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.
There 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.