Church Growth

23 Dec 2008

Much ink has been spilled about Rick Warren and Barack Obama. Warren is trying as usual to play both sides of the aisle, none too successfully at the moment. I’m not sure if this all about grandstanding and self-promotion, or if Warren actually believes he shows “love” by cozying up to the world.

Worldliness is the only defining characteristic of modern evangelicalism. Isn’t it within all of our hearts to only show areas where we “relate” to unbelievers (I like the same TV shows as you!) and silence our own witness? I’m a chief offender. We’re all man-pleasers now.

Of course, Rick Warren is a pastor with a big platform. He’s using that platform very poorly, but that’s exactly how he hit the bigtime. The whole Purpose-Driven movement is based on Arminian theology, minimizing the offensive Gospel message, franchising the church, providing entertainment instead of the means of grace, encouraging pastors to be CEOs instead of shepherds, watering down the prophetic witness against the most cherished evils of the age (sodomy, abortion) in favor of things popular with the press and Hollywood (environmentalism, AIDS relief, other big government programs), and providing non-Christians with purpose that doesn’t include repentance and the cross. In other words, there’s almost nothing Biblical about it. Warren offers a unity of works — the same thing the early mainline church liberals attempted — rather than Gospel unity.

Rick Warren is no Nathan and Barack Obama is no King David. In Obama, Warren has found a fellow man-pleaser, except that based on his words Obama’s own religion is functionally modern Unitarianism (or moralistic therapeutic deism or Christianity and water, whatever you prefer to call it… it’s all the same wishful thinking.)

Conservatives like to remind liberals that Obama does not support gay marriage, but conservatives must know that this is a nominal position based on political consideration. It’s hard to imagine Barack Obama in front of a hostile crowd defending his position, or trying to convince hecklers to reconsider. This position will be quietly dropped once polls allow.

17 Apr 2008

[Church growth proponents] apply industrial and mechanical models to something that is fundamentally organic and mysterious, the Body of Christ. Modern ideas about church growth stem directly from business techniques… –Recovering Mother Kirk, p. 45.

The church does not need to be in a constant state of anxiety, thinking up new ways of reaching the lost. The right techniques of church growth are the means of grace that God established when our Lord commissioned the apostles to disciple the nations by Word and sacrament. These techniques are not flashy. In fact, they are rather low-key. But as the Bible reveals, God has a habit of saving his people through means that the world considers foolish. -ibid, p.50

These comments are spot-on. People decide that God’s ancient means for growing and nurturing His church aren’t good enough. And so, videos and skits replaced Bible reading. Uplifting praise music replaced the psalter (which has it share of minor keys). It replaced more Biblical hymns (well, sometimes). It replaced prayer. Meanwhile, therapy and moralism replaced sound preaching.

Eventually these fads will go the way of the altar call, itself a fad that replaced communion. A 19th-century innovation with Pelagian underpinnings, the altar call faded as churches found that successful people would rather skip the embarrassment of “going forward.” And the church growth movement is about nothing if not giving people what they want.

11 Mar 2008

Come on, Pastor, they’re just meeting market needs. You’re not going to grow churches or radio stations if you don’t give the people what they want to hear!

“Sterilized” is actually a good term for it.

26 Feb 2008

As we age, God shows us more how we are, in the end, unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10). As Lewis said, “All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you; I’ve never had a selfless thought since I was born.” Any godliness noticed by others in widescreen pales when we consider our minute-by-minute lives. We don’t need a microscope to see our countless, faithless thoughts, words, and deeds. Therefore, a hearty “Amen” to this observation by R.C. Sproul. Consider it.

In one respect, Christ’s sinlessness is more astonishing than his resurrection. Other people have come back from the dead, but no other person has lived a sinless life. His perfect life is amazing because no one of us has ever loved the Lord with all of his mind, heart, and strength. … Can you imagine someone living every minute of his entire life loving God with an undiluted, perfect affection, whose whole mind is devoted to the Father, who has no other desire than to obey the Father’s will? That is more difficult for me to comprehend than that Jesus came out of the grave. -from Truths We Confess

09 Feb 2008

Baylyblog is stirring the waters again with Carolyn Custis “two last names” James. Pastor Gleason has followed suit.

Why all this whining about pastorettes and deaconesses? Moody would’ve asked us to focus on winning souls. Today’s leaders might ask us to meet people where they are (or worse, to help defeat global warming). In any event, this whole “women thing,” we’re told, is something on which all Christians of good will can disagree. It’s adiaphora, a matter of indifference.

