Category Archives: authenticity

The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music: Eight Reasons OCTOBER 27, 2014 BY T. DAVID GORDON

By imminent decline of contemporary worship music, I do not mean imminent disappearance. Commercial forces have too substantial an interest to permit contemporary worship music to disappear entirely; and human beings are creatures of habit who do not adapt to change quickly. I do not predict, therefore, a disappearance of contemporary worship music, sooner or later. Already, however, I observe its decline. Several years ago (2011) Mark Moring interviewed me for Christianity Today, and in our follow-up communications, he indicated that he thought the zenith of contemporary worship music had already happened, and that the movement was already in the direction of traditional hymnody. He did not make any claims about the ratio of contemporary worship music to traditional hymns; he merely observed that whatever the ratio was, the see-saw was now moving, albeit slowly, towards traditional hymnody. If the ratio of contemporary-to-traditional was rising twenty years ago, it is falling now; the ratio is now in decline, and I suspect that decline will continue for the foreseeable future. What follows is a painfully abbreviated list of eight reasons why I think this change is happening.

  1. Contemporary worship music hymns not only were/are comparatively poor; they had to be. One generation cannot successfully “compete” with 50 generations of hymn-writers; such a generation would need to be fifty times as talented as all previous generations to do so. If only one-half of one percent (42 out of over 6,500) of Charles Wesley’s hymns made it even into the Methodist hymnal, it would be hubristic/arrogant to think that any contemporary hymnist is substantially better than he. Most hymnals are constituted of hymns written by people with Wesley’s unusual talent; the editors had the “pick of the litter” of almost two thousand years of hymn-writing. In English hymnals, for instance, we rarely find even ten of Paul Gerhardt’s 140 hymns, even though many musicologists regard him as one of Germany’s finest hymnwriters. Good hymnals contain, essentially, “the best of the best,” the best hymns of the best hymnwriters of all time; how could any single generation compete with that?

Just speaking arithmetically, one would expect that, at best, each generation could represent itself as well as other generations, permitting hymnal editors to continue to select “the best of the best” from each generation. Were this the case, then one of every fifty hymns we sing should be from one of the fifty generations since the apostles, and, therefore, one of every fifty should be contemporary, the best of the current generation of hymnwriters. Perhaps this is what John Frame meant when, in the second paragraph of his book on CWM, he indicated that he had two goals for his book: to explain some aspects of CWM and to defend its “limited use” in public worship. Perhaps Prof. Frame thought one out of fifty constituted “limited use,” or perhaps he might have permitted as much as one out of ten, I don’t know. But our generation of hymnwriters, while talented and devout, are not more talented or more devout than all other generations, and are surely not so by a ratio of fifty-to-one.

