Saturday, December 25, 2010

Are You Stylin'?

"All our controversies concerning doctrine relate either to the legitimate worship of God, or to the ground of salvation. As to the former, unquestionably we do exhort men to worship God neither in a frigid nor a careless manner; and while we point out the mode, we neither lose sight of the end, nor omit anything which bears upon the point. We proclaim the glory of God in terms far loftier than it was wont to be proclaimed before, and we earnestly labor to make the perfections in which his glory shines better and better known. His benefits towards ourselves we extol as eloquently as we can, while we call upon others to reverence his majesty, render due homage to his greatness, feel due gratitude for his mercies, and unite in showing forth his praise. In this way there is infused into their hearts that solid confidence which afterwards gives birth to prayer; and in this way, too, each one is trained to genuine self-denial, so that his will being brought into obedience to God, he bids farewell to his own desires. In short, as God requires us to worship Him in a spiritual manner, so we most zealously urge men to all the spiritual sacrifices which he recommends.

Even our enemies cannot deny our assiduity in exhorting men to expect the good which they desire from none but God, to confide in his power, rest in his goodness, depend on his truth, and turn to him with the whole heart; to recline upon him with full hope, and recur to him in necessity: that is, at every moment to ascribe to him every good thing which we enjoy, and show we do so by open expressions of praise. And that none may be deterred by difficulty of access, we proclaim that a complete fountain of blessings is opened up to us in Christ, and that out of it we may draw for every need. Our writings are witnesses, and our sermons witnesses, how frequent and sedulous we are in recommending true repentance, urging men to renounce their own reason and carnal desires, and themselves entirely, that they may be brought into obedience to God alone, and live no longer to themselves, but to him. Nor, at the same time, do we overlook external duties and works of charity, which follow on such renovation. This I say, is the sure and unerring form of worship which we know that he approves, because it is the form which his word prescribes, and these the only sacrifices of the Christian church which have his sanction."

So, I don't know if you can already guess the direction of this blog post from the first 2 paragraphs, but I stole them from Calvin. I've been doing a lot of thinking about our copious types of worship "styles" within christian denominations. It's a fascinating thing. The way calvinists of yore used to worship was on hard wooden planks that they sat on, otherwise known as pews. The service was simple with probably one speaker as opposed to more contemporary services that have 5 or 6 depending on where you go. There were no instruments, the singing was melody only and they stuck to biblical text.. ie. no hymns. As you can imagine, there were also no big tv screens (this may have been a product of the late 16th/17th centuries) and no head bopping tunes, no revivals, no testimonies, no miraculous healings, no one spoke in tongues (unless you think french counts) and there was a surprising lack of religious images in the church.

Calvinists today are nothing like these guys from way back when. They sit on padded chairs and their churches are usually adorned with flowers and crosses, and doves, and triangles and whatever else they can come up with without actually drawing pictures of God and thus very obviously violating the 2nd commandment. They sing hymns and love'em! I talked to one elderly lady in the OPC that I currently attend, she told me how she was raised in the RPC and as such had a much more traditionally "calvinistic" worship service without instruments. She felt much happier being in this OPC because it was "more liberating" to have instruments and to sing hymns, and she may have said something about legalism in reference to her previous more traditional calvinist upbringing. But services have changed, and we have huge TV screens, loud speakers with rocking music, multiple speakers (sometimes it takes me a while to figure out who the minister actually is..) we have tons of instruments, we can sing anything we want because we're free to do that. We aren't bound up by the legalistic restraints of traditional calvinist practice. Now mind you there are some churches that are much less entertaining than others, and they are usually populated with old people, once those peeps die off we'll have rockin praise music in every church, because it is only the unprincipled stodgy old-fashioned preferences of the church's old folks that is holding us back.

