A while back I was going through the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace course. One of the lessons was about communicating with your spouse. He was communicating that in most relationships there are two personalities represented. One is the free spirit and the other is the nerd. Financially speaking the tight wad hoarder and the care free spender. And sometimes I feel like this is how we approach God and His Love. We think God’s love is free and open and hippie dippy or we think he should be revered, holy, and solemn. And it’s this differentiation that entire doctrines, dogmas, and denominations are built upon.
If there are two words we love in the west it’s “new” and “improved”. Not as much in recent years, but before the economies substantial downturn we loved all things bigger and better. Houses, SUV’s, Value Meals, we were all about the upgrade. One of the things Nashville is known for is it’s large selection of churches. Which creates what some call the “consumer” Christian. Someone who kind moves from church to church taking it its goodness until he or she finds a reason to become board or disenfranchised and moves on.
But isn’t this somewhat of a common thread through out church history over the last 200 years or so? There is a specific move of God or a unique encounter with the Holy Spirit for a particular people in an appointed place. It’s a beautiful anointed experience and then next thing you know there’s a book on the shelf with seven easy steps to get God to perform the same way again. So one pastor in England feels called to fast and pray for 30 days and documents his story and his encounters with God and then a small revival breaks out in his village. Our tendency is to look at that and say, “okay if I pray and fast for exactly 30 days, and pray like that pastor prayed, then God will send revival to my neighborhood too.
We make God a math equation. It’s like some sort of divine word problem where the end result is...THIS is how we do church now! Which is a very different conversation than, “this is how we do church NOW”. One assumes the past is obsolete and pushes toward new as the greater good. The other understands that while the fundamental truths of the faith are non-negotiable many of the systems and process are only for a season. It’s strange how with each revelation of grace we quickly turn God’s goodness into a system. We trade one form of slavery for another.
What was once “We MUST go to church on Sunday night because it’s part of keeping the Sabbath Holy” was Traded for “We value family so we don’t meet on Sunday night but members MUST go to a small group meeting once a week”. We trade hymns for “contemporary” worship songs. We trade wine for grape juice, stained glass for fog machines and pulpits for wireless headset microphones.
None of that stuff is necessarily bad until you start to despise the older and revere the newer as “better”. As with so many things in the Christian faith we trade relationship for a system. We’re taught that the reason we don’t cheat on our spouse is because it’s “BAD” and Christians shouldn't do bad things. I don’t stay faithful because it’s bad not to, I stay faithful because it’s unloving not to. Because cheating on my spouse breaks my intimacy and trust and relationship.
I don’t take the Lord’s name in vain because it doesn’t show love for someone I genuinely care about NOT because it’s bad. The same goes for many of our traditions.
As a worship leader I use contemporary songs the majority of the time because that’s what the people I”m serving connect to God the best through. However, there are times when singing a more traditional hymn is just right. It touches a place that the spirit is trying to move at that moment and thus it becomes “better” than something new. It’s honestly not about what is or is not “better” in the broad sense. Only what is good and right and true in that moment.
Please do not confuse this for wishy wash beliefs. God never changes. His truth is consistent. His love endures forever. The way experience God as a community of believers however, is an ever evolving process. For many years I felt uncomfortable when someone would recite the Lords prayer or the Apostles Creed. Why? Because I was raised in a culture that had moved out of religious and nominal Catholicism. The verse that was often quoted was, “speak not in vein repetition”... For us at the time the logical application was to cease all prayers and recitations for fear of being involved in these vein repetitions. The problem with that stream of thought is the key word in that verse is vein NOT repetition.
Many of the traditions we have set aside in our attempts to be “relevant” are rooted somewhere deep in the history of the church, and are not vein at all, but rather quite special. I’m not saying we should all go out and put stained glass in our meeting centers. I’m just saying before you discard something as passe’ look at the history. Take a little time to know how we got to where we are now. You might be surprised just how deep some of those roots go.
We’ve done a good job of keeping Jesus famous. We’ve traded cathedrals for megaplex facilities and bell towers for 80 ft. crosses on the side of the interstate. And all along the way someone has thought …”this is the best way to honor God”. I don’t know what the best way to make Jesus famous is. But I do have some thoughts on what He should be famous for. And it’s not a building, a ceremony, a music style, or a best selling book. If we seek to know and share God as the center of a true and honest relationship and fight the urge to make a system of ever changing new normals I truly believe something special will come of it.