Friday, August 29, 2008

Link to Doofus article

Don't stop your great discussion on the other post. I just wanted you all to have the live link to the article Big Doofus recommended. It is required reading for anyone in the intellectual, cutural, or teaching leadership in Christ's church. I'm not kidding, it's that good and it's that important. Thanks Rog!

The Gospel in All its Forms
by Tim Keller

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mixing up the Gospel?

Big Doofus posted a very thoughtful comment on the worship music post which I think is at the crux of a huge doctrinal tension. I thought it deserved a whole new thread of its own. It read, in part:

"I really think that our corporate worship should reflect united praise to God for who He is, what He has done, and what He will do...I just don't want to mix up the real gospel with the results of the gospel in our lives--if that makes any sense."

The whole reason we discuss things here is to make unified sense of differing views. We Caffecclesiologians obviously are looking at this differently, so let's tackle it. DOES it make any sense?

What IS the gospel? What IS its result in our lives? What truth is at stake if the two are mixed? Or, what is at stake if we fail to mix them?

Does Christ Jesus separate the gospel from the results of the gospel in our lives? Or are they actually one thing in Him.

What did Jesus say?
What did the apostles say?
What did the prophets promise?

(I think I scheduled this to post on Monday AM. I don't want to cut of the great discussion on the last post.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Worship Music, the Phenomenon

Continuing with the theme of posting quotes from books, just because I find it generates some fascinating discussion...
    Quentin Crisp once said, "A lifetime of listening to disco music is a high price to pay for one's sexual preference." I'm not saved and don't think I ever will be, but if such a miracle were to take place, I can't imagine anything worse than being forced to pay for my salvation by listening to worship music for the rest of my days.

    Worship music is the logical conclusion of Christian adult contemporary music -- not just unappealing but unbearable to anyone not already in the fold. Every song follows the same parameters. It opens gently with tinkling arpeggios or synthesized harp glissandos that portend the imminence of something celestial in glacial 4/4 time. In the second verse, the band -- invariably excellent players -- soft-pedals in, gaining in volume to the bridge. And then the chorus. Heavens, the choruses. They could put U2 out of business for good, they're so huge. Another verse. A middle eight. Then, a breakdown when the audience takes over singing. Another massive chorus. Fin.

    This isn't music to appreciate; it's music to experience. People at a worship service close their eyes and, as ecstasy spreads across their faces, begin to rock rhythmically, arms out, mouthing the lyrics. It's more than a little sexual and a tad uncomfortable if you're sitting next to an attractive person who's been overcome by the Spirit.

    Worship tunes tend to evince an adolescent theology, one that just can't get over how darn cool it is that Jesus sacrificed himself for the world. "Our God is an awesome God." "O Lord, you are glorious." "How can it be/That you, a king, would die for me?" Moreover, it's self-centered in a way that reflects evangelicalism's near-obsession with having a personal relationship with Christ. It's me Jesus died for. I just gotta praise the Lord.

    Not for nothing is "Amazing Grace," which marvels at the author's salvation, one of the few traditional hymns to be regularly included in modern worship services. Absent is any hint of community found in hymns such as "The Church Is One Foundation" -- the Jesus of worship music is a mentor, a buddy, a friend whose message is easily distilled to a simple command: praise me. Not "feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner." Simply thank Him for His gift to you (and make sure to display copyright information at the bottom of the screen so royalties can be disbursed).
This diatribe comes from Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock. It was (obviously) written by a non-Christian, but actually, this passage is more harsh than the rest of the book reads. As a whole, the book is a fairly engaging stroll into the world of Christian music, arts, and culture, as seen from an "outsider."

This particular passage fascinated me because, like many things within the "church," I've been around worship music my entire life and I would have trouble looking at it from an unbiased, inexperienced point of view. I understand that we can't expect someone who doesn't know Christ to understand how or why we worship -- I get that.

But at the same time, do we ever truly step back and look at how or why we worship? Why is so much of the music the same? Why is it the way that it is? Why are the lyrics the way they are? Have we settled for bland mediocrity in our worship music, just because that's the standard, the base, that we understand? What about his points about the lyrics pointing to evangelicals being self-centered in their faith?

At the very least, it's interesting to acknowledge the point of view of people outside the church. This is far from the first time I've heard from people who absolutely abhor worship music. This isn't a critique of God or Jesus, this is a critique of a certain part of Christian culture.

I think his entire argument -- and especially those last two paragraphs -- are worthy of discussion.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Building Christian Communities

Today's post will be generated almost entirely using quotes from a book I recently finished reading.


We are actually facing the need, not simply to reorganize the institution of the church... but the need to create something that is not there now -- a community; that is, an environment that has a real unity to is, an organism. Organisms are not legislated. They grow naturally. In other words, an organic process of change is needed to form basic Christian communities... Leaders in the Church today need to understand community dynamics and not just organization dynamics.

Today's church is primarily a service institution, providing worship services and sacraments for all who come to them.

