Sunday, April 28, 2024

A survivor. . .

Recently while looking for some information on a church, I encountered this description of one of their staff pastors and a Bible study he was leading.  He was introduced simply as a survivor of a more conservative Christian tradition.  His study was described around four key themes deconstructing authority, the Bible, salvation, and the end of time in order to reconstruct a life of faith.  Curiously, this congregation was advertising on the same page the complete performance of J. S. Bach's epic St. John Passion.  Now there is a task.  How do you reconcile the deconstruction of authority, Bible, salvation, and end times with the clear and unmistakable witness of Bach's St. John Passion?  Apparently, there is no contradiction in the minds of this large and established congregation.  They have all the trappings of a robust parish in which their music speaks of their faith but it is clear as you dig a little deeper that all is not what it seems.  They view the music as an aesthetic but not a component tied to the content of what they believe and confess.  The odd thing is that I resonate to their performance but find it hollow after reading how they view the faith itself.

Sadly, this disconnect between the faith confessed and how it is expressed is not local to this congregation but more typical.  We find it all the time.  Our Lutheran folks insist that they are Lutheran to the core but in the heart you find the deepest affection not for Bach but for the latest and greatest contemporary Christian composer or singer of pop gospel music and the hymns they love most of all are more from a Baptist hymnal than a Lutheran one.  The music is merely an aesthetic and not tied to the identity or faith held by the person.  It has become mere preference.  Most Lutherans do not want much to do with the great Lutheran composers (From Pachelbel all the way through the present day) and would prefer to have generic American hymnody over the Lutheran chorale.  We do not have mighty organs to supply the needed leadership of the great Lutheran musical tradition and our sanctuaries are padded down with carpet and cushy seats and inhibited by low ceilings that make it hard to sustain a lively congregational tradition of singing.  Although we are conservative and would turn up our noses at the congregation I mentioned above, we have succumbed to the very same fallacy -- style and substance are neither related nor indicative of what we believe.  How odd it is for me to admit that and yet it is true of us in other ways than it is true of them.

We are survivors all right but not of conservative Christian traditions.  We are survivors who have figured out a way to separate piety and practice from doctrine and confession.  That is the epidemic that is affecting all of Christianity in the worst of ways.  Liberals who like the ambiance of great liturgical music perform it wonderfully but simply cannot stomach believing the words.  Conservatives who insist that words matter cannot make themselves give up the guilty habit of sentimental, saccharine, emotional music.  Yet if Christianity is to survive, we will have to give up the hypocrisy.  What we believe and how we worship are not unrelated or distinct but vitally connected.  In our dream world in which we live as evangelicals within a confessional Lutheran imagination is not helping us anymore than it is helping a liberal and progressive congregation to retain the great music of the past.  They have become merely preference and not confession at all.  This is our undoing.  Not simply the culture outside the church but the culture inside whereby we find it comfortable to have our heads in one place and our hearts in another.  That is the problem.


Carl Vehse said...

The religious organization of this so-called "minister" also claims:

"'Christian' means we perceive in Jesus the divine qualities of love, peace, joy, and justice. It does not mean we think Jesus is the only path to God."

This religious organization is not a Christian church in any meaningful way.

Mabel said...

Blame the Andy Griffith show for people preferring pretty Baptist hymns to Lutheran ones. As a kid, I remember enjoying the hymns sung on Andy Griffith reruns and at one point, I was flipping through a copy of the Lutheran Hymnal looking for them, assuming that it contained ALL hymns in existence. But my mother told me that Lutherans didn't get to sing nice songs like that. "Just these gloomy Lutheran hymns, 8-12 stanzas." One pastor we had especially liked the dreary and depressing hymns and this was torture for my mother who loved cheerful hymns. So every other week, our family would drive to the next town where there was an ELCA church that had a fine organist, a bigger organ and even a harpsichord, and they did some really nice hymns that came from a separate song book that they had. Eventually, we moved to another town with a more liberal pastor and better music. You can lecture people that they should prefer traditional Lutheran hymns just as they should eat more vegetables and good luck with that.