Keeping Your Hymnal Isn’t Good Enough

KYH

[This article is a response to Tom Raabe’s article over at The Federalist. You can read his article here.]

Let me state my position right out of the gate, I’m in favor of using hymnals in church. The only time I think we should use screens in church is if the pastor wants the congregation to learn a hymn or worship song that isn’t already in the hymnal. My purpose in writing this article is two-fold. I want to point out the fundamental flaw in Raabe’s argumentation, the fundamental flaw being that Raabe is presenting an opinion as fact, and my second purpose to show that because he is presenting his opinion as fact, his conclusion has some very large gaping holes in it that a post-modernist could easily toss a basketball through.

For example, at one point, he says that we shouldn’t use screens in church because “they’re ugly.” His opinion is subjective. This is like a 4 year old protesting eating his greens because “I don’t like it” even though you know good and well he’s never tried them. It doesn’t matter how correct your conclusions are if the basis for your conclusions is nothing more than your subjective opinion, then all it takes for you to go down the wrong is for someone to convince you to change your opinion.

I could easily tell you that it is my personal opinion that grass is green, and while my opinion may be correct, the fact that it is my opinion doesn’t make grass green.

Part 1: When Your Confirmation Bias Doesn’t Reflect Reality

First of all, Raabe is using old data to make a claim that the worship wars are over and that contemporary Christian music industry has won. The data he is using spans from 1998-2012. 2010-2014 is the time when millennials started branching out and finding their own churches (assuming they even stayed in church), and as a result the data changed.

Thom Rainer points out in a 2014 article that millennials aren’t really as concerned about modern worship styles as Raabe would have you to believe.

You see, most Millennials don’t think in the old worship war paradigm. In that regard, “style” of worship is not their primary focus. Instead they seek worship services and music that have three major elements.

  1. They desire the music to have rich content. They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths. It is no accident that the hymnody of Keith and Kristyn Getty has taken the Millennials by storm. Their music reflects those deep and rich theological truths.

  2. The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service. They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.

  3. This large generation does want a quality worship service. But that quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, and adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in time of preparation. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.

Now, the evidence doesn’t look so bleak, does it?

Drawing from my own experience, I remember being out of town for a couple of weeks and my wife and I visited a church that had both a traditional and a contemporary service. We decided to go to the traditional service for the first week, and then go to the contemporary service the next to compare and contrast the difference between the two.

We noticed immediately that the traditional service had twice as many people as the contemporary service and more than half of the congregants were 18-35 year olds. The contemporary service had half as many people as the traditional service and most of the congregants in that service were in their 50’s or older.

I’m a millenial and I am a pastor so I can tell you that what millennials are looking for is a worship experience that is grounded in the history and tradition of God’s people. We long for a history that doesn’t just go back 50-200 years because that’s not good enough. That’s not ancient enough. We crave meaning from a tradition that goes all the way back to the early church. We want to worship with the Apostles.

Part 2: Careful, Your Theology is Showing

Even though Raabe insists that we keep our hymnals, one thing he’s not taking into account is church’s that have shoddy hymnals. I’m not going to blame him for that because he probably comes from a background where he’s never encountered a bad hymnal. If that’s the case, then he’s obviously never attended any small rural churches in the Bible belt (which again, isn’t necessarily his fault).

I grew up in and pastor in a culture where it is perfectly acceptable to sing whatever you want as long as it comes out of the hymnal regardless of whether or not that song has any theological leg to stand on because after all, our hymnals are infallible, right? Wrong.

The reason songs like “If I Could Hear Mama Pray Again,” “America,” and even our own national anthem still have a place in our hymnal and are still being sung in our churches because one of two things is happening: we’re either assuming that our hymnals are infallible and therefore, all songs are acceptable or we just don’t care enough about what the songs are implying to give a hoot.

  • On a completely separate note altogether, it’s interesting that most of the people who sing songs about Mother in church on Mother’s Day (If I Could Hear Mama Pray Again) and sing songs about God allegedly shedding His grace on a country that He didn’t show to any other country (America the Beautiful) on the Sunday before July 4th are the same people who bemoan the idolatry of the Roman Catholic Church because they kiss statues and pray to saints. But again, that’s another sacred cow for tipping over at another time.