Churches instinctively look for a specific solution to the specific problem (a structural solution to a structural problem, a financial solution to a financial problem, etc.). They can accept the fact that spiritual renewal is important, but they cannot see how it has direct application to the specific problems which are clamoring for attention. And so they naturally try to deal with the pressuring problems first and do not get around to turning their attention to the problem of spiritual renewal.

This approach has to begin by the recognition that the church needs subcommunities and that these should be considered an integral part of the church life. It should involve forming the communities in an organic way -- that is, not be assigning people to form a community, but by fostering the beginnings of community among a group of people -- and encouraging and guiding their growth into a basic Christian community... Eventually, as there were a number of these communities that were successful, everyone in the church might find a place in such a community, and the church building would be a service unit at which a number of communities might gather and it could also provide some services that basic communities might find difficult to provide out of their own resources.

Although there are many factors which go into making a community vital, the most direct source of vitality is purpose and the commitment of the members to that purpose. If a community has a purpose that is clear and compelling, one that seems to be of real importance, and if its members are committed to that purpose and therefore put as many of their resources as possible into fostering that purpose, the community will be a vital community. If the community has no purpose, it will not last, no matter how well-structured it is. might be possible to think that what the Church most needed was sociologists or community organizers. But this is not at all true. What the Church needs most is men of God, men who can and will function as pastors, evangelists, spiritual directors... Communities are not formed primarily by sociologists and community directors. They are formed by leaders of men who are dedicated to something.

A functional approach is work-oriented. It is oriented to getting a job done. An environmental approach is interaction-oriented or value-oriented. It is oriented to getting a group of people together who share certain values or concerns. It focuses on the growth of the relationship among people and on how people are being changed for the better... Some business executives are effective at getting production but poor in their ability to draw people together.

...From this point of view, much of what happens in the Church today is not very effective. There are many activities and many organizations. They do things which are good. But they do not build up a community of people committed to Christ and so they are ineffective in meeting the main pastoral needs of the Church today... [Even if] the Church were primarily an institution which was supposed to provide certain services (educational services, worship services, and social change services), it lacks... But if the Church is primarily supposed to be a community of people committed to Christ, there is an even more serious problem -- the lack of any community being built up through these activities.

A good term for the type of leadership that is natural to a community is "elder." An elder has a position. He is one of the recognized heads, and he has an openly accepted responsibility for the order of community life. But he is chose because he really is one of the elders, and not only in name. He is chose because he has a natural positions of respect and leadership in that community. His opinions and decisions "count" more than most people's... This would be true even if he did not have the position. In a properly functioning community, the position reflects the reality.

Watching for leaders as they emerge does not mean making the mistake of picking the people who are already in Church organizations, because they are usually there because they volunteered and are frequently ineffective in forming Christian communities. Nor does it mean electing people, because there is not enough community in the Church today where an election would be a good indication of how the community accepts a person as a leader... It means observing where real Christian communities are being formed effectively and picking the people who are responsible for that process.

The solution to the problem of climate and of coordination can be provided only by those who have positions of pastoral leadership in the Church. For instance, acceptance and understanding on the part of Church leadership is of great importance to those who belong to a movement. It can make all the difference in their loyalty to the Church and their willingness to work for it. The lack of it can lead to alienation among those who could be the strongest supports of the Church.

The process has to begin by putting the emphasis on community formation, not on programs or activities. If what is needed is forming communities which make it possible for a person to live a Christian life, the beginning is to actually have such a community. A person cannot begin by forming structures and programs and expect communities to come out of the hopper on the other end. Communities grow, they are not produced. If a process of renewal does not begin with an environmental approach, it will probably never get to one.


The book is Building Christian Communities: Strategy for Renewing the Church, by Stephen B. Clark. The fascinating thing about this book is that it isn't some brand-new, 2008 book from Willow Creek Press. This book was published in 1972, by Ave Maria Press. Not only is it 36 years old, it was geared specifically to the Catholic church. I took the liberty of substituting the word "church" for the word "parish" in most of the quotes above.

This is a fairly short, simple book, but I've heard that it was used as a stepping stone for a number of intentional communities that were formed in the 1970s. Much of the book is geared towards Catholicism, and there are a number of issues that are specific to issues and movements of the late-60s and early-70s, but as you can tell by the quotes above, it's still quite relevant for churches today.

Many of us have been talking about this type of thing for quite some time, so while this "organic approach" is fascinating, it's not exactly a huge revelation. The book isn't exactly a step-by-step instruction manual for how to create Christian communities -- it's not intended to be. But it is intriguing to see some of these relational/holistic ideals being suggested, and then put into practice, before I was even born.

How cool that those crazy Christian hippies were so emergent!

The question remains, how do you foster this kind of attitude? How does Big Huge Megachurch encourage the formation of these Christian communities? Even if it begins as a movement within a church -- can it happen at all in a large church? Can it happen if leadership doesn't have a passion for it? And would a large enough percentage of the attendees be able to understand what it means to throw your life in with a group of people, rather than just showing up at a building for a weekly ritual?