Category Archives: worship

NYC Postcard: St. Thomas Episcopal

I visited St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan on July 29, 2018, at the end of my youngest daughter’s week at the Girls Chorister program. It’s a beautiful church and very Anglo-Catholic in its worship.

Ruth Graham of The Atlantic perfectly explains church music in an article on The Gathering cult

Money earned from worship music (those five words should form a red flag) has been funding a religious cult with an allegedly controlling, authoritarian, and possibly criminal leader by the name of Wayne Jolley.

The Chris Tomlin hit “How Great Is Our God,” co-written with Ed Cash, has helped to underwrite The Gathering International, a cult-like organization, as reports in Christianity Today and The Atlantic have noted.

But shouting against cults doesn’t seem to bring about change. The failings of evangelicalism renew the seedbeds for high-control groups and authoritarianism and cults all the time, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forevermore shall be.

So to draw something good from this all-too-familiar mess, let’s focus on Ruth Graham’s explanation (in The Atlantic) of today’s worship music in “contemporary services” at churches darn near everywhere, and let’s notice the contrast she strikes with old hymns.

“Worship songs are songs to be sung in church. Though they perform a similar role as hymns do in a church service, there are significant differences between hymns and worship songs. Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens. Many hymns date to the 19th century or before, while worship music as a genre arose in the 1960s and took off in the 1990s. Hymns are usually accompanied by an organ or a piano, while worship songs are played by a full band, including guitars and drums. Hymn-singing is a collective endeavor, while worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert. (Naturally, there are exceptions to all these generalizations.) Classics of the young genre include ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High’ and ‘Shout to the Lord.’

“These days worship songs are not just sung in church, but bundled onto albums for inspirational home listening….”

Instant replay:

“Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens….worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert.”

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, let our entertainment and our worship become one.

Amen.

Updated Dec. 23 to add a clause to the “instant replay” quotation.

The Pastor and Priest Fallacy; or, Why Ministries Must Earn Credibility and Trust

I like this guy’s doctrinal beliefs; therefore, he is trustworthy.

Imagine all American Christians understanding why that is a silly way of thinking.

Christian Publishing would collapse, and some ministers would have to do real work for the first time in their lives.

It’s like there’s an assumption running through some preachers’ ministries: “I believe the Bible, and the Bible affirms what I say, so get involved in my ministries, be accountable to my ministries, and give my money to my ministries.”

Because: Jesus.

It’s the magic word that gives narcissists and sociopaths instant power over vulnerable spiritual seekers.

Always, always wait until a supposed leader has earned trust and respect. He must earn it. She must earn it. Do not give any credibility or authority to a person until you’ve seen that person deserve it.

You will lose absolutely nothing by waiting to make a decision to commit yourself to a ministry. God’s got all the time there ever will be.

And He can make more.

I’m not asking for impossible tests for pastors, priests, or other ministers. Clergy can be observably human and humble. They can avoid controlling behaviors and controlling rhetoric. Just be aware. Keep your eyes and ears open. Commit yourself incrementally.

Most importantly, don’t believe a ministry’s hype. Pay attention to its substance — or, more likely, it’s lack of substance.

The story of America is a story of religious entrepreneurship. While I radically support religious liberty and freedom of speech, I know religious entrepreneurship has institutionalized as many dangerous ideas as nonsensical ideas or good ideas.

Read Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. It’s well-worth your time, and you’ll discover some similarities and parallels between some of the Latter Day Saints described in the book and many of America’s unaffiliated, entrepreneurial Protestants.

Look, the megachurches could last well into the future, or they could fizzle, but either way, I don’t need yet another preacher yapping at me from a spectacular stage, especially when I can suffer through the same guy’s sermon on YouTube.

The megachurch sales-and-marketing approach is completely obvious these days. I was in the same relatively small room with the senior pastor of a large church when he said he’s good at convincing people to come to church but not good at maintaining those relationships once they’re coming to church.

It really struck me as a bait-and-switch. You seem like a nice guy! I’ll try out your church! Then, later, I can never seem to have a conversation with that nice guy. Maybe I’ll find a smaller church or just watch Chuck Todd each Sunday morning. 

How bait-and-switch evangelism is a spiritual or even a human way to be, I have no idea.

But it’s also typical. I would generalize that mode like this:

Build the organization. Individuals are simply pawns in building my organization. People are second. I’ll say God is first — my God being my organization. I’ll say I serve the people by building my organization.

With any luck, in time, I’ll build the organization so big, I won’t have to spend any time with any real people. I’ll have secretaries and schedules and an office buried so deep inside an office suite, the mongrel hordes will never find me — and then I’ll escape to my home in a gated community.

You, entrepreneurial preacher, are probably a fraud. You’ll preach about the Holy Spirit without evidence of a single Fruit of the Spirit. You know, those Fruits of the Spirit, the alleged outcome of your alleged faith.

This isn’t important to you, because you’ll push the right emotional buttons next Sunday and keep the climb to fame and fortune alive.