Keeping your hymnal and training those coming up in your church to sing the songs that you sing instead of using modern music and screens only works if your church intentionally sings the truth about who God is and what He is doing in the world through His people therefore, simply keeping your hymnal isn’t good enough if you’re hymnal isn’t any good.

You can tell what a church believes by listening to what they sing. If they avoid the hymns that speak truth about God’s judgement or holiness and sing only songs about flying away to some sweet by and by then that’s a sign that the church is assuming a problematic eschatology that stems from an even more problematic view of God and His people.

Singing about Heaven and the eschatological consummation of all things is perfectly fine as long as you’re assuming the same vision of the consummation described in the Scriptures as opposed to some dispensationalist nonsense view of Heaven dreamed up by John Darby, C.I. Scofield, and more recently John Hagee.

Part 3: The Climactic Finish

A while back, my church and I was challenged by our Wednesday Night Bible Study curriculum at the time to go through our hymnal and see much how often the hymns we sing reflected Biblical ideas about God.  We were limited on time (because that part was only the introduction to that evening’s study), I think if we had probed hard and had been honest with ourselves and honest with the Scriptures then we might have come to the conclusion that while a lot of our hymns have a solid foundation there are others that should never see the light of day again.

 

The Doctrine of Clothing: A study of form and function.

Hello, It’s the Baptist of the group again, and I’m here to talk about the doctrine of clothing. Now, I’m not here to tell all the women reading this to stop wearing skin tight athletic clothes with an increasing amount of sheer material that continues to creep further and further up the leg with each passing year, as casual wear. Granted, you shouldn’t, but that’s not my point, and I don’t want to have my head torn off, and my body drawn and quartered by women today. All I want to cover is how form and function are connected, why we, as humans, wear clothes, and why our culture’s view of modesty continues to change. Maybe, we’ll even come to some conclusion on the issue.

 

Form and Function: Inseparable Aspects of Elements of Society

Look at our architecture of roofs as an example (note I use agricultural structures because I am an Agriculture Educator, and have studied such structures) , whether it is an A-frame, gable, shed roof, or Gothic arch, each structure has a function tied to its form. Whether it is to simply shed water, prevent collapse from snow buildup, or to be windproof, each design has a function. As an example, the German Gothic barns were designed to be windproof, as storage, housing for animals and even people, shelter for bats at the corners of the building to control the mosquito population, and they were intentionally designed to reflect old world cathedrals. This is not exclusive to farm architecture, it is seen in our art, which has come a long way from trying to represent God’s creation, to…whatever it is we have now. To be fair, I do consider (some) modern art to be genuine art solely because there has been design and some discernible technique used in its creation. However, form is directly related to function. The function of modern art, architecture, and even fashion is to progressively push what is deemed acceptable. In other words, the function is to subvert the current paradigm.

What about our clothing, though? Why does western culture clothe itself the way it does? What about other cultures that don’t conform to our views of modesty? Well, for one, western culture has the standards it does because of the pervasiveness of Christianity in culture. In other words, couture in culture is carefully curbed by Christ. Those other cultures, particularly those still living in stone or iron age conditions, often have its people going about in clothes that often do not cover what we are ashamed of in our culture. Why? Romans chapter 1 is a good start. It is a fact that humans are predisposed to sin, and with every generation, those people who find themselves in such godlessness will plunge further and further into ungodliness. The fact that we dress the way we do is because our culture has been positively affected by the scriptures. The reason our fashion is becoming less and less modest? Romans 1 again. The fact is, even though our culture has been affected by Christianity, it is still degraded by sin because 1) Christians are still sinners, redeemed, but still sinners, and 2) Not all in a culture affected by Christianity are, in fact Christians, especially those who seek political power.

Why We Clothe Ourselves: A Reminder

Why would you get on the local news if you were to stroll into a McDonald’s and strip down nude? While some would challenge the assertion because of the noetic effect of sin, it is because it is shameful to be seen naked. Why is it shameful? Cut scene to two naked vegetarians in a garden.

