instruments had no place in God’s House, either.  The church was supposed to be in the world, but, instead, there was the world sitting right there in church.  Sure, churches needed to change some things every now and then.  But, to many who stood there gaping at the front of the sanctuary, this visible emblem of a compromised church was one change too many.

 But, what could they do?  The pastor wanted it.  Most of the congregation was willing to live with it.  Some musically tasteless people probably even liked it.  But, even the traditionalists knew, you can’t turn back the calendar.  After all, this was 1934 and there was nothing to be done in this modern age, but to let that unwelcome monstrosity, the piano, stay.

It’s amazing to me how corporate worship practices have changed over time. It’s really nothing new, I suppose. Change in worship services, and music in particular, has been happening and causing conflict for hundreds of years.

In the early 1700s Isaac Watts wrote many hymns that are still familiar today…but at the time they were considered “worldly” by a lot of folks because, up until then worship music was limited to the Psalms. In fact, there were those who would stand up and walk out of a service when one of his hymns was sung.

One of his songs is “Marching to Zion.” I think he may have written the third verse of that hymn with those folks in mind:

“Let those refuse to sing, who never knew our God.
But children of the heavenly King may speak their joys abroad.”

In the 1800s it was Fanny Crosby. She was probably the most prolific hymn writer in history. She wrote over 8,000 hymns! In her lifetime, she was one of the best known women in the United States. In spite of her popularity, or maybe because of it, she received her share of criticism for her intensely personal and subjective content. Her songs were criticized for being “overly sentimental.” My point is that her music was new. It was criticized as “worldly”…and it changed how Christians worship.

My personal belief is that, generations from now, the songs of Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Keith & Kristyn Getty and others will be part of that same heritage. are those who complain that the church of today has allowed worldliness to creep into our worship services. Now, when we Christians use the term “worldly,” what we mean is that we’re becoming too much like everybody else in the world who don’t follow Jesus. That we’ve lost what is distinctly Christian about the church.

It’s not a new criticism. And, the truth is, I agree. I believe that we have indeed allowed too much worldliness into our corporate worship gatherings. But it may not be for the reasons you think. We’re not worldly because we use lights, technology and modern music any more than the church was worldly when we started using the piano…or the electric organ.

Worldliness is not using the stuff of this world to accomplish God’s mission. We use bricks and mortar to build a church building. We use paper and ink to print Bibles. We use the telephone, email and social media to communicate with our congregation and with our community. This doesn’t make any of these things worldly.

Worldliness is a spiritual condition. It’s when our hearts and attitudes remain unchanged by the Holy Spirit.

What is it that makes Christians different from the rest of the world? How would people of “the world” recognize a group of Christ-followers?

Here are a few passages of scripture that speak to this question:

Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

I therefore…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Encourage one another and build one another up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 12:1-2)

These are the things that make the church uniquely Christian…and they have nothing to do with the style of music or the instruments played. Where in this world can you find these things?

If the church would concentrate on developing these attitudes we would banish worldliness from her gatherings.

Together let’s commit ourselves to practicing deference instead of demanding our preference.

Talk about not being “worldly”!

I believe a church like that would shine like a beacon to the “world” around her.


My Picks for Tuesday 1-5-2016

Just some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing…

Why ‘the evangelical voter’ doesn’t mean anything
Trevin Wax
A "Vote Here" sign on display in front of Westwood City Hall on Nov. 4, 2014, in Westwood, Kan. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow
“So, what does this mean for predicting what evangelicals will do at the voting booth? That question needs further clarification. What kind of evangelical are we talking about? White evangelicals vote differently than black evangelicals. Older evangelicals have different worries and concerns than younger evangelicals.

When politicians or reporters treat the evangelical movement as a monolithic, reliable voting bloc, they are most likely taking one segment of evangelicals (usually, “white” and “older”) and defining the whole movement.

For example, Franklin Graham’s recent decision to leave the Republican Party and declare himself an independent does not mean “the evangelical vote” is somehow up for grabs this year.”

I’m Thinking It OverAlan Jacobs
“The internet is…a mugger, but what it demands is not my money but my attention and my reaction, and it wants them right now. And “I’m thinking it over” isn’t an acceptable response.