Really? Perhaps we can take the temperature of those fine denominations with ordained women. That great pragmatist, V.I. Lenin, said that peace treaties were scraps of paper. So are the confessions of faith of these churches. They have sodomy lobbies gathering steam, if not already in control. They have pastors who deny that anyone really needs the righteousness of Christ; why, any spiritual belief will do. The moderates who do so much damage in aiding this transition (“thus far, but no farther!”) find themselves, like the original Russian Marxists who welcomed revolution, cast into a whirlwind that carries them far from their intended destination. When you deny the obvious, when you deny what Scripture says directly and you deny its entire context (no female apostles, no female priests, etc.), then you’ve denied its authority. When doctrine divides and confessions and confessionalism just don’t matter, then church discipline doesn’t matter. Eventually the Gospel doesn’t matter. Eventually Jesus isn’t the heavenly high prophet, priest, and king, but just a fine man.

Fr. Bill Mouser has a post in the aforementioned Baylyblog post that is well worth reading. An excerpt:

Evangelical Protestantism in the second half of the 20th century fell [I’d say, more accurately, is falling] in exactly the same way that Protestantism fell in the second half of the 19th Century: its heart was captured by world dominating ideas that are fundamentally anti-Biblical and hostile to the gospel. In the 19th Century it was Darwinism and the zenith of post-Renaissance rationalistic hubris. In the second half of the 20th Century it was sexual egalitarianism and the zenith of modernist individualism. The beachhead in both defeats is found in the seminaries. Soon after these were well-infected, the contagion spread to the publishing houses and denominational and mission agencies. That is why Grudem’s recent book catalogs so completely the capitulation of American evangelicalism’s institutions to the egalitarian cause. That is why modern evangelicals virtually identify evangelism with modern marketing techniques aimed at consumers of religious products and services.

The interesting thing about the 19th century northern Presbyterian church is how quickly it fell. Towns across America are still filled with liberal mainline churches in beautiful old buildings. Many of the people in those churches are finally bleeding into megachurches with faulty underpinnings– vague theology, non-confessional, fad-driven. Would anyone be surprised to see Unitarians wandering the halls of Saddleback in a generation?

Meanwhile, the orthodox in the PCA have fight, but cleaning up the mess that has gotten to this point could be something like what the Baptists experienced some years ago. And the cries for “peace, peace” will be at every turn.

01 Jan 2008

As Chrsitians, we believe that God has revealed Himself in His word. The Bible is a revelation of what we need to know. It doesn’t tell us everything about everything, but it tells us, in the words of the Westminster Confession, “the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.” God created and God expects us to do what the Holy Spirit has revealed to us in the Bible (for example: repent and believe in the Gospel).

Therefore, picking and choosing what you want to believe from Scripture is obviously absurd. Why not just choose nothing and be done with it? It makes a mockery of revelation. It makes a mockery of the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the Scripture. Similarly, we should reject Hippie Jesus, Feminist Jesus, Global Warming Jesus, and the like. These are the fraudulent concoctions of false teachers. That the Scripture is silent about such nonsense is shown in that no one in the history of the church believed this stuff until the last century. If we believe that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18), then we believe that it has not prevailed against it either. If politics and social matters were really the content of what mattered to God, you’d think that the Holy Spirit would have revealed this to our forefathers.

So, no to tired political journeys, no to Christianity and water, including the kind offered by the church growth movement, and no to mysticism (aka. direct, and usually contra-Biblical, revelation). Take the Bible for what it is. Take our Lord for who He is as revealed in His word. It’s the only serious thing to do.

18 Dec 2007

We have been told that we have to make the Church attractive to the man outside, and the idea is to become as much like him as we can. There were certain popular padres during the first world war who mixed with their men, and smoked with them, and did this, that, and the other with them, in order to encourage them. Some people thought that, as a result, when the war was over, the ex-servicemen would be crowding into the churches. Yet it did not happen, and it never has happened that way. The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first. That is how revival comes. That must also be true of us as individuals. It should not be our ambition to be as much like everybody else as we can, though we happen to be Christian, but rather to be as different from everybody who is not a Christian as we can possibly be. Our ambition should be to be like Christ, the more like Him the better, and the more like Him we become, the more we shall be unlike everybody who is not a Christian. -Martyn Lloyd Jones

06 Apr 2007

Check out the ad that Pastor Timmons ran across (from a local non-denominational church) and the scolding response from that church’s pastor.