The morning service that I attended at a slightly more hip PCA had 4 women and various dudes come up to the pulpit and read passages from scripture, and make announcements. They had a manage of musical instruments, recorder, flute, french horn, guitar, clarinet and I couldn't see what else. This was the most hip Reformed service I had ever attended, we didn't have any big screen tv's- but we had a choir, and almost open communion, we had some sort of menorah like advent candle holder next to the pulpit covered in christmasy evergreen fronds, we didn't sing any passages from scripture- it was entirely comprised of hymns and traditional christmasy tunes like "come oh come Emanuel

Another church I attended had a contemporary service. I enjoyed it, I thought the music was rockin' and the preaching, though simple, compelling and inspirational. They had a praise band combined with choir that was so loud that my skeletal infrastructure shook as I stood and I was forced to cover my ears to retain my sense of hearing. (now you know it was good)

Getting all the way back to the first couple of paragraphs by Calvin, he says "[we are to] worship God neither in a frigid nor a careless manner; and while we point out the mode, we neither lose sight of the end, nor omit anything which bears upon the point..... and in this way, too, each one is trained to genuine self-denial, so that his will being brought into obedience to God, he bids farewell to his own desires. In short, as God requires us to worship Him in a spiritual manner, so we most zealously urge men to all the spiritual sacrifices which he recommends."

I think about the stodgy unprincipled old-fashioned preferences of the church's elderly, and I think about the rockin' services of the church's hip contemporary youth, and I see what Calvin has written as a criticism to each equally.

The elderly have unprincipled preferences, which I accuse of being unprincipled because preferences is all that they are. There is no biblical or theological basis for them, and they can't back it up with any credence. The young people are just doing what feels good too, this is their preference, and they have an equally hard time backing up what they do with theology or scripture. Though, in favor of the young people, I do think they do a much better job of pursuing the idea that "God requires us to worship Him in a spiritual manner" because I always feel much more worked up and giddy after these services than with the old stodgy folks. Whether or not that is actually "spiritual" is up for debate, and scientific study. Both of these styles are perfect examples of "will worship" a dutch term meaning that we disregard any constraining principles of worship and do whatever ever the heck we want.

Where has the idea that we should seek to praise and worship God in a way that He has prescribed gone? It is almost non existent. Today we worry about attracting crowds by doing what people like and conforming to the culture. I propose a mind blowing idea, namely that we attract attention through being totally and utterly biblical, countercultural sometimes, and even possibly agreeing with the culture should it jive with the teachings of the Bible.

_______ _____ ______ _______ __________
Not everything that feels good IS good.

To address the those people, who, from an emotional basis,would protest any sort of change presented. Whenever I suggest changing a tradition or possibly rethinking something we do that we previously never questioned, I usually am confronted by people swayed by sentiment rather than reason. They just don't want to think about it and will cling to their previously undoubted practices like a corpse with rigor mortis.
Recently when discussing the possibility of images of angels being sinful, one lady from my church said "but God made us to be emotional creatures and to enjoy things" so the conclusion of that statement is (without her finishing)

-and these images give me joy, therefore they can't be wrong-

It was a beautiful statement, and one is inclined to just accept it for what it is. If it makes you happy, it can't be bad! So anything that makes you happy, is a good thing. Ok ok, so if I enjoy getting drunk on a routine basis, that's ok because I enjoy it? I enjoy misdirecting tourists to parts of town that are dangerous, possibly life threatening. I like stealing small pieces of candy from convenience stores because candy is yummy but if there was something else that size I'd steal it too, because it's fun. Now none of these things are actually true of me, but you can see it happening and it's kind of horrifying. If something breaks the law, it is wrong, no matter how much fun it is. In fact, I would go as far as to say that breaking the law (and not getting caught) is WAY more fun than keeping it.
When you were a kid, and your parents told you to do something.. or worse yet, NOT to do something, did you always obey them? Or did you take perverse pleasure in undermining their authority in any way possible? This one I'll admit to.

But it's most definitely wrong. All that to make the point that not everything that sounds good, even from sweet innocent old ladies, is true. Now that we've established the complete falseness of that statement (actually i hated geometry) let us backtrack. So something that makes you happy isn't always good or right, but how do you know? Well, see if it violates any laws, that can be helpful. So we back up what we know not by our feelings, but by something concrete like laws.

NOW going all the way back to my statement about trying to serve God best in the way that pleases Him rather than ourselves, has God given us a way to worship Him? Has He given example? How do we know how to worship God in a way that pleases Him? What is this "genuine self-denial" of which Calvin speaks?

I'm not here to answer that question conclusively, how do you think we should conduct our worship of God?

Happy Holidays everyone!


Leah said...

"Dual Citizens" by Jason J. Stellman. Awesome book that picks up on a lot of points you have made. :) I agree!!!

K. Clark said...

Thank you for your enlightening comment Leah!

K. Clark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.