  1. Early on in the contemporary worship music movement, many groups began setting traditional hymn-lyrics to contemporary melodies and/or instrumentation. Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Music, Reformed Praise all recognized how difficult/demanding it is to write lyrics that are not only theologically sound, but significant, profound, appropriate, memorable, and edifying (not to mention metrical). If the canonical Psalms are our model, few hymn-writers could hope to write with such remarkable insight (into God and His creatures, who are only dust) and remarkable craftsmanship (e.g. the first three words of the first Psalm begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph (א), each also has a shin (ש), and two of the three also have a resh (ר), even though each is only a 3-letter word. Even those unfamiliar with Hebrew cannot miss the remarkable assonance and alliteration in those opening three words: “ashre ha-ish asher”).
  2. As a result, the better contemporary hymns (e.g. “How Deep the Father’s Love,” “In Christ Alone”) have been over-used to the point that we have become weary of them. These two of the better contemporary worship music hymns are sung a half-dozen times or a even a dozen times annually in many contemporary worship music churches; whereas “A Mighty Fortress” may get sung once or twice (if at all); but neither of the two is as good as Luther’s hymn. What is “intrinsically good” (to employ Luther’s expression about music) will always last; what is merely novel will not. Beethoven will outlast 50 Cent, The Black Eyed Peas, and Christina Aguilera. His music will be enjoyed three hundred years from now; theirs will be gone inside of fifty years.
  3. It is no longer a competitive advantage to have part or all of a service in a contemporary idiom; probably well over half the churches now do so, so we have reached what Malcolm Gladwell calls the “Tipping Point.” Contemporary worship music no longer marks a church as emerging, hip, edgy, or forward-looking, because many/most churches now do it. Churches that do not do other aspects of church-life well can no longer compensate via contemporary worship music; they must compete with other churches that employ contemporary worship music. Once a thing is commonplace, it is no longer a draw. And contemporary worship music is now so commonplace that it is no longer a competitive advantage; to the contrary, smaller churches with smaller budgets have difficulty competing with the larger-budgeted churches in this area.
  4. As with all novelties, once the novelty wears off, what is left often seems somewhat empty. In a culture that celebrates what is new (and commercial culture always does so in order to sell what is new), most people will pine for what is new. But what is new does not remain so forever; and once it is no longer novel, it must compete by the ordinary canons of musical and lyrical art, and very little contemporary worship music can do so (again, because its authors face a fifty-to-one ratio of competition from other generations). Even promoters of contemporary worship music prefer some of it to the rest of it; indicating that they, too, recognize aesthetic criteria beyond mere novelty. Even those who regard novelty as a virtue, in other words, do not regard it as the onlyvirtue. And some, such as myself, regard novelty as a liturgical vice, not a virtue because of its tendency to dis-associate us from the rest of our common race, heritage, and liturgy.
  5. Thankfully, my own generation is beginning to die. While ostensibly created “for the young people,” the driving force behind contemporary worship music was always my own Sixties generation of anti-adult, anti-establishment, rebellious Woodstockers and Jesus freaks. Once my generation became elders and deacons (and therefore those who ran the churches), we could not escape our sense of being part of the “My Generation” that The Who’s Pete Townsend had sung about when we were young; so we (not the young people) wanted a brand of Christianity that did not look like our parents’ brand. Fortunately for the human race, we are dying off now, and much of the impetus for contemporary worship music will die with us (though the commercial interests will “not go gentle into that good night,” and fulfill Dylan Thomas’s wish).
  6. Contemporary worship music is ordinarily accompanied by Praise Teams, and these have frequently (but by no means always) been problematic. It has been difficult to provide direction to them, due to the inherent confusion between whether they are participants in the congregation or performers for the congregation. In most circumstances, the members of the Praise Team do the kinds of things performers do: they vary the instrumental or harmonious parts between stanzas, they rehearse, etc. In fact, if one were to watch a video of the typical Praise Team without any audio, they ordinarily look like performers; their bodily actions and contrived emotional expressions mimic those of the entertainment industry.

Theologically and liturgically, however, it is the congregation that is to sing God’s praise, and what we call the Praise Team is merely an accompanist. But there is a frequent and ongoing tension in many contemporary worship music churches between the performers feeling as though they are being held back from performing for the congregation, and the liturgists thinking they’ve already gone too far in distinguishing themselves from the congregation. Many pastors have told me privately that they have no principial disagreements with contemporary worship music, but that they wish the whole Praise Team thing “would go away,” because it is a frequent source of tension. I have elsewhere suggested that the Praise Team is not biblical, that it actually obscures or obliterates what the Scriptures command. I won’t repeat any of those concerns here; here I merely acknowledge that many of those who disagree with my understanding of Scripure agree with my observation that the Praise Team is an ongoing source of difficulty in the church.