05 Feb 2007

In the worship service it has long been during the music where I’ve struggled hardest to worship.

I would much rather hear a professional musician play the organ than hear five praise band amateurs try to keep time and play three chords correctly. However, even in what is now called the traditional service, something is missing.

I once saw Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme live (no, not at church). Now, Steve and Eydie aren’t our favorites, but when that full orchestra kicked in during “Fly Me to the Moon”… Wow! Every hair on my head stood at attention. I was as giddy as a schoolboy. On my Ipod, I listen to the trumpet and organ version of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” or the “Hymn of the Cherubim,” or “How Lovely Shines the Morning Star,” or “Praise to the Lord the Almighty,” and ah… pure joy. I think back to that Orthodox choir we saw in Vladimir, Russia. It may have been the loveliest thing I’ve ever heard on earth. It was an agape moment. That is, I stood agape, stunned.

The organ in a small church tries to mimic an orchestra, but cannot, nor can our puny voices the choir. As an old rock group once put it: “Music, music, I hear music over my head.” On earth, glimpses of heaven will have to do.

Further, for every good hymn in a hymnal, there are two bad ones. Some have dreadful melodies; others, theological weaknesses. The Baptists and Revivalists (especially the former) have given us good things, but music is not one of them. In the Trinity Hymnal, there is a fine modern rewrite of Rock of Ages. I prefer it to the original.

Ok, so hymns and hymn-playing have deficiencies, so why not bring in the contemporary stuff? Well, mainly because it offers no real alternative. For every theologically sound song churned out of the Nashville factories, there are a hundred poor ones. Most are so bad they are barely appropriate for a nursery.

Some find praise music lively and exciting; I find it stale, vapid, and dull. I don’t get tired of “This Is My Father’s World;” I’ve been tired of Michael W. Smith’s music for years. Is anyone still playing 70s and 80s contemporary music in their churches? Other than a song or two here and there (e.g. “Thy Word,” “There is a Redeemer”), probably not much. Ever wonder why? Pop music is like fashion as Tolstoy (or perhaps it was Wilde) described it: everyone laughs at the old and follows religiously the new. It’s not good enough to last. (I can’t read music. If I appreciated it more I probably would’ve graduated to classical years ago, listening to those inexplicably public stations where an erudite host talks in measured tones.)

Worse, I doubt anyone has lately discussed the theological merits of “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” It seems to me that devaluation and desecration of worship, the scrapping of the elements of worship in favor of more, more, more “praise music,” is as big a problem as the inroads of feminism. It’s not a popular topic among people my age to decry the rottenness of contemporary worship. But folks, most of it is rotten. There’s no time to read the Bible during a service, but plenty of time to sing the same praise chorus 14 times.

If you think hymns are irrelevant, there’s another option that doesn’t involve buying an expensive organ: chanting the Psalms. Who can possibly object to that?

02 Feb 2007

Ron Gleason asks some good questions:

How long should it take before a Presbyterian Church in America church or church plant actually ends up looking Presbyterian?

If it is true that both the mega-church and Emergent conversations are bankrupt, why are some church plants and church planters still chasing after what has long since proven to be ineffective and unproductive in terms of imparting a real spiritual legacy?

Pastor Gleason’s latest article is well worth a read.

30 Dec 2006

Even in small towns, there appears to be a shift afoot. People who once attended moderate-to-liberal mainline churches are leaving to attend non-denominational ones. Mainline denominations have done their best to assist this with their liberal gibberish.

Is this migration really a good thing? People leave a church where they were led in a confession of sin, heard three lessons read each week from the Bible, sang generally sound hymns, took bread and wine at a reprehensibly unfenced table, and heard a sermon featuring “help the poor” moralism, and they instead go to a church where the confession of sin is replaced with a drama, the Bible is barely read, the music is me-focused junk theology, the sacraments are a rarity, and the sermon is “10 tips for a better marriage” moralism. People aren’t shepherded in the mainline denominations. They aren’t shepherded in the non-denominational ones either; the bigger the church, the easier the invisibility. This is an improvement?

Ask people why this move to non-denominationalism. Are they fleeing liberalism and seeking greater Biblical fidelity? More likely, they are attracted by fun children’s programs, upbeat music, and an entertaining pastor. This is a subjective statement to be sure, but those attending them seem not much more Biblically aware than your average mainline church attendee.

