June 2, 2012

"Hearts and Hands" Part II

(Continued from Part I) The opening service took place in the college chapel, was led by Koiné, and consisted of several hymns appropriately substituted for the parts of the liturgy. The sermon, by Pastor Mike Novotny, was based on several excerpts from the life of David (1 & 2 Samuel), and explained how the theme "Hearts and Hands of David" applied to the goals of the workshop.

The premise of the sermon was that there are three classifications of people in the world. The first group is comprised of people who have "hands"—that is, talent—but who use their talents only for personal gain. Countless gifted businessmen, artists, musicians, and actors use their talents to amass wealth and fame. The second group is comprised of people who have "heart"—that is, a desire to serve their Lord—but God has not seen fit to bless them with artistic talent. The third group is exemplified by King David. David was a "man after the Lord's own heart." He was blessed not only with musical talent, military prowess, and numerous other gifts, but he had a fervent desire to use his gifts to God's glory. The application of this lesson was that people who find themselves in the first group should strive to be in the third—to use their talents in the building up of God's Church and to God's glory. Those who find themselves in the second group should in every way possible support and encourage those in the third group.

The opening service was followed by the keynote address by Pastor Aaron Christie. During the presentation, he allowed for several group discussion sessions (which I thought were appropriate), but these ran long and, unfortunately, shortened Pastor Christie's comments. But to give you the gist of it, I've paraphrased some of his key points here:

  1. Modern consumerist culture equates "what I like" with "what is good." In the Church, however, questions of taste are virtually irrelevant. We concern ourselves instead with excellence.
  2. The discussion of contemporary music in worship did not begin when rock and roll was invented. This is an old question, and the solution is not a musical (or artistic) one.
  3. The texts of worship—not musical styles—are of primary concern. The gospel of Christ should predominate our worship.
  4. Let the congregation participate. Worship, unlike entertainment, is not a spectator sport. Don't force music that was written for a soloist into a participatory idiom.
  5. Let the experience of the church be honored. The worship of the historical church did not come about arbitrarily, but with careful consideration, much God-given ability, artful application, and love for God.

At this early point in the workshop, I was incredibly encouraged. I would describe myself as somewhat resistant to contemporary worship. I love the old Lutheran hymns, and I see most contemporary worship groups as an attempt to discard with traditional hymns and worship styles. But "Hearts and Hands" proved to be a genuine attempt to take the modern into the traditional, rather than to replace the latter with the former.

Unfortunately, if the opening service and keynote address presented an entirely genuine, balanced, and scriptural approach to the arts in worship, portions of the workshop that followed failed to live up to that standard. In the following day and a half, there were several bands that led worship with very egocentric, musically trite, praise music. With the exception of Koiné, very little was fitting for congregational singing. And worst of all, one of the pastor's sermons encouraged unabashed consumerism with the themes, "I love this church" and "What's on the menu?" To top it all off, he used Acts 15 to imply that adhering to traditional worship and customs amounts to sinful legalism. I could sense that many attendees, myself included, were offended and even disgusted.

A gross misunderstanding of worship, coupled with Christian freedom untempered by Christian love, creates a dangerous environment—one in which I am convinced God-pleasing worship cannot survive. While the workshop got off to a wonderful start, set godly goals for itself, and featured some excellent speakers, there were a number of people there whose obvious intent was to "gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Timothy 4:3). It perhaps seems judgmental of me to say that, but I do know this: 1) Satan is hard at work within the church, 2) some of the most outspoken supporters of contemporary worship were also the least knowledgable about worship, and 3) the same people showed little regard for legitimate concerns raised by other attendees or their own members.

There is a lot of work to do, folks. I am primarily addressing laymen, because an informed and active laity is worth its weight in gold. It's hard to say whether this all-out push towards contemporary worship is coming from the laity or the clergy. I suspect the latter. But just because we (i.e., laymen) do not wear frocks does not mean that we cannot read the scriptures and make informed decisions about music, worship, and art. Lutheranism is wonderfully democratic in that way; God's Word is the ultimate authority—not the church.

I hate to end on a downer. But the workshop was overall a positive experience, and I will conclude my review tomorrow.

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