  1. We cannot evade or avoid the “holy catholic church” of the Apostles’ Creed forever. Even people who are untrained theologically have some intuitive sense that a local contemporary church is part of a global and many-generational (indeed eschatological and endless) assembly of followers of Christ; cutting ourselves off from that broader catholic body may appear cool for a while, but we ultimately wish to commune with the rest of the global/catholic church. Indeed, for many mature Christians, this wish grows as we age; we become aware that this particular moment, and our own personal life therein, will pass away soon, and what is timeless will nonetheless continue. Our affection for and interest in the timeless trumps our interest in the recent and fading. We intuitively identify with Henry F. Lyte, whose hymn said, “Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” We instinctively wish to “join the everlasting song, and crown Him Lord of all” (to use Edward Perronet’s language). Note, in fact, the opening lines alone of each stanza of Perronet’s hymn, and observe how, as the stanzas move, our worship is connected to both earthly and heavenly worship, past and future worship:

All hail the power of Jesus’ Name! Let angels prostrate fall;…
Let highborn seraphs tune the lyre, and as they tune it, fall…
Crown Him, ye morning stars of light, who fixed this floating ball;…

Crown Him, ye martyrs of your God, who from His altar call;…
Ye seed of Israel’s chosen race, ye ransomed from the fall,…
Hail Him, ye heirs of David’s line, whom David Lord did call,…
Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget the wormwood and the gall,…
Let every tribe and every tongue before Him prostrate fall…

O that, with yonder sacred throng, we at His feet may fall,
Join in the everlasting song, and crown Him Lord of all!

It is not merely that some churches do not sing Perronet’s hymn; they can not do so, without a little dissonance. Everything that they do intentionally cuts themselves off from the past and future; liturgically, if not theologically, they know nothing of martyrs, of Israel’s chosen race, of David’s lineage. Liturgically, if not theologically, everything is here-and-now, without much room for angels or seraphs, nor every tribe and tongue (just those who share our particular cultural moment). To sing Perronet’s hymn in such a setting would fit about as well as reading Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at a Ku Klux Klan gathering.

“Contemporary worship” to me is an oxymoron. Biblically, worship is what angels and morning stars did before creation; what Abraham, Moses and the Levites, and the many-tongued Jewish diaspora at Pentecost did. It is what the martyrs, now ascended, do, and what all believers since the apostles have done. More importantly, it is what we will do eternally; worship is essentially (not accidentally) eschatological. And nothing could celebrate the eschatological forever less than something that celebrates the contemporary now. So ultimately, I think the Apostles’ Creed will stick its camel’s nose into the liturgical tent, and assert again our celebration of the “holy catholic church, the communion of the saints.” The sooner the better.

(Photo credit: Aikawa Ke/ Flickr)

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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

T. David Gordon

T. David Gordon

T. David Gordon is Professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College, where since 1999 he has taught courses in Religion, Greek, Humanities, and Media Ecology. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He is the author of Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Re-Wrote the Hymnal. His personal website is www.tdgordon.net. He lives in Grove City, PA, with his wife Dianne, and daughters Grace and Dabney (and innumerable cats). 

People need to wake up and realize they make themselves God’s enemy John 3:20

As much as I read people from the past, I see it repeated over and over today. The failing is that if it’s already happened, and people are trying to run the same game as people 500 years ago, the people today are simply, let’s be charitable, and say not very perceptive, or they think people today are not very bright and can be played into their game. How about the nonsense being played against law enforcement today? One of the stated purposes of the United States constitution for government is to “provide for the common defense.” When you are sworn in as a law enforcement, military or some officer of government, you swear to protect against all enemies “foreign and domestic”. Whether they are Americans or not, anyone who does something that is an attempt to undermine the civil authority is an “enemy”. We need to be open to correction, not abuse, not overreaching authority on the part of government, people trying to abuse their power and authority, but we do need to accept when we have stepped out of bounds and offended the law and our neighbors. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, doing things that offend and deprive our neighbors rights is obviously not loving.

