Catechism-Prolegomena

By "Catechism" I'm not referring to the method of religious instruction consisting of questions and answers. Catechesis is a big part of what I'll be describing, but I'm using the term as the overall description of a method of disciple-making, which for our purposes is going to center on the form and content of the worship service. I got the term from John Williamson Nevin, who coined it to describe the antithesis of revivalism, or as he named it the system of the "Anxious Bench."

The "system" of the Catechism consists of steady, patient instruction, not given to gimmickry and spectacle. It orients worship around the means God has given: Word and Sacrament. It does not appeal to or care about the base felt needs and desires of the people to whom it ministers. It seeks neither to thrill nor entertain.

I'll be doing what I did in the "Revivalism" series. I'll post seven theses, more thinking aloud than anything else. If it provokes discussion, great!

The Thing with the Hymns

This Holy Week brought with it so many opportunities to sing glorious hymns to the Lord. It's my favorite time of the Church year. Reflecting on the music of the past week had me thinking about a practice that has increasingly been driving me nuts. I could write a pretty lengthy series of posts, but today here's just a brief outline of why I'm opposed to the popular practice of adding choruses to old hymns.

It Doesn't Improve Them
I could leave it at that, really. Have any additions really made the work better? If not, why do it? I can only think of bad reasons, some of which are below.

Hymns Don't Do That
In a hymn, the verses go together to form a complete thought. Like sentences in a paragraph, each verse relates to the one before or after it. In a song, the verses relate to the chorus. Interrupting the train of thought to a hymn, and omitting some key verses, puts the expression of the thought out of joint and interjects a non sequitur.

Pride
In most of these instances we're dealing with works that have been in regular widespread use for at least a century or two. They haven't exactly demonstrated a lack of some sort which needs to be fixed. Yet an industry that for the most part produces works considered passé and out of rotation within ten to fifteen years (when was the last time you sang "Shine, Jesus, Shine?") presumes to evaluate, edit, and improve upon them? What cascade of absurdities has to be accepted to buy into the delusion that one is qualified to do this?

More Pride
What makes us believe that our entertainment mentality ought to be the norm to which any inclusion of older music must conform? Can we not seek to include this art and respect its form and content to the best we can in our individual settings?

I'm Cynical
This is my own personal issue but if I've thought of this, surely at least someone involved has, too. Hymns are pretty much all in the public domain. If I record one and (by some miracle) my arrangement gets airplay and use in Churches, I might sell some records and make some money. But if I add a chorus in between the verses, I've written half the song, and I get publishing royalties every time it's played on the radio and in your Church.

It's Self-Centered
This is the big one for me. Today our worship is very self-oriented. We tend to gather as congregations of individuals and not one people unified across all time and space,  which is what the Bible teaches. The felt needs and likes of each individual in the pews are driving what we sing and do. Novelty is king. People may not like these hymns done this way; we must jazz them up. It's not true, but even if it were, it is exactly this mentality out of which people need to be trained. We worship with those who have gone before us, and so it is only right to sing their music. We should do the same if the music of the future ever becomes available! Love and mutual submission ought to make us respect these great works and seek to add our voices to them in deference to the greater Body.

That's the main gist of it. Your thoughts are welcome.

Taking the Law Seriously

Antinomianism is a disturbing trend in contemporary Christian circles. I don't think it's only those of us in the Reconstruction/theonomy/whatever camp who feel this way. In Evangelical circles, especially in the arts, I find there's a sort of disdain toward God's Law that, in my opinion, is wreaking havoc in our part of the Church.

We too easily look at God's commandments as simply that which no longer condemns us since we are in Christ. Being "freed from the Law," we pay no more attention to it. When someone brings it up as regards a particular issue (say sodomy since it's popular) we easily fall into the trap of the "shellfish fallacy." We for the most part dismiss the idea that the Law still has something to say about how we are to live. We're very concerned to not come across as Pharisaical legalists. We certainly don't want to be accused of guilt-by-association with whatever group of so-and-sos those on the other side of an issue want to lump us in with.

The attitude finds its way into our daily life. If we even read the Law we read the "offensive" commandments through lenses made of caveats, through the loophole if you will of our freedom from condemnation.

In certain circles lacking spiritual disciplines (such as Lent), I see at least a temptation to not deal with the idea that God has very definite ideas about what being like Him looks like and does not look like.  In our concern to reach out to the lost we are afraid of confronting the idea that God really does despise certain things and requires certain others.

