Two things to start – First, this blogging weekly thing is hard. I finally got Internet in the house, only to be swamped by tons of schoolwork and a quick trip to the Final Four. Second, this is a pre-emptive response/commentary on my friend Joseph’s post(s) on boring Christianity. He let me read it early, and it’s awesome. It says so many things I wish I could say to some of my friends and family. I don’t know when he’s going to post it, but it’s good.
Growing up, I went to a “contemporary” church. I didn’t really know any different, so it was fine. But as I grew up, I’d go to other churches – particularly my grandparents churches – and I was bored. The people were old, the music was slow, and nobody clapped. I went to youth group at First Pres (I think it was called Insight?) one time, though, and somebody sang the hymn “When All Thy Mercies” but played it on a guitar and in a more upbeat way. I would later go on to find out it was an “RUF song” (which basically means an old hymn set to new, folksy sounding music), and through RUF songs, fall in love with hymns.
That’s my story of how I became to love hymns. But this isn’t really about hymns (although I am mulling over doing an entire post on them), it’s about “boring” Christianity vs. “entertaining” or “contemporary” Christianity. I’ve heard people complain about worship styles on every side of the spectrum. Comments from “I don’t see how anyone could sing old hymns with just an organ” to “all they do is repeat the same seven words eleven times to four chords on an acoustic guitar” to “why is that guy playing a guitar solo in the middle of a worship service?”
And it’s an age old debate. I love that book of the Bible where Peter and Paul are discussing worship styles and which ones work and how traditional hymns are so much better than praise son…wait…that’s not in the Bible.
This whole “worship style” debate is American Christianity at its worst. There are “traditional” services and “contemporary” services and “blended” services and “cowboy” churches and “farmer” churches and…you get the idea. “Hillsong is awesome!” “No way, give me John Wesley’s hymns all day!” “But this new Jesus Culture* album is incredible!” “But what about the Gadsby Hymnal?”
It’s the worst because we, as American Christians, have gotten bored with the Gospel. It is the greatest story ever told, and if true, changes everything. I mean, we are bored with this story: God created man, man sinned against God, God undertook a plan throughout all of history to save man, God became man, Jesus lived a perfect life, Jesus died a sinner’s death, Jesus rose from the dead, and the world was changed. And now he sits at the right hand of God the Father, actively ruling and reigning over his kingdom.
And we’re bored with that.
The apostles didn’t write a lot on worship styles. Why they didn’t do this is pure speculation, but I think part of it is because they were concerned that people were going to break into their house, throw them in jail, and feed them to lions. So they probably felt like they had important things to write about.
We, on the other hand, have to deal with the horrors of the national media labeling our favorite fast food restaurant homophobic. So our situation, as American Christians, is pretty similar to that of the apostles.
Except that it’s not. We have the audacity (and “I” am included in that “we”) to get bored with the Gospel. And since we’re bored with the Gospel, worship becomes entertainment.
This has happened for a lot of reasons, I’m sure. We’ve devalued preaching. We don’t face any kind of persecution. We don’t take sin seriously. Our attention spans have become shorter (seriously – Vine is an app that gives six seconds of video. That’s all we got now). There are a ton of reasons, but whatever the reason is, it’s messed up.
I have been there before. I’ve been frustrated and bored with the church. I bought into the whole “I’m Christian, but I don’t really do the church thing” lie for a while, mostly because I was bored. Then I read the Bible. I mean…really read the Bible. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t read the Bible all the way through, beginning to end, until about 4 years ago. That totally changed me.
The point is simply this – worship is not entertainment. It’s for edification, education, and most importantly, glorifying God. Sometimes it’s not going to fit into whatever musical style we like, but that’s okay. Maybe sometimes the words are hard to understand or archaic. There are bad hymns and good hymns. There are bad worship songs and good worship songs. But don’t miss the incredible truth of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” just because the musical styling isn’t what you hear on the radio. Don’t listen to “Crown Him With Many Crowns” unmoved because it doesn’t sound like a U2 cover band. But at the same time, don’t ignore a song like “How He Loves Us” because “rock music isn’t your thing.” I could go on, but I won’t.
What we do, when we get “bored” with worship, is we put entertainment over truth. And while we get bored with it, people in other countries are being thrown in jail and killed for their faith.
I think there’s a lot to be said about content. That’s where this discussion needs to be aimed. Because style…that’s just unimportant.
*I think it needs to be said that the name “Jesus Culture” is stupid and possibly a violation of the Third Commandment.