Martin Luther had a great, if not obvious observation; “The world doesn’t want to be punished. It wants to remain in darkness. It doesn’t want to be told that what it believes is false.” (365 Devotional Readings from Martin Luther “Through Faith Alone” Concordia Publishing House July 2) Oh, wow! We’re seeing that not just in terms of the Christian church, but also the authority of what Dr Luther called the “left-hand kingdom”, the civil authority. Dr Luther asserts that God placed the “right-hand kingdom” in the world to assert the authority of the church, those who want to benefit from being in the church. He also asserts that God placed the left-hand kingdom in the world also. Those who are law- enforcement officers, government officials, mayor, governor, president, district attorney, attorney general etc. All placed by God to maintain public order. As much as we see attacks against that order now, Luther saw in his day. As Americans, in the tradition of the Declaration of Independence and the writings of the Founding Fathers, we certainly have a right to push back against government that becomes abusive of its authority. That is the whole reason for American Revolution. You can certainly make the case that government in many ways has become abusive of its authority. While it may be being dialed back a little with recent Supreme Court decisions, more and more government has been discriminatory against Christians, depriving people of their First Amendment rights to practice their religious beliefs without government interference. But in the way that those who want to somehow eliminate local law-enforcement, Luther’s observation is as prescient today as it was 500 years ago. Make no mistake, those who want try to usurp local law-enforcement do so in an attempt to intimidate government into creating a de-facto local government in many city neighborhoods. That distinct minority of people are making a play to establish their own system which would be established solely to their benefit and increase their wealth and power. In terms of third-world countries, Somalia would be a great example of a place ruled by local, I don’t know how to put it nicely, that run their fiefdom under their own authority, chose who will survive/thrive under their rule and starve those who resist. That is the vision of those who would presume to some how create autonomous zones in our cities.

This is the extreme example of what Luther writes about, but there are many enemies, to the church and civil authorities, foreign and domestic who would run roughshod on the rest of us given the opportunity. The church’s authority has certainly been undermined, now other authority, certainly the left-hand kingdom is being challenged.

Luther addresses the issue in the church: “If you also don’t want to be corrected, then you might as well leave the church and spend your time at the bar and brothel. But if you want to be saved – and remember that there’s another life after this one – you must accept correction.” It is pretty amazing how many people outside and inside the church (foreign and domestic) continue to undermine the church. The Bible addresses many issues which state that in order to be a Christian you must conform to the stated teachings of what is in the Bible. Of course the mantra today is “well my God, would / wouldn’t…” and in their petty dictator way, ignore the reality of what is written, but continue to insist that God would approve of their way, in complete contradiction to any kind of reality or documentation. Luther goes on to write: “If you don’t want to be saved, what’s the use of me being concerned about it? If you aren’t sure you believe in hell, the devil, death, eternal condemnation, and the wrath of God, then just ask your neighbor about it…”. We see this all-around us today, don’t trust in what God’s minister says, or elected official, or police officer. Instead go have a chat with your uninformed neighbor, and you can both share your ignorance and then wonder why your life is as messed up as it is. Trust everyone else but the people who God has put in place to serve the public good. I have seen it acted out over and over in many settings, it’s bizarre! Suffice to say, you can create your fantasy world, what you say is right or wrong, but if it is in conflict with the revealed Word of God in Scripture, then you are condemned, you are an enemy of God.

“In short, if the church and secular government are to exist, they must shed light on evil. The civil authorities must punish the obvious deeds of darkness of public vices and the offensive ways of people, while we preachers in the church must bring to light the subtle darkness of false teachers and false belief. We must confront those who teach and think that they have God’s approval because of what they do.” As a pastor it’s not up to me to punt when I know someone who is playing around with God’s word, anymore than a police officer can just walk by someone who stabbed another person. We both have the duty to enforce what we’ve sworn to do (and Christian ministers certainly take vows in their ordination on what they are supposed to do to serve). With the civil law it’s usually pretty obvious. There’s a body with stab wounds in it, the person has ceased to have a heart rate and respiration, people have stepped forward and credibly accused a person of the stabbing/murder, and the police have the duty to arrest, imprison and attest in court to what the person did. A Christian minister’s duty is often a little more subtle, but nonetheless, usually obvious, and frankly profoundly more destructive if he does not address those issues. Issues of sexuality today have had a profound effect on undermining the church and the civil authority. “I will do what I want, when I want”, when God has said “thou shalt not”, calls into question the authority of the church. Since western government was established under biblical principles, leads people to wonder why it’s anymore important than church authority. The answer is that the civil authority can still put you in jail and even execute you. Church authority can’t, but whether or not you believe in hell, the punishment of God is profoundly more effective than civil. You can put someone in prison for a season, hell is eternal and would make an American prison look like Wallyworld.