You spiritual and moral fraud.

I wish there was some way other than just academic degrees and resumés and well-marketed books to affirm a person’s reliability and character. Pastor Mark Driscoll is just one example of a widespread problem.

(Driscoll, by the way, once boasted that he could walk from his office to the stage without having to see anyone—an explicit, specific example similar to my above generalized example).

Driscoll is not the only one.

Genuinely. Seriously.

If I really thought the Driscoll-Mars Hill Church disaster was an aberration, I would not have written so many blog posts about it.

I wanted people to learn a methodology from that situation, a way of seeing.

I wanted people to learn a kind of awareness.

I have no real platform to make that happen. I just wanted it to happen, wanted it badly to happen.

I want people to gain a healthy distrust. Don’t trust me, either. Be skeptical. Research and reasoning can prove me a prophet or a clown or something else. This is about you.

Let’s say I’m proven a clown. Throw a party about it. Take a few hours to tell Colin jokes.

Then, afterward, ask yourself how you are going to avoid being used.

Ask yourself how you are going to avoid being used by someone who is demanding your attention, your submission, your time, and your money because he talks about Jesus and your kids like the youth group. This is just a blog post. You can close it at any time. The social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of churches are a bit more tricky. Do you have the confidence and willpower to walk away from your church membership at any time? You need to develop that.

Jesus won’t magically develop it for you.

You’re too weak to navigate unaffiliated, entrepreneurial religion in America.

Most humans are, which is why the predators grow fat.

You don’t necessarily need to burn personal bridges, but you need to have a strong enough sense of who you are and what is right to walk away from a nonsense organization — or an unhealthy organization.

I’m not only focusing on professional clergy. The reality is the Pastor and Priest Fallacy can analyze any politician or community leader. I may really like what someone else says, but that doesn’t mean that person is trustworthy or credible.

People need to learn this, need to “get” it.

Astonishingly ignorant and manipulative people are running American Christianity and American politics.

Two easy ways to recognize social cohesion in church communities

1. A sudden shift in a newcomer’s interaction style (social insight has been conveyed to the newcomer).

2. A change in facial expressions from ministerial spouses (pillow talk about workaday aggravations).

A key to questioning the “fruits of the Spirit” and “spiritual growth” is to notice social consensus maintains a greater value than loving enemies or neighbors.

In other words, human social groups act like human social groups, regardless of the particular shibboleth.

If we are stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, then the accuracy or the particulars of the stories aren’t so important as the social consensus that carries them.

An unconventional observation brings about fear because of both its implications about the nature of the social group and its threat to acceptance by the tribe.

How liturgy reflects the Incarnation

In the liturgy of the Church we approach that perfect harmony between the outward and the inward.  We celebrate Redemption, which has begun to knit things back together.  We anticipate the final Redemption of all things when that restoration will be completed.  We recall the Incarnation, in which we find the perfect uniting of form and matter, that is, of perfect wholeness and purity with human flesh.  We see in the Second Adam the perfection that was to have been exhibited in the first.

The ceremonies of the liturgy answer to all of this.  For in the liturgy we step into redemption, in faith, and bespeak the perfect uniting of the outer and the inner that will be unfurled in the new heavens and the new earth.  We renounce the divided world where body wars against heart and where gesture struggles with thought.  By enacting what is true, we learn what is true.  By bowing our heads as well as our hearts, we testify to the restored seamlessness of outer and inner.  By bowing with the knee we teach our reluctant hearts to bow.  By making the sign of the cross with our hands we signal to heaven, earth, hell, and to our innermost beings that we are indeed under this sign — that we are crucified with Christ.  No longer do we refuse the outer gesture in the name of the inner faith.  Buddhism, Platonism, and Manichaeanism may do so, but Christian faith cries out to be shaped.

-from Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament, by Thomas Howard

Review of ‘Praying with Beads’

We’ve published a review of Praying with Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Calendar (Eerdmans) by Nan Lewis Doerr and Virginia Stem Owens.

Read the review at http://www.liturgicalcredo.com/BookReviewPrayingWithBeads.html . If you’re interested in purchasing the book, please use the link that appears beside the review.

Don’t forget to check out the three new poems by Phil Bauman at http://www.liturgicalcredo.com/PhilBaumanPoems.html .

Evangelicals, Progressives burying the hatchet?

WASHINGTON – The line dividing evangelicals from progressives blurred Wednesday as members from both parties joined in a new mission to erase long-held stereotypes of one another and seek commonality on polarizing issues such as abortion, gay rights, and the role of religion in public life.

Both sides agreed the “civil war” between evangelicals and progressives needs to end and common ground pursued in order for the nation to make significant progress on divisive issues.

“I think the way we have been dealing with differences in this country simply doesn’t work,” said the Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of the 10,000-member Northland Church in Florida.

The evangelical leader contends arguments between some evangelical leaders and liberals have not only blocked progress but also isolated a lot of evangelicals who are looking for “reasonable” leadership that allows for development while maintaining values.

From The Christian Post. Read the full article here.