Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Constitutes Renewal?

What constitutes spiritual renewal?  Are we not talking about authenticity, about integrity in worship and in life?  I am renewed when I am most genuine before God, when I am laid bare before God and He has poured out His Spirit upon me.   Renewal is ultimately wayless and formless, but that does not mean that in corporate worship traditional forms have to be replaced by contemporary forms that have an illusion of being wayless and formless, if only because they are both poorly conceived and poorly formed.  Does “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9) actually demand that we abandon beauty in favor of T-shirts and jeans?

            While there was some need to revise the BCP, perhaps even some need to enrich its selection of canticles, did wholesale revision of either the BCP, or the Hymnal leave us with something more, or something less?  In using both the new BCP and Hymnal over the past few years, my soul (nephesh ~ my inner man) cries out for the something more because instinctively I recognize that I have ended up with something less.

            The same is true of worship music and hymnody.  How much contextualization is actually constructive?  Why do I spend so much time listening to classical music?  Why do I still prefer, greatly prefer, Handel’s Messiah to the current offerings of contemporary gospel?  Something identifiable, and negative, has happened to Gospel praise music in the last twenty years.  It has moved from praise, ranging from simple to almost, but not quite lofty praise of Maranatha and other groups; to the current stuff with insipid melodies and clanging rhythms often featuring pseudotestimonial songs about me and Jesus, and us and Jesus, and what he done did for ME, all of which is often told in a rambling sentimental personal stories.  Did I say sappy?  I meant to!  You can listen for quite a while on Christian radio and never hear actual praise, and when you do hear it, it seems noisy, cold and incomprehensible.  When did contemporary gospel music move from being group led (Maranatha and many others) to individual praise leaders, and is that necessarily an advantage?  Is it not rather a symptom that contemporary praise music has moved away from congregational singing to professional performance?

 Why should I just pick on contemporary gospel?  The other day someone told me of a “glorious” service at one of our large downtown churches that “wow” even had “paid singers”.  Of course what I want to know is what does that have to do with worship?  That by the way is also reflected in the shift from the 1940 Hymnal to the 1982 Hymnal.  In the former about 50% at most was singable in the average congregation, and in the latter 30% is singable if you are lucky.  It was of course actually put together by professional church musicians from that school that advises that you tighten your buttocks in order to better project your voice.  Woops.  That was uncalled for and perhaps unjust, but it certainly reflects the attitude of one very influential seminary music professor who it turns out actually became the General Editor of the 1982 Hymnal.  Having “sat under” his instruction I can easily see why the 1982 Hymnal is so ineffective for the average congregation.  It was all just too precious to be well balanced!

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Song of the Church

It is fashionable in our age to criticize the Church, but what does the Lord of the Church have to say about his own?

“Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?”[i]

Who is the Accuser who would say otherwise?

We who are the Church, the Body of Christ, have accepted the Devil’s assessment of the Church and have been led with a ring through our nose into the attack on ourselves.  Immediately comes to mind the accusation that the Church is the only army that shoots its wounded.  Oh, really?

I note that in the usual form of this accusation that the Church is referred to as an ‘army’ that shoots its wounded.  That accidentally acknowledges that the Church is an army on the front line of a battle.  The world does not take that seriously.  It would never do to admit that the Church is involved in the global warfare between good and evil.  That is so much out of favour that in some places those called by the name of Christ won’t even sing Onward Christian Soldiers.

What must be considered is that the world is in the Church and the Church like any human organization has within it people of divided loyalties.  The Accuser holds up the shining mirror of the Church in the radiant glory yet to come and says, “See!  You are hypocrites; you do not live up to your image.”  Of course not!  The image is for the future, it is the wrong image and the Enemy would sell us a subtle deception. 

What is the correct image?  We are not yet the glorified Church, but we are a Church in transition; an imperfect Church made up of imperfect people.  Once we were lost, but now we are found.  We are a communion of sinners in the process of transformation.  We are a blood washed band on a pilgrimage to the Promised Land.  That is what so enrages the Devil.

Are people wounded by the Church?  Yes, insofar as the world is in the Church, and the Church is in the world.  There are tremendous flaws within the Church because of the humanity of the Church.

One of the reasons the world hates the Church is because in the Church the world sees its own mirror image, and more than that it sees its mirror image in the process of redemption.  The world is threatened by the demonstration in the Church that change is possible, that salvation and transformation can be seen in the ongoing salvation history of the Church and its individual people.

It is the image of a glorious Church in transformation from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Light, and in fury the Enemy cries out, “How dare you say that salvation and change is possible?”  From his perspective that wrecks all!  The Church in this world, already beginning to reflect the glory of God, is a serious affront to the world, the flesh, and the Devil; because is true that even as the Church beholds the Light it is in the process of being transformed into Light.

The vision is for the future, but it is already in process now.  Therefore the Devil cannot stand it.

And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."[ii]

[i] Song of Songs, 6:10;
[ii] Revelation 21:2-4