…a great many people are going off half-cocked on [the firing of Professor Larycia Hawkins from Wheaton College]; and what those emails I got remind me is that going off half-cocked is now widely perceived as a virtue, and the disinclination to do so as a vice. Moreover, that poorly informed and probably inflammatory statement of Your Incontrovertibly Correct Position must be on the internet — and according to my first protestor either directly on or accessible to Twitter — or it doesn’t count towards your treasury of merit.

I want to suggest some alternative ways of thinking about these matters, and related ones…”

We Are Getting CloserErik Raymond
“Think about this truth: with the turn of the calendar from 2015 to 2016 we are that much closer to dwelling in the everlasting kingdom of Christ!”

The Prophet Who Didn’t SeeMichael Kelly
download“Remarkably, though, the text does not say that Elisha also saw the army of the Lord. We assume he did because how else would he know about this massive force aligned against his enemies? Perhaps he did see those flaming chariots… but then again, perhaps he did not.

Perhaps the man of God did not need to. This is the essence of faith, is it not? To look into the most dire of circumstances and know the Lord still reigns? Even though every sense tells us the opposite is true?

Yes. Maybe he didn’t see. Because maybe he didn’t need to.”

Is this sign necessary?


Genesis 47:1-12

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Genesis 47:1-12
So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan. They are now in the land of Goshen.” And from among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”

Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” 10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. 11 Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents.

From this passage I hear God asking me:
Reminder: Egyptians hate shepherds. (46:34)
Yet, Pharaoh was helping them.
But were they part of Egyptian society?
Sort of “strangers in a strange land,” right?
2 questions:
1. You’re one of my people. Do you ever feel that way?
2. Who do you help, but not accept?

My Picks for Monday 1-4-2016

Just some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing…

Dangerous ResolutionsPeter Mead
design 4“How easily I fall into the trap of decorating my life with Jesus.  I don’t wear Christian jewelry or Christian t-shirts so much, but perhaps I sometimes just decorate my busy life with Christian ornaments…

How easy it is to have “a righteousness of my own that comes from” . . . what I do.  I can make all sorts of effort to live a moral life, to learn and grow for the sake of ministry, to be a good steward of my life, my resources and my opportunities, but to do all of this with my eyes looking in the wrong direction.  I can be looking at myself, building my resume, or looking at the needs around me, and yet not be truly looking at Christ himself, my one great goal.”

Warning: Sarcasm ahead…

Worship Leader Resolutions: 2016Jamie Brown
“Happy 2016, worship leaders!

It’s a new year, full of new potential, new opportunities, new emails from that one person in your congregation (you know who I’m talking about), and new songs that will be old and forgotten by 2017.

I will be adopting these worship leader new year’s resolutions in the months ahead, and I (cue the octave jump) STRONGLY RECOMMEND YOU DO THE SAME…”

No sarcasm here. If you are a worship leader who thinks deeply about what you do, this is for you…

Can We Sing Too Much About the Cross?Bob Kauflin
Can We Sing Too Much About the Cross?
“But people still ask, “Can we sing about the cross too much?” My short answer is no. At least, not if we’re going to be in line with heavenly worship.

But we can sing about the cross in the wrong ways. Here are four I’ve encountered…”

This is also an important question for church members, no?

Who is Us?Seth Godin

“When you build a tribe or a movement, you’re asking people to join you.

To become, “one of us.”

That means, though, you need to be really clear who ‘us’ is. Not just who am I joining, but what does it mean to be one of you?”
Source: Bizarro

Genesis 46:26-34

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Genesis 46:26-34
26 All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. 27 And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.

28 He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. 29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”

From this passage I hear God asking me:
Why do you think Egyptians hated shepherds?
I could’ve caused Egyptians to respect shepherds, or I could’ve chosen people who weren’t shepherds, or I could’ve avoided this whole Egyptian thing altogether.
Can you think of any reasons why I didn’t?
Does anyone feel this way about you?
Do you feel this way about anyone?


Here & There

here and there“We enter the house dedicated to God,
made out of bricks, linoleum and other stuff,
and we say,
‘The Lord is in His holy temple; let all kneel before Him.’
…but it does not stop there.
Come 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning if you do not say,
‘The Lord is in my office and all the world is silent before Him,’
then you were not worshiping the Lord on Sunday…
God is not present in the church building any more
than He is present in your home.
God is not here any more
than He is in your factory or office.”

-A.W. Tozer