Monday, August 23, 2010

Pecan Pie with No Pecans

What’s called “the worship wars” has plagued the evangelical church for years – the arguments over traditional versus contemporary versus “ancient-future” versus just about anything else you can think of. Numerous churches have been torn apart over what kinds of hymns (songs!) to sing.

What if the battles over worship forms are only a distracting sideshow? What if a more serious problem is being masked by whether we have choirs or praise bands?

In Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, Michael Spencer (the original Internet Monk) predicts the coming collapse of the American evangelical church. And a primary reason, he says, is that the church has become like pecan pie without the pecans – and Jesus is the pecans. Many of today’s churches have everything – lattes while you worship, sermons on prosperity now, scenes from R-rated movies within the sermons, instructions on sexual intimacy – but no Jesus.

I’ve seen a lot of things pass for worship, including a pastor doing a three-costume change during a sermon; a clip from the Russell Crowe movie “Gladiator;” and dancers in flowing gowns looking like they were trying to find the set for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What any that had to do with the gospel message is unknown. And that’s Spencer’s point. We’ve got everything except Jesus in our churches.

Christians are voting – with their feet, Spencer says. I don’t have any demographic studies or surveys to prove that, but I suspect he’s right.

In the September/October issue of Modern Reformation Magazine, Dr. Donald P. Richmond of the Reformed Episcopal Church writes in “Worship Wars: Toward a Biblical Resolution” that worship has four inherent aspects: gathering; word-focused; communion-centered; and dismissal. (I’d provide the link but it’s not posted online yet.) The style of worship is less important than the substance -- each of the four has Jesus at its center. (Richmond does, however, raise the question of how we dress for worship -- that our clothing may be -- may be -- an important indicator of the expectations of our hearts.)

Talk about countercultural.


The Coming Evangelical Collapse, Michael Spencer’s blog post

Spencer’s article in the Christian Science Monitor.

Chapter Two by Nancy Rosback at Bend the Page.

Jesus-colored glasses by Fatha Frank at Public Christianity.


Red Letter Believers said...

GY: Love to see this side of you.And you nailed the issue. It goes way beyond music. It's a stripping of Jesus from our worship so that it might become 'platable'. But if there's no Jesus, what or who do we worship?

I am now going to a church that preaches fiery sermons, doesn't mess around with making you feel comfortable, AND is growing. I think there's a longing for this.

I podcast Mark Driscoll in Seattle who preaches the same way

M.L. Gallagher said...

Fascinating points you raise Glynn.

I am not a church goer -- though occassionally do go to a non-denominational service here -- and sometimes to a Christian service. Last time I went to the Christian service they 'outed' the minister publicly for having been caught having two affairs. It was rather disheartening -- and I couldn't help but think -- what about his family? they go to this church too. And would Jesus have condoned such behaviour -- not the ministers (which of course was wrong but oh so human) but in this instance, the church elders who believed it was right to cast him out and publicly 'name' him.

L.L. Barkat said...

I am thinking of the dancers in flowing gowns. I am thinking they are a gospel message. A resurrection.

I am thinking of how the priests turned large jugs of water onto the streets during the Feast of Weeks and Jesus spoke himself into the moment.

I am thinking of Passover, the horse radish, bitter herbs, haroset and the cups of wine. Jesus spoke into these too at the Last Supper.

Maybe we need both. The Jesus and the senses...


Rebecca Ramsey said...

Awesome post. So timely.
You've reminded me of some scripture from Colossians I read yesterday:

"This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it's out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God's glory. It's that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less."

Love it.

Maureen said...

While I agree with Spencer to a point, I think we have to be careful to not go for either extreme.

There is an Episcopal parish in my area in which dance is beautifully integrated into the worship service, in a way that brings God's Word alive as no sermon can. Quite a few Episcopal parishes integrate the arts with services and use them in mission and outreach to create community and foster good works.

St said...

how i'd love to repost right here dave perry's visual theology blog of today in response to this . the best i can do is add the link and hope it's read..

your post today is absolutely sad. to think there are members of Christ's body who still believe it's about outward piety when Christ was nothing but clear on it being all about circumcision of the heart and BEING Christ to those around us.
and as to worship - worth researching the beauty of the sensual worship God Himself instructed and designed through Moses and the experiential worship through David ..

Jeanne Damoff said...

As a dancer and lover of dance and someone who has seen it employed powerfully in worship, I still have to give you 50 points for making me laugh with your description. :) When art becomes so abstract or inaccessible that the artist has to explain himself before anyone else can understand it, I have to side with those who say it's not good art. That applies to painting, poetry, music, dance, or any other medium.

I haven't read this book, but I share some of the same concerns. Jesus must be central or worship is pointless. That said, I don't know if the American evangelical church will collapse. I think another possible scenario is we will be purified, perhaps through persecution. God loves His people too much to leave them in shallow selfishness.

We should pray for revival, but we should also realize the answer to that prayer will most likely involve suffering in one way or another. The cross isn't comfortable, and the flesh never dies easily.

Thanks, Glynn. I love posts that make me think.

Glynn said...

I probably have should have been a little more clear about the dancing. Some 15 or 20 strong, they came into the worship service, waving flags and banners until they reached the platform, where they circled what surely looked like a maypole. All the while the congregation (although in this case it was really an audience) was instructed by the jumbotron slides to sing "Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na." Those were the only lyrics. I am not making this up.

Jeanne Damoff said...

Ha! That's awesome! Not in a worship sense, but in an "okay, where's the hidden camera because this is obviously a joke" sense. If I'd been there, hopefully the na-na-nas would have been sufficiently na-na-ish to drown out my laughter.

We have one particular "worship" prop at our church that I simply can't take seriously. It's been around for a long time but hadn't made an appearance for years until last Christmas. In fact, I thought maybe someone had finally disposed of the ridiculous thing. But no. Our pastor's wife (new to the church since the last time it was used) was asked to carry it down the center aisle during a Christmas production, and when she entered the sanctuary I almost lost it. She told me later that she intentionally avoided eye contact with me. I didn't know she'd been asked to carry it, and we'd never discussed its existence before that event, but she knows me well enough that she easily predicted what my reaction would be.

The sad thing is our pastor thinks it's ridiculous, too, but there's always the matter of trying to please everyone and offend no one, especially the person who has been a member for fifty years and gives eleventy-jillion dollars and who happens to love the life-sized painting of neon Jesus on black velvet in the foyer. (No, we don't actually have one of those. Thank God.)

You have to laugh or cry, so I laugh. I suppose that offends some people, but it's not premeditated. It's the way my sense of humor works. And, if it makes those offended feel better, I sometimes want to cry later, in private, when I think about the implications.

It all magnifies God's patience and mercy. I wonder what he thought of the May pole dancers and the na-na-nas. Because that's what ultimately matters, right? The good news (or bad news) for all of us is that He looks at our hearts.

Fatha Frank said...

"na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye"?

Boy did you open up a can of worms! But this was a good and worthwhile discussion. I think the bottom line we can all agree on (and is the point of this chapter) is our focus/attention needs to be appropriate.

Even the cafeteria menu given in the second half of the chapter isn't bad in and of itself (lessons on sex, finances, etc), but when they become the primary focus-the marketing niche carved out-then there's a problem.