People from established traditions – Catholics, Orthodox, etc. – look at these non-denominational churches and rightly ask: What do you believe? All too often, the response is a one or two-page statement that really is little more than the Nicene Creed in bulleted format. Ask for more than that and it’s “We believe the Bible.” The problem is that Mormons and Oneness Pentecostals and evangelical feminists “believe the Bible,” too. The question really is, what do you believe about the Bible? This is why substantive creeds and confessions of faith have always and everywhere been necessary. In a conservative Presbyterian or Lutheran church, the pastor has to doctrinally confess to the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Book of Concord. These confessions put a stake in the ground. There’s continuity, though imperfectly upheld.

Mainline denominations abandoned their confessions long ago; most non-denominational churches don’t seem to have any. The non-denominational church has no tradition of interpretation. Doctrinally, most are vaguely protestant, credobaptist, arminian, and dispensationalist. The church often rises and falls due to one charismatic pastor. Imagine the temptations of egotism, not to mention heresy! These churches have a conceit that they are not divisive because they just “believe the Bible,” but they seem to me the most divisive approach of all, the most quintessentially American in their desire for autonomy. Each church is an independent unit (otherwise, isn’t “non-denominationalism” just a silly pretense?). Instead of a hundred denominations, we have thousands of micro-denominations. That’s divisive.

Lacking the historic grounding and institutional accountability that retards the allure of faddishness, is it any wonder that non-denominational churches are increasingly willing to accept the world’s theology: marketing, feminism, the social Gospel, etc? They are the vanguard for the dumbest seeker-sensitive stunts, one of which I heard recently involved riding a Harley “onstage” during “worship.”

12/31 Addendum: This post is necessarily broad and subjective. I respect many folks who pastor and attend non-denominational churches, and with M.L. Jones and Iain Murray accept all who call upon the name of the Lord (ie. the Gospel as revealed in Scripture) as fellow believers. The basic point here is that creating new non-denominational churches — “rolling your own” — seems expressive of one of the worst aspects of American culture, namely the desire for autonomy. Many are as Gospel-free as your average mainline denomination, replacing good and bad elements and ending up no closer to Biblical fidelity.

17 Dec 2006

PCA Pastor Ron Gleason writes about the neglected evangelical practice of pastors visiting the congregation in their homes as “an office bearer in a true congregation of Jesus Christ.” How different this is than the megachurch philosophy that sees the pastor as charismatic CEO!

31 Oct 2006

I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. -Martin Luther

Happy Reformation Day!

19 Oct 2006

Ask a fellow citizen what he thinks of Jesus, and the answer will likely be that Jesus was a good man who wouldn’t harm a mouse. Read the Parables, though, and one thing you’ll notice is a recurrence of martial imagery warning of horrifying endings (Heb 10:31) for the Lord’s enemies. For example:

  • The Parable of the Two Builders: the “ruin was great” of the one who built on sand (Luke 6:49)
  • The Parable of the Tares: “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned” (Matt 13:30)
  • The Parable of the Dragnet: “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 13:49-50)
  • The Parable of the Wicked Tenants: Those who fall on the stone “will be broken to pieces” and crushed. (Matt 21:44)
  • The Parable of the Marriage Feast: the king “destroyed the murders and burned their city.” The uninvited guest is bound and cast into the “outer darkness.” (Matt 22:7, 13)
  • The Parable of the Faithful vs. Unfaithful Servant: The master will “cut [the evil servant] in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 25:51)
  • The Parable of the Ten Virgins: The Lord says “I do not know you” to the unready virgins. (Matt 25:12)
  • The Parable of the Talents: The worthless servant is cast into “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:30)
  • The Parable of the Rich Fool: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:20)
  • The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree: “Cut it down.” (Luke 13:9)
  • The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” (Luke 16:24)
  • The Parable of the Pounds: “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.” (Luke 19:27)

Of course, threats aren’t the only point of these parables, but the fly is in the ointment. They aren’t bedtime stories for the unbeliever. Certainly the warnings were put in there to be noticed, but such unpleasantries (which are such vital parts of the sermons of Jesus and the apostles) are rarely mentioned in pulpits today.

