These erstwhile opinions come from an 18-year-old letter I wrote to a now-dear friend, describing some of my “church values” at the time. They were originally penned with a view toward a joint “church venture” that never happened. In re-reading the letter, I found that most of the thoughts were ones I continue to affirm. However, there are now a few differences, based on life-roads traveled, differing situations, and presumably greater insight. This final installment will offer three distinct, extracted paragraphs, with new/revised commentary following each.
Things I would now say differently (first, the original quote; then, the current comments in italics)
I should note that I could become concerned with the lack of reverence if [certain] ideas were taken too far, but like so many other areas, we should deal with what we need now. What we need is less formality, more personal-ness, more genuine encounter with God. In my view, we are not generally hurting for a concept of reverence for God. No one with whom I’ve been well acquainted has ever felt that God is just one of the guys, on our level. If we ever get to that point, it would then be time to shift, ministering to what we would then need. We would need more teaching on and experience of God’s otherness, His transcendence.
Now, in 2012, I still become concerned with the lack of reverence in Christian talk and gatherings — and yes, I’m one of the those that are still appalled when professing Christians use names for deity carelessly, thoughtlessly. Speaking of God carefully and reverently is a mere baseline, but an important one. The ubiquitous, pop-culture abbreviation “OMG” is telling.
One difference I would note now is that, based on my current experience, I don’t think we need much more informality or any more personal-ness. Those longings were from a different place, a different time. Since 1994, most believers I contact do indeed seem to have moved on; some almost do seem to manifest a feeling that God is on our level, or, to re-appropriate a now-popular, apt, denigrating cliché, that “Jesus is my boyfriend.” These days, we probably need LESS personal-ness, in general; it depends on the particular setting whether one would need less or more formality. We do still need more of a sense of God’s otherness and transcendence, in my opinion.
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Spoken acclamations/”God” talk. I would like to incorporate into regular Christian gatherings some relaxed time for progress reports on individual lives . . . how God is working for you and for me. These comments would naturally lead into unplanned honorings of the Lord–spoken acclamations of praise which would lead into other forms of worship.
The above paragraph now bothers me on two levels:
- “God talk” that drew me in 18 years ago now tends to repel me. The whole “personal testimony” think is just so much foaming at the mouth, most of the time. I used to cheerily chime in, “Well, whether God did X or Y or not, it surely wouldn’t hurt to give Him the credit!” These days, I’m probably less inclined to speak out with phrases like “God’s goodness has really been shown in X” or “Praise God for that!”
- (Confession time now) Although I don’t particularly aspire to being a walking “testimony” as many evangelicals would think of that, I do miss the time that I felt God was more active in my life (whether He really was or not).
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More than “not having any qualms” about worshipping with instruments, I personally worship unabashedly with them. I don’t need them, I don’t think, but I seem to tune into worship music that effectively uses instrumental accompaniments. Such music tends to affect me powerfully and with a newness that I can also find, albeit more rarely, in “a cappella” music. At this point in time, and in the context we’re discussing, I not only believe that instruments aren’t wrong. I believe that they are right and should be used.
Any die-hard CofCers among my readers (there are a few of you left!) :-) will be instantly aghast that I wrote that 18 years ago — maybe back when you thought you knew me better. I was hiding more of my scruples then! .
However — and this is a BIG however — I have since come about 317 degrees around the circle. I don’t often use instruments in group worship times anymore and frankly don’t care for any loud sounds in worship as much as I once did. My aversion ranges from the pipe organ, which I’ve pretty much always detested, to over-zealous “worship bands” hopped up on testosterone. I continue to believe, essentially, that the use of instruments is basically neither here nor there, speaking biblically or theologically. Practically, however, when there are too many instruments all at once, or when the ones used are too loud, they grate on my nerves, not to mention that — and PLEASE get this — they can easily distract, and they can easily inhibit participation from the congregation. In many churches, “worship bands” have become masters rather than servants, and I often find myself longing for simpler music in worship — a cappella, or maybe with one or two acoustic instruments at a time. The thoughtful reader may note that my preferences viz. instruments also have to do with my preferences viz. church size!
As always, thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment or send feedback on the back-channels, as some of you do regularly.
I’m within 15 of the milestone of 900 total blogposts. At that point, I plan to lay down the blogpen for a month or so, taking a summer sabbatical.