Has the Church Assimilated Too Much of the Culture at-Large?

As I finished clearing my inbox this morning, a headline from yesterday's Christianity Today Direct digest grabbed my attention: "Contemporary Music: The Cultural Medium and the Christian Message." As a worship pastor, my interest was obvious. CT ran a whole issue a couple months ago dedicated to the topic of church (corporate/gathered) worship and, due to the overwhelming response, has continued publishing articles on this subject. It is clear that the "worship wars" are far from over. Yet I see the same arguments surfacing again and again.

In this morning's article, author D. H. Williams begins with an all too common story: highly educated, traditional (if not liturgical) church guy enters megachurch and is stunned by the degree to which it feels like a "show" and how devoid it is of Christian symbolism and traditional (even essential) language and practices. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, the author simply offers another reaction to another straw man. Not all megachurches are created equal. Visit Willow Creek and Harvest Bible Chapel (where my wife and I were members for 3 years), close neighbors in Chicago's northwest suburbs, and you will notice a vast difference. Even a visit to their websites will reveal a good deal of their differing philosophies of ministry. Yet certain principles would no doubt be held in common. However, instead of exploring those values which megachurches hold in common, writers continue to critique mostly the excesses of the most secularized variety.

That said, Williams raises a good point that we would do well to consider:
[too much of] the [contemporary] church caters to short attention spans and relies heavily on stimulating emotional highs during the service. Instead of facilitating an encounter with the living God, the methods themselves become the overwhelming focus.
I have long recognized this tendency in churches. But it is far from new! The Reformation sought to redirect our focus on the Word and on the Lord which that Word revealed, where He had formerly been shrouded in pomp and ceremony. In the Great Awakenings much attention was given to methods of preaching, altar calls, music and the like (think Charles Finney). In every tradition, at every age, and even in your church today, there is a constant temptation to idolize the methods or means of communication--in other words, to give them more weight than they deserve.

Whether it's excessive scrutiny (there is a place for scrutiny, but I've commented on that elsewhere) or undue faith in the power of a particular approach, we run the risk of idolizing methods. But since no method is value-neutral, we do have to think hard about methods, making the most of the biblical wisdom available to us concerning them. For instance, Williams is concerned about short attention spans and emotional titillation. Biblically, we can assess whether or not those are problematic. Scripture passages that refer to "meditating on the word", which implies sustained focus, and "remaining sober" and "self-controlled," which implies a balance of mind and emotion, lend credibility to his critique. The key, as always, is balance. All mind and no emotion results in a stale, cognitive exercise. All feeling with little to no intellectual engagement amounts to emotional masturbation.

We have to find ways to challenge and stretch both the lazy and the diligent, and not merely "give people what they want." Because what they want and what they need... (you complete the sentence).

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