08 Aug 2006

Iain Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided teaches on every page. Murray was born on that precious stone set in the silver sea. In the best English way, he confronts error firmly and yet gently. His knowledge of Scripture and fear of the Lord hops out of the page, as does his charitable spirit toward the believers in all evangelical denominations (as he quotes Ryle: “Keep the walls of separation as low as possible, and shake hands over them as often as you can.”).

If you want to understand the faulty underpinnings of modern evangelicalism as it filtered through Billy Graham and Fuller Seminary (timely still given Rick Warren and others), or the corruption of evangelicalism in the Church of England (timely again given the possible marriage of those evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics who may leave the unrepentant Episcopal Church and realign into a new U.S. church), then this is your book.

Evangelicals, liberals, and Roman Catholics all differ on what the Gospel is, and thus differ on the answer to the key question: What is a Christian? One of Murray’s key themes is that the evangelical church cannot succeed as a political party succeeds, via compromises or an ill-defined (false) gospel acceptable to Catholics and/or liberals. Why? Because, Murray says:

The church is wholly dependent on supernatural aid and without that all success is short-lived and illusory [1 Sam 2:30, Zech 4:6]. … Liberalism gained its hold on Protestant churches because good men feared that unless concessions were made to the latest ‘scholarship’ the churches would lose their place in the modern world. Co-operation with non-evangelicals and participation in the ecumenical movement were promoted in the genuine hope of wider gains for the gospel and for an evangelical renaissance. Anglican evangelical alignment with Anglo-Catholics was justified as the best counterpoise to liberalism in the Church of England. Neutrality over whether the miraculous gifts of the apostolic era have been renewed in the charismatic movement was judged best for the preservation of evangelical unity. An acceptance of the basic Christianity of Roman Catholicism has been advanced as a sound way to strengthen protest against secular materialism…

I do not mean that the move away from principle was deliberate. The tempation was more subtle. The spiritual gains appeared substantial yet an ethos developed in which one concession led to another. No one thought that the sending of the names of those who made ‘decisions’ back to Roman Catholic churches would lead to Billy Graham being prepared to share a platform with the Pope, but it did. No one supposed that if members of Inter-Varsity gained recognition in the world of university theology they might begin to criticize the faith with which they began, but in a number of cases it has happened… In the words of Horatius Bonar, ‘Fellowship between faith and unbelief must, sooner or later, be fatal to the former.’ The reason is not that error is more powerful than truth; it is rather that, without the Holy Spirit, spiritual weakness is a certainty.

He quotes his former mentor, Martyn Lloyd Jones:

We have evidence before our very eyes that our staying amongst such people does not seem to be converting them to our view but rather to a lowering of the spiritual temperature of those who are staying amongst them and an increasing tendency to doctrinal accomodation and compromise.

18 Jun 2006

Following on the last post, this helpful study of the seven churches of the Revelation by author Bob DeWaay sums up the key virtues that Christ sees in a true church:

  • Overcoming & maintaining one’s confession in the face of persecution
  • Persevering by keeping the commandments of God and faith in Jesus
  • Rejecting and hating false doctrine & correcting it
  • Being faithful when weak numerically

And the worst vices:

  • A lack of love
  • Toleration of false doctrine
  • Compromise with the pagan culture
  • Deluded self-satisfaction
25 May 2006

Some funny satire. “Day by Day…”

Isn’t leaving your church over pews kind of old school, though?

02 Feb 2006

As a public service, I have pinpointed the acme of American popular music. It occurred in 1956 during the final 1/3 of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” An oboe solo (!) resolves to a joyous, Riddle-led orchestra, and a giddy singer drives it home. Arrangement and vocal: peerless. The great American albums aren’t the White album, “Woodstock,” or “Dark Side of the Moon,” they are “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers,” “In the Wee Small Hours,” “Nice n Easy,” “Jolly Christmas,” and assorted other Sinatra discs from the 1950s.

Classic Sinatra never gets old because, like old school country and bluegrass, it is music for adults. It doesn’t look dumb to see a seasoned Tony Bennett or Ralph Stanley onstage. It does look dumb to see the Stones up there “rocking” while a bunch of gray-hairs bang their heads. I remember bemusedly observing an audience engaged in this while walking by an outdoor Grand Funk Railroad concert back in the late 90s. The hypnosis ended when the singer shooed us along, berating us for not buying a ticket.

