Archive for April, 2011

Don’t Get in the Way!

So, if you would like an illustration of what some of us fear about the intrusion of performance style into the worship, here’s one for you from a political-current events blog that I check in on from time to time. The title of the post is “How Great She Is” and it is in reference to Carrie Underwood and is a play off the title to “How Great Thou Art” which Underwood sings in the video embedded in the post. Here is the pertinent portion of the post:

Vince Gill is a great songwriter, guitar player and singer, but the star of this video is Carrie Underwood, with whom he performed a duet of “How Great Thou Art” at a recent Country Music Awards event. Underwood, of course, is the most successful American Idol contestant ever. This Yahoo News story describes the impact that Underwood and Gill had on their fellow musicians. If you are a country music fan, it is fun to identify the stars in the audience who were blown away by Underwood’s performance.

If you watch the video, you will see that “blown away by Underwood’s performance” is an apt description. I can’t speak for others, but the tendency in our culture to focus on the performer and performance does not fit any biblical conception of worship. With no agenda other than the praise of a performer, the blog writer illustrates this dynamic clearly. A song which was written to magnify God’s greatness ends up serving the reputation (perceived greatness) of the performers. The song becomes a vehicle for the performer to showcase his or her talents—in reality, the song is in a completely secondary role. The observer naturally responds to a performance like that with “How Great She Is” because that was the point of the performance.

Frankly, it bothers me that “How Great Thou Art” is treated like a vehicle for performers to show off their skills, but I really don’t expect anything different than that from the Country Music Awards. That any church would approach worship like this, though, is indefensible. That applies, by the way, across the board from Opera singer wannabes to American Idol aspirants. Newsflash for singers (and preachers!): it’s not about you!

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So what should happen on May 22nd?

Some of you may be aware that Family Radio is predicting that the end of the world is scheduled for May 21, 2011. I’d seen the billboard announcing it, but hadn’t had the sad experience of reading their argumentation until a church member sent me this link. Personally, I would be thrilled if the Lord came back on that day or before, but these folks having been eating too many fruit loops.

This is not the first time that the one day = one thousand years argument has been wielded to declare that the end was imminent. I remember a number of people falling for the nonsense argued in a booklet that claimed there were 88 reaons that Christ was coming back in September of 1988 (and I loved the sequel, written after September 1988 to explain a minor miscalculation that moved the date back on year; thankfully, he didn’t write a third one to my knowledge). The same basic argument was used–1 day = 1ooo years, so in order for the Millenium to start before the seventh day/1000 year period, the Tribulation has to start seven years before that.

Most of these date specific predictions tend to follow the same basic premise: since one day equals one thousand years, find two points on the calendar between which you can park the desired number of thousand year segments. In 1988, it was two (from the birth of Christ to the start of the millenium). In 2011, it is seven, from the Flood to Judgment Day. I remember hearing a guy on the radio base his two thousand year theory on the parable of the Good Samaritan–since a denarius was a day’s wages, leaving two denarii would cover two days, so the Good Samaritan (apparently code for Jesus) would return in two days (aka 2000 years) to get the wounded man (His disciples). That kind of nonsense makes me alternate between laughing and screaming.

So, supposing that the end of the world doesn’t happen before then, what should happen to Family Radio on May 22nd? Hopefully, the people who have been supporting them will stop doing so. And I hope they will not have done anything really foolish like those who were duped by similar previous predictions. Sadly, a lot of men and minisitries have survived this kind of stupidity. In fact, some have survived multiple failed predictions. The real question probably is whether some kind of excuse will be offered for misrepresenting God or if the folks at Family Radio will genuinely repent for this foolishness. People who take God’s Word seriously should not settle for less than the latter.

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And in other news…

The apostasy continues apace.

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You Get What You Honor

Many of us have heard the short leadership quip, “You get what you honor.” The point is that what you hold up for admiration is what receives imitation. The quip calls us to recognize the power of example and use it for the purpose of leadership. I’ve always had some hesitation about its use with regard to spiritual growth and developing leaders because the last thing we need is Christian leaders who are motivated by an ambition for public recognition. I know it doesn’t have to work that way, but lurking beneath “you get what you honor” is the potential that some will do what needs to be done to receive that kind of honor.

That said, it is simple reality that this is part of what forms a culture—the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior is whether it is smiled or frowned upon. When the smile is intensified by public praise and adulation, then that behavior is not only being reinforced, it is being promoted for others to see its importance and imitate it. The opposite holds true as well.

I remember hearing a preacher, a few times, proudly tell a story about how he had taken out a full page ad in the local newspaper to protest a Billy Graham crusade that was coming to town. I can almost hear his booming voice declaring that at the top of page the ad had these words, “God or Billy Graham?” I was a college student the first time I heard that story and my immediate thought was, “Why put an ad like that in a secular newspaper? Why take that fight out into the streets in front of those who don’t know Christ?” But, I’ll have to confess, that it seemed like most of the people around me each time I heard the story found it amusing and commendable. This was a leader of a significant organization held up as an example of standing for the truth. He was honored and his action, in this case, was being honored.

This past year, a good bit of handwringing has been done because a conservative SBC pastor, Mark Dever, spoke at a conference at Calvary in Lansdale. One particular critique made much of the fact that Capitol Hill Baptist Church has connections to other organizations, actually beginning a sentence with the words “If I am playing Ring-Around-the Rosie and I join hands with Mark Dever” and ending it with “sooner or later we come full circle and we realize that we all are holding hands together.” Some folks found this argument so strong that they posted it to their websites and promoted it for others to read. They held it up for honor, and it isn’t surprising that they would since there is a long history and widespread use of such extended connections as evidence of ecclesiastical connectedness and compromise.

What do these two stories have to do with the idea that you get what you honor? Well, as I watched 20/20 last week, I thought that years of applauding stories about full page ads attacking Billy Graham in secular newspapers are coming home to roost. What was honored has been imitated. I thought that years of making a case for ecclesiastical relationships like a connect-a-dot picture are coming home to roost. What was honored has been imitated.

I do not mean to endorse or excuse anything connected to the 20/20 report by this post. I’ve spoken very clearly in other places about some of it. My point here is to say that my reaction to the program wasn’t anger that people with grievances went to a secular news outlet or that they tried to tie a bunch of churches together that don’t really belong together. It was a sad, sick feeling. Most of that was about the horrible things that were done to girls and young ladies. Part of it was because I couldn’t help thinking that we have gotten what we honored. We created, or at least tolerated, a culture that permitted and produced this. We too often smiled when we should have been frowning. Perhaps before we start hurling accusations and making counter arguments, we ought to look in the mirror and mourn over what we see there.

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