“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”

— Genesis 2:25

“6. When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
8. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10. He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.””
–Genesis 3:6-10
It wasn’t necessarily the nakedness itself that was at issue, but what it represented, following the shame of sin. To be naked is to be vulnerable, to the elements, to attack, to judgement. Nakedness is to expose oneself to these things, and as creatures we do not like being exposed to vulnerability. As sinless creatures, Adam and Eve were not in danger of these vulnerabilities, being protected from both death and judgement, so their nakedness never came to mind. As the shame of sin entered, both death and judgement became imminent. To be naked before God, the ultimate judge of all things, with a death sentence hanging over one’s head, should bring shame and fear, hence, the feeble attempt to cover their shameful naked state.
“16. To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
17. Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; 19. By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; For you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” 20. Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living. 21. The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.”
–Genesis 3:16-21
Notice here 1) The curse on man, woman, and earth. Eve is cursed in childbirth and her desires are juxtaposed against the leadership of the husband. Adam is burdened by introducing a curse on the whole world- the requirement to not only work, but labor hard to achieve and maintain survival, and not only that, the ground he is supposed to work to get food from is cursed because of him. The whole of mankind and the earth itself is cursed. 2) God clothes them. Their feeble attempt to cover themselves with foliage is as our feeble attempts to cover our own sins with our own works. God made them clothing from skins. It required death to adequately cover their sin. Thus the basis of the system of sacrifice: it takes blood to cover sins, hence the issue with Cain’s insufficient sacrifice later on. Thus the need for Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice to properly atone for our sin.

In Conclusion

Our need to cover ourselves shows our need of a savior to cover our sins, and when our culture becomes more and more eroded by sin, one of the things that is eroded is our sense of modesty. The lack of modesty is mankind shaking his fist at God, saying, “There is no sin! Like the emperor with his new clothes, I am not naked! I shall not surely die!” The reason we have women going around flaunting their bodies in the most revealing athletic wear is not because it empowers women. It is because wicked men have so set up a culture in which they can visually surround themselves with the object of their lust. Face it, how many worldly men truly object to extremely revealing athletic wear worn by women? How many worldly women truly object to similar clothes worn by men?

In other words, Christian– clothing should remind you of Christ.

PUT SOME PANTS ON!

Brief Thoughts on Pastor Platt’s Public Prayer for President Trump

This past Sunday, President Trump unexpectedly showed up at David Platt’s church, McLean Bible Church, and asked for prayer.

Platt prayed. Trump stood silently. The crowd applauded. Trump left. And social media erupted.

I wish to share some of my thoughts as well as some of the critiques that are important to consider. To start, here is a transcription of the prayer.

The Prayer Itself

I think the prayer was fantastic:

  • Acknowledging God as ruler of all
  • Praising God for salvation
  • Praying that Trump will look to Jesus in faith
  • Praying that Trump will lead with wisdom in the cause of righteousness and justice and equity
  • Praying for Trump’s family
  • Praying for all of our governing officials
  • And back to praising God as ruler of all.

This prayer is very biblical and very non-partisan. It clearly spoke the gospel over our president and called him to rule with wisdom and righteousness.

Other Considerations

Many opinions have been offered and many critiques have been made. Some of the ideas I find ridiculous. Others make sense to me and are worth our consideration; there are three in particular that I want share.

First, some have pointed out that we should not give extra honor to the wealthy or the powerful when they come to our services. That we ought to pray for our leaders, but that to do so from the pulpit may or may not be appropriate.

Second, it’s plausible to assume that that Trump was using Platt and Platt’s church for optics sake, and they, therefore, should have refused to what could be viewed as complicity in using the church to prop up Trump’s reputation.

And third, there are people of color and victims of sexual assault who would have (and did!) find seeing Trump on stage extremely distressing. People such as these need to be taken into account when situations of this nature arise. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I can see how empathy and sensitivity is needed. (See Kyle James Howard’s comments on Twitter to learn more about this perspective.)

Note: Pastor Platt wrote an explanation of what happened and his thought processes throughout, as well as expressing genuine empathy for those who were hurt by his choice. (Some have mischaracterized this as an apology, but it does not read that way to me.) You can read it here.

Concluding Thoughts

Pastor David Platt was put in a difficult situation for which he had little time to prepare. I think that he made a reasonable, good faith choice. The prayer itself was awesome! I also think the conversations surrounding the intersection of faith and political leaders, the powerful and the marginalized are vital and profitable.

Check out some of my other articles: