Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What could it hurt?

Everyone knows Paul's famous reminder that while all things are possible, not all things are beneficial.  That said, it seems the pendulum has swung decidedly in favor of a "what could it hurt" mentality.  Within the Church and specifically on Sunday morning, things are said, done, and sung less with the idea that this represents our best and more from the perspective of what would it hurt us to...  It has become the new mantra of freedom that has marched over issues of adiaphora (not unimportant things but those things about which the Church cannot say "thus saith the Lord).  We do not have to show that this is better or more faithful but respond to such choices with the simple shrug "what could it hurt?"

What could it hurt to embrace a culture of entertainment, pleasure, and self-centeredness in what we do as the people of God on Sunday morning?  What could it hurt to treat the assembly of the faithful as if it were the audience of the curious and direct the sermon and service toward the seeker instead of the found?  What could it hurt if the pulse and poetry of the music is more in keeping with the sound of our playlists than the Church's song?  What could it hurt if we just loosened up a bit and borrowed from the theological and methodological footlockers of other "Christian" groups?  What could it hurt if Pastors oriented themselves less as shepherds of the flock of God and more as life coaches to assist the people in achieving their own goals and dreams?  What could it hurt if we emphasized more the present moment that the eternity which is not only our goal but our destiny in Christ?  What could it hurt if we exchanged the traditional "what does this mean" for "how does this make you feel?"

Maybe in the short run it does not seem so onerous or dangerous.  It is where the people are at -- those not yet of the Kingdom -- so why not go to where they are and make the Church look, act, and sound a bit more like them?  Even Paul offered to be all things to all people so that some might be won?  What is the big deal about throw away liturgy and music that may not be the best but is current, catchy, and has a beat you can dance to?

Underneath all of this is a question begging to be asked?  Is this our best in response to His best for us?  No one that I know suggests that pop gospel and praise bands represents the best we have to offer the Lord in response for His self-less offering?  Even proponent that I know claims the rationale is decidedly less theoretical -- it works!  Quite apart from the theology of the specific songs or the entertainment orientation to Sunday morning, can we live with offering our God what works instead of what is our best? 

There is no doubt that the sturdy hymns of old are harder to learn and more difficult to sing.  Every age and generation has wrestled with this.  But the point here was not high culture over low culture or personal taste.  We knew that these hymns conveyed the best.  They were musically and textually our best efforts at music that speaks and sings and glorifies God by mirroring back to Him what He has spoken to us in His Son.

There is no doubt that the liturgy is not that entertaining.  Why, just this Sunday an acolyte conveyed to me that he did not want to be in church but would have rather slept in!  Is there any of us who would not have chosen St. Mattress Comfort over Grace Lutheran Church (or what other you wish to insert)?  It is work.  It is work to keep our minds off ourselves for an hour or so much less to put ourselves out for the singing of the liturgy, the listening to the Word and sermon, and the works that are the fruits of these means of grace.

There is no doubt that the Church appears irrelevant and hopelessly old fashioned in the face of culture's mad embrace of change and something new.  We hear the predictable Law and Gospel in every sermon (hopefully) and the liturgy offers us few real surprises.  It is routine and ordinary (though bestowing anything but ordinary gifts and grace).

What could it hurt?  Maybe nothing all that earth shattering (though I am not quite willing to grant it).  But apart from this, is this our best?  Is this all that is noble, true, beautiful, faithful, and excellent?  If it isn't, we have got a problem -- before we even get down and dirty into the theology of it all.  One of the great problems with the worship of our churches on Sunday morning is that we treat both liturgical and entertainment worship with the same question:  "What could it hurt?"  Instead, we should be asking the far more important question -- "Is this our best?"  Is this worthy of the Christ who gave His best and all for us and our salvation?  Can we afford what is easy or comfortable instead of what is faithful?

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil. 4:8


Rich Kauzlarich said...

Pr. Peters: Thank you for this. It is difficult to talk about this in a congregation without offending someone.

Anonymous said...

Such churches do not stop after making one or two changes. They make one change, pause, make another, pause, then make another, pause, etc.

Just a little off the top, please. Well, um, maybe just a little more. We see the end result:

Anonymous said...

What could it hurt?

My biggest problem with "entertainment style" worship is that it is "supposedly" aimed at praising and glorifying God rather than God providing us with His gifts. The most horrible example of this is MacLaren's "Vertical Church."

The closest human parallel to the divine service is a family meal at which the kids all gather around the table to receive what their parents have earned for their sustenance, life and strength.

Imagine a family in which the purpose of the meal was that the father would be praised for all his hard work and how wonderful and glorious he was and in which the kids went away with empty bellies but patted on the back for having "given this time to father."

It would be an emaciated, miserable, sad little family indeed.

I agree that entertainment style worship is far from the best. I have only once seen it done well. Usually it is performed by half trained and poorly practiced musicians who, because they are singing from the heart, have very little to say. And nobody in the congregation ever sings (including the kids) because the songs are a lot harder to learn and follow than the old hymns. Even in huge churches where professionals put on a performance (kind of interesting how similar it is to the old fashioned nightclubs of the roaring 20s, by the way) everything is so repetitive and shallow that there is nothing of substance and, especially, no message of forgiveness to take away.

You are right - it is not our best and, worse than that, the Church in America today is literally starving to death.

Rev William Smith Jr said...

I love Lutheran liturgy. It find comfort in it. My wife does, too. But she is even more conservative in this regard than I am. I never quite understood why she didn't like our contemporary service. Now that you have explained it so well, I do. You're absolutely right. And illustrating it with Philippians 4:8 was just perfect.

Unknown said...

The very root of liturgy is "work." It is work in the service and praise of God. It has never been designed to be entertaining, but uplifting just as work is designed to be. To make an economic analogy: That is why the praise congregations are so spiritually empty; they consume but produce nothing.

Aritul said...

Great post.