Condemning Contemporary Worship

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Long ago, a seminary professor I knew described the ‘carnival music’ typically sung in some churches. He did a singsong ‘I was sinking deep in sin,’ and asked why any Christian would sing ‘happy music’ about life in sin. Following the lilt, another participant in the conversation added, ‘I was sinking deep in sin — wheeeee – what a way to go! Hilarious? Yes.

But since then, I CAN’T hear ‘Love Lifted Me’ without seeing in my mind those spinning carousels, and painted horses rising and falling in time.

Living Without Contemporary Rhythm

The stand of Independent Fundamental Baptists sects on worldly music is well known. Countless sermons tell of the impropriety of praise bands using drums, guitars and saxophones. These have no place in church. And neither has music with rhythm – unless we’re singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers,’ patriotic hymns such as ‘Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory,’ or pretty much anything else you hear among IFBs. Fundamentalist often regard rhythm as a sexualized thing which is bound to lead to sexual sin.

But except where plainchant is used, little church music is sung without rhythm. Some places still use ‘I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art.’ But most churches and all IFBs would have fits to try and sing that. If you take that link and play the ‘midi‘ [music] file accompanying the lyrics, you’ll see why. Most versions [including the link to ‘recording’ on that page] use a metered tune. But the older version ‘midi‘ has no meter.

Why won’t IFB sing ‘I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art.’ Published 1551 in the Genevan Psalter, some attribute it to John Calvin. If an absence of rhythm wasn’t enough, that alone would have this hymn banished. Yet with no meter, it is one of very few hymns that rhythm critics should sing.

Oh, and the guy waiving an arm in the top link? He’s beating out rhythm.

The Season of Giving

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The Meaning of Giving

This is the season of gift buying and giving.

Set aside the grotesque marketing campaigns that co-opt the Christmas narrative to expand profit and remember that this season should celebrate God’s gift of his Son. Churches might consider reminding us of this.

I say that because I googled ‘church giving gifts.’ I expecting hits about church gift giving programs, special collections for relieving the needy, church quilting/blanket-making guilds and the like. Why did I expect that? I expected that because this is the season of gift buying and giving. And I expected it because churches should celebrate the gift of God’s Son.

Giving Practices

It seems that my focus was off-target. When I submitted my church giving gifts query, Google understood something else entirely. My expectations collided with reality when I discovered that the top hits were as follows:

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Public Giving, Public Justice

Speaking of giving, President-elect Donald Trump gave the Directorate of the Office of Management Budget to Mick Mulvaney [R-SC]. Who is he?

In 2011, Representative Mick Mulvaney wanted to force the US Treasury to default rather than raising the debt ceiling. In 2013, he was active on the ‘House Freedom Caucus,’ which advocated shutting down the federal government to force the repeal of Obamacare. Mr. Mulvaney is committed to slash such programs as Medicare and Social Security. In fact, Mulvaney is an opponent of federal disaster relief. He tried to block passage of the $50.7 billion emergency relief bill for Hurricane Sandy.

Mr. Trump says that he will help create policies ‘friendly to American workers and businesses.’ This is political lingo for butchering federal social spending. Trump has pledged to cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. In other words, tens of millions of elderly and disabled working people will fund the windfall for this massive gift to the wealthy and big businesses.

Since this is the season of gift buying and giving, perhaps churches should reconsider their focus and offer a witness to public justice and mercy. If that happens, indications are that it won’t begin with your IFB sects. By in large, they supported this insanity to make Babylon great again.

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One can only wonder what Fundamentalism’s take on ‘giving means for its theology of grace.

Contradictory Narratives in Fundamentalism

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Narrative contradiction

On one hand, there is the War on Christmas in which God’s enemies seek to repress the truth of Jesus’ incarnation and Christian witness to it.

On the other hand, Christmas is a pagan based practice from which all Christians should depart on pain of participating in religious idolatry.

In fundamentalism, it is perfectly rational to accept both narratives.

Friday Challenge — Separation by Degrees

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Defining Separation

Separation is a Bible word. So every Bible believer believes something about separation. But how much separation is enough?

Were fundamentalists everywhere coerced to pick one issue that defined them, ‘separation’ would likely take first, second and third place.

Fundie infighting is well known. So the question of how much separation is enough is far from a purely academic one.

dexter-statelySometimes, ‘separation’ [with implicit denouncement/scapegoating] looks rather like a ploy to mark boundaries of a pastor’s ecclesial ‘kingdom.’ The handsome boy to the left marks his territory every time I take him on a walk. But pastors do it for another reason.

If a pastor can make the ‘compromiser’ stick, the ministry of his ministerial rival will be crippled. This in turn will make the prevailing pastor’s financial future all the more secure. It’s a bit like rival business interests suing over rights to brand a product. The irony is that this itself make the church look … well … highly secular.

Friday Challenge

Today’s challenge is simple: How many degrees of separation is enough.

Do we separate from the unconverted?
Do we separate from the disorderly brother?
Do we separate from the guy with differing views on last things?
Do we separate from the guy who doesn’t do altar calls?

What exactly does ‘separation’ mean?

Have fun!

Planting Seed, Cruciform Living

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Christians have a message and a mission. One of the good things about Christian Fundamentalism is that it knows this.

The exact wording and statistics escape me; but it has been said that people ‘forget [roughly speaking] 90% of what they hear in 48 hours, and 98% of what they hear in 72 hours.

You’d think this would be distressing for fundie preachers. You’d think it would be at least mildly amusing for their parishioners.

Seed Planted

Across the years, I have many times heard God’s people say, ‘I remember many years [i.e. decades] ago, old Reverend so-and-so once said that …’

The quote that followed would be every much like, or perhaps a close corollary to, something that the current pastor said that morning.

It occurred to me that those ‘one-liners’ which stick with people across the years — those are the things that shape the faith of God’s people. Sometimes, stuff is said or happens that brings to mind things of which we have not thought for many years. We begin to ruminate. We may do some of our best theological thought at such times. A seed was sown.

And seed sowing is important in Christian Fundamentalist circles.

But rather than coming in the form of thoughtful, reflective discussion of texts or a particular set of circumstances, seed-sowing in Christian Fundamentalism can take rather diverse forms.

It can be a sign held up at a football game referencing John 3:16.
It can be someone shouting from the back of a pickup truck.
It can be telling a parent at a graveside that their 4 year old daughter died because their spouse didn’t trust Christ.

Planting the seed is a good thing. But not all that is planted is good seed. Bad seed is planted also. So is chaff. Witness is good. But not all witness is true and faithful. And while the preacher is instructed to preach the word whether or not it is convenient [2Ti 4:2], we are also to be wise and harmless in our ways. Something is to be said for a winsome witness.

Cruciform Living

The term, ‘cruciform’ means ‘cross-shape.’ Cruciform living means that our very lives — all our works and words — are pressed into the shape of the cross in our dying and rising again. Since this includes witness and seed-sowing, perhaps we should rethink, ‘if you were do die tonight…’