“If the church and government stopped admonishing people, the whole world would collapse in a heap. If you want to be saved and be a Christian, then stay open to correction. A preacher has to rebuke, or he should leave his position. The Christian who won’t accept correction is only pretending to be a Christian.” I’ve been a Christian pastor for 8 years now, I’ve certainly seen it. Those who are convinced their authority in the church is more necessary than the pastor’s, despite having no training, education, real experience, or any other credential, and yet actively work to undermine the man appointed to be the pastor. That person is living in their own fantasy, they are undermining God’s authority as much as any pretender to civil authority in a neighborhood, foreign country, and just as much an enemy of God and certainly a domestic enemy of the church.

Certainly the world and the church, both under God’s direction, have ways of reasserting the authority God has given them to maintain order and not “collapse into a heap.” But it requires people who will stand up under the scrutiny and the pressure of those who are in active rebellion, enemies foreign and domestic and do God’s will in either realm. The church needs to be much more pro-active in supporting those people on the front lines, maintaining the order, and taking the shots. The people need to stop listening to the non- sense of those who would readily suppress them and take from them if they succeed in ascending to authority. Instead in today’s world, it’s easier for the majority of people to side with those who take the side of those trying to usurp God, His enemies, and then wonder why the world has collapsed into a heap and why no one’s doing anything about it. Oh yeah, it’s bizarre! Try being in the position of those who support God’s servants and not the way of the world, the world’s way will end up as an incredibly evil and destructive way to live.

The Lutheran Hero of the American Revolution  JULY 4, 2018 BY GENE VEITH

Among the heroes of the American Revolution, which we celebrate on this fourth of July, was a Lutheran pastor, Peter Muhlenberg.  An article in The Federalist tells his story.  And there was more to his career than his famous disvesting in the pulpit.

He became George Washington’s aide, was a military hero, and after independence became a statesman in the new republic.  Read about him, and then I have some questions.

From Ellie Bufkin, Meet A Friend Of George Washington And Patrick Henry Who Fought Boldly For American Independence:

In January 1776, a small church in rural Virginia burst at the seams with parishioners eagerly awaiting the arrival of their pastor. Members of the congregation, who had even spilled out into the cemetery, were alive with excitement.

Over the last few months, with tensions between the colonies and England ever increasing, the members of the Lutheran church had heard from their pastor that a revolution was imminent. He told them the time to take up arms in defense of their nation was now.

This particular Sunday was to be the pastor’s last sermon, and the large gathering represented far more citizens than those who inhabited the small town of Woodstock where the church stood.

Rev. Peter Muhlenberg entered the church dressed in his robe, with a sense of purpose that appeared to make him stand taller than usual. He ascended to the pulpit and delivered his sermon, acutely aware of the importance of what he would say.

As the sermon began its conclusion, Muhlenberg referenced Ecclesiastes chapter three: “In the language of Holy writ, there was a time for all things, a time to preach and time to pray, but those times had passed away.” He faced his congregation for the last time, and in words that he knew meant the end of life in the once- peaceful Virginia countryside, he continued, “There was a time to fight, and that time has now come!”

Muhlenberg removed his robe, revealing his colonel’s uniform, and descended from the pulpit to the sounds of drummers by the church door, drumming for recruits. Three hundred recruits signed that day at the church, and Muhlenberg’s was the first of the Virginia regiments ready for combat service just two months later.[Keep reading. . .]

So what are we Lutherans to make of Rev. Muhlenberg?  Was he violating the Two Kingdoms in preaching the American revolution from the pulpit?  Was he violating his vocation as a pastor, or just moving to a new calling as a soldier?  At any rate, does he not deserve our nation’s honor, along with Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and the others who brought our nation into being?