Are we too easily persuaded that it's kooky to look at, say, adultery in exactly the same way we look at murder? How about reviling parents?

Can we deal with the thought that those (to us) minor things which God considered on par with murder in His Law ought to be abhorred by us to the same extent, because that's what God is like?

It's worth trying on for size, just to see what you really think about it.

My Humble Suggestion:
Lent begins Wednesday. Over the days leading up to Easter, try reading Deuteronomy. Better yet, write it out into a notebook, maybe a chapter at a time. Read it with the attitude that these commandments are God's revelation of who He is, what He is like, and what He wants us to be like. When you hit something that sticks in your craw, don't simply quote Galatians at it. Think of it as the attitude you ought to have in your heart. Really try to believe it.

I promise you, when Good Friday comes around, you'll feel it. When Easter follows, your joy will be full.

You may or may not be persuaded toward the Theonomic position, but you will at least really know why.

P.S. I've already tried antimonianism and found it, shall we say, lacking.


A Don Miller Excursis

Don Miller has raised a ruckus and many thoughtful responses have been written. I am not linking to his posts, because I consider his position poisonous. But I've had some good discussions on account of them (and it's enough to bring me out of blog retirement), so I'm thankful for his thoughts. Maybe I'll even finish some things I said I'd write as a result.

I read a few chapters of Blue Like Jazz before deciding I had better things to read. That's the extent of my interest in Mr. Miller's writing. I have many friends who read his books and blog, and from time to time hear him mentioned. That's how I came to read his "Why I Don't Go to Church" posts. I tweeted a bit about it, but saw an opportunity to address something tangential that came to mind here.

Y'all know, or should know, that reforming the worship of the Evangelical Church is a major concern of mine. I believe many if not most of our culture's problems flow from the practice of our cultus. In Mr. Miller's thinking I see precisely that which guys like John Nevin were predicting 170 years ago when revivalism was in full swing.

Several false assumptions lie behind Miller's self-excommunication. The biggest is that the worship service exists to meet his needs. Failing to do so, it may be abandoned for that which does--a solitary walk in the country, personal devotion, or (tellingly, in my opinion) being in charge of his company and by teaching.

A couple of other assumptions follow from this: that worship exists to provide personal intimacy with God, and that the worshipers are there to learn.

I've already sent out some thoughts on those so suffice to say worship exists for God's sake, and any personal feelings and learning we get from it are secondary. But my interest here has more to do with practice.

When Miller writes of "traditional" Church, he means something quite different from what someone like me, who attends a traditional Church, means by that word, for the service he describes (music and a sermon, probably with an invitation afterward) is a new invention. It is, to use Nevin's language, the "system of the Anxious Bench," or the practice of the revivalists, as opposed to the traditional practice of the historic Church.

It's precisely the revivalistic form and content that is leaving Miller, a "kinesthetic learner," dry. There's nothing for him to do. It's telling he opines that most men probably struggle as he does, as there's likely quite a bit of feminizing emotionalism involved. He's not connected to the lyrics of the music. The sermon's not getting through. There's something to be examined here: Are the songs romantic jingles? Are the sermons simply build-ups to the invitation's fervor? These over time can and do leave people burnt out. Perhaps not, and he is simply being disobedient. But either way, he's bought the paradigm: corporate worship is to serve an individual's felt needs and desires, and so when it doesn't, find another angle or gimmick, or abandon it altogether.

This is the mindset that revivalism's practices have brought about. It's this that I seek to oppose, and I pray in some small way to hold up an alternative.

I have been praying for Don Miller, because abandoning Church ALWAYS--hear me here--ALWAYS leads to kooky town. He, like most of us, needs to have his thinking reformed about worshipping the Triune God His way, and he needs to be doing so, regularly. He needs the only true intimacy with God which is available: Holy Communion with Him in the Body of Christ, and a life lived in its context.


Revivalism, pt. 7

1. Revivalism has failed. It fails because it steers us away from what God wants and towards ourselves--our emotions and felt needs.

2. Revivalist techniques, emphases and content need to be self-consciously avoided, and that which revivalism displaced should be embraced and emphasized in our worship.

3. This is not to manipulate people but to reorient our worship toward what God says He wants.

4. This will bring reform to the Church.

5. This in turn will reform the culture.

6. It will be opposed even from unlikely sources.

7. Because it is what God says He wants, it will happen, after us if not with us. This should encourage us in the face of resistance.