How many of us have heard the standard rundown about the rock era, that to appreciate rock you have to get into the blues, and then you have to see the mixture of Gospel, blues, and country that was Elvis, and then along came the British invasion, then Dylan went electric and the Summer of Love happened, Hendrix blew up, and Woodstock showed us peace, love and understanding, and then the punk rockers came along to reinvigorate things when they got stale, and then… OK, you get the point. Folks, trust me, most of this music isn’t worth such scholarship. And why do insular Boomers listen to little but James Taylor, the Beatles, the Eagles, and CCM? Someone is paying $100 to see Dave Matthews in concert.

And now this music has been imported into the churches. Look, I love classic Sinatra, but I don’t want the organist laying down an East Coast Swing rhythm during the liturgy. I like Johnny Cash but must we hear boom-chicka-boom during the prelude? Boomers, listen: It’s time to grow up.

You know, popular entertainment was once aimed at adults. Movie stars were often in their 40s, even 50s: James Stewart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Ronald Colman, and my own favorite, the inimitable, but not dreamy, Basil Rathbone. Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey and Bing Crosby were the big boys. Today it seems as if everything is targeted to youth, perhaps because someone discovered the buying habits of 18-34 year olds in a wealthy society.

And so the youth movement continues. These youths seem to know almost nothing beyond popular culture, with bits of pieces of knowledge gathered from fifth-rate sources like the Daily Show. Politics is pop culture’s only intellectual endeavor. Not politics informed by economics or political theory or Christianity, mind you, but the kind of unfocused blather skewered so perfectly in Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” What we have in popular culture today is a big self-referential web of half-formed thoughts, like ping pong balls popping about in a lottery tube.

What can I say: This old crab Gen-Xer is ready for the juvenile “Rock Era” to end.

16 Dec 2005

Doug Wilson is busy pummelling “A Generous Orthodoxy” chapter-by-chapter with a rubber truncheon, and he is making brilliant observations in the process. To restate a few of them in Bunyan-speak: “I’m Mr. Worldly-wiseman, meet my brothers: Mr. Holier-than-thou, Mr. Garble, and Mr. Nuance-where-God-is-clear. Perhaps you’ve also met my 2nd cousin, Mr. Don’t-believe-in-organized-religion. ”

19 Nov 2005

As a recent Internetmonk posting noted, there is a basic issue of musical competence in our churches. You once had one music professional on the organ, and that instrument covered the bases. Now, unless perhaps you attend a megachurch, you often have one professional and congregational amateurs, some of whom can barely play at all. Not only do the amateurs have to play their parts right, they have to play in time (not easy). And you need the amateur in the sound booth to mix the sound properly (pros make good money doing this for a reason). The result of all this is wildly inconsistent quality and distractions during worship.

Moreover, it’s mostly bad music that is being played badly. Centuries of wonderful music have been largely discarded. Lewis once spoke of “fifth rate hymns set to sixth rate music.” What would he think of today’s musical vulgarity?

Those of us who prefer content-rich, traditional hymns are like hippos in the dry season, watching watering holes dry up slowly around us. Presbyterians have mostly given in, and the Lutherans and Anglicans are striding in that direction. And with this move usually comes a dumbed-down service, dispensing with Biblical elements of worship in favor of long stretches of singsong choruses, progress videos, and other fluff. Contemporary worship inclines to levity, not the weight of glory. To the casual, not the reverent. How many elements of worship can be dispensed with before a service can no longer be called worship at all?

And why are so few bothered by this sea change?

23 Oct 2005

One of the popular trends that continues to build steam is the dominance of “contemporary” worship services. Pop music and a casual atmosphere have replaced the pipe organs and reverence as the church has sought cultural relevance. Many contemporary services eliminate Bible reading, prayer, preaching on sin and salvation, and hymns in favor of videos, simplistic praise songs, dramas, and sermons focused on “practical advice” and “relevance” (as if the Gospel itself is irrelevant). Go to a Brethren church, a Vineyard, a Church of Christ, a non-denominational megachurch, or even a PCA church, and you are likely to hear the same worship songs and the same books recommended.

Has this not impoverished worship? Compare the average contemporary worship service with this Presbyterian liturgy. Do you see a difference? Note the prayers, note the Bible reading, the confession of sin, the communion, the prominence of prayer. Traditional worship tends to be more formal and reverent than contemporary worship. But as Michael Horton said, it’s more of a question of substance vs. shallowness than traditional vs. contemporary. Much of contemporary worship is based on a flawed purpose and the discarding of tradition.