There was a whole family of Muhlenbergs who were important in the early days of American Lutheranism. The key figure is Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg, known as “the father of American Lutheranism,” who was Peter’s father.

Can anyone tell us more about the Muhlenbergs and their legacy in both the church and the state?

 

Illustration:  Portrait of Peter Muhlenberg, Public Domain, via Wikipedia

Authenticity, integrity, true timeless principles

 

This is a great observation, the amount of phony, posers, pretenders in the world is staggering. They’re the ones who are usually so obsessed about pointing out how messed up everyone else is. They are the ones that a mile wide and an inch thick. They think principles are about who you sleep with, or what the new movie is about, or what they  saw on FaceBook or CNN. Then there are the ones who live their lives in integrity, focus on the eternal things, the things that create, sustain, perpetuate, strengthen and not the phoniness of the current age. So please, be authentic, be a genuine man and woman, and frankly, that can only be done in Jesus. I’m not sure if this is what Ms Gilbert intended, but I appreciate at least the theme of her blog.

I thought this was a wonderful way to approach whatever endeavors we are involved in. It’s being yourself which grounds and guides us. The start of the year, significant birthday or any milestone event, arrives and fills us with new possibilities for the future. But along with our enthusiasm can come an unwitting loss of…

via Don’t Worry About Being Original. Just Be Authentic – Elizabeth Gilbert — The Seeds 4 Life

Rebuke, Exhort! Don’t minimize and “tolerate”

St Paul wrote the largest amount of the content of the New Testament. Certainly the Gospels are specifically about the life and teachings of Jesus. But on the road to Damascus Jesus personally knocked Paul off his donkey and made Paul focus on who Jesus is and what being a Christian is all about. From there the Holy Spirit took Paul in hand and led Paul to be one of the greatest missionaries of Christianity and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Christian teacher. Many people like to minimize doctrine, but without Paul’s writings on doctrine we would have very little understanding of our Christian faith, a lot of what we accept as normal Christian practice, we would have to guess about, without Paul.

Paul founded a number of churches during his mission trips and he spent a lot of time and ink teaching people the important aspects of being a Christian. His “epistles”, letters, were written to people in Corinth, Thessalonica, Rome, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, Colassae, and undoubtedly other groups in the Roman Empire. These were to address issues the churches were dealing with, or to pass on to them important aspects of being a Christian. In addition to Paul’s epistles to the churches, he also mentored, at least two pastors, Timothy and Titus. His letters to them were how to be pastors and how to lead congregations in the difficult times that these churches, all Christians, were going through at the time of Paul’s letters. Much of what Paul writes about is directly applicable to the Christian church and Christian pastors today.

Paul was not a shrinking violet, he had to contend with an immense amount of adversity during his ministry which culminated in being beheaded. As I said, Paul was probably the greatest missionary and pastor in Christian history. But if you really read Paul’s writings most Christians today, would be taken aback by Paul’s straightforward, even abrupt pastoral style. He wasn’t playing around, things had to be done in the church and in confronting a pagan and hostile society. Again so much of what Paul had to deal with we see today. While I’m not telling people to go out and be contentious, look for fights, or not try to be winsome and inviting, I am saying that there will be many times where you have to be straightforward in proclaiming the Gospel and not worry about who will be “offended”, or upset. As Christians and certainly not pastors we are not here to patronize people, or play to the crowd. As a pastor I took vows, to my death, promising to proclaim the Gospel. Many will be offended as Jesus tells us in KJV Matthew 24:10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” The adolescent whining you will often hear while proclaiming the Gospel is just a convenient way for people to not deal with the truth. They will be held accountable for their silly little posturing, but we can’t let them intimidate us into shutting up about Jesus and that’s what they’re shooting for.

Believe me if they had interacted with Paul, they would think that someone like me is a little candy cane. Paul wanted to make it clear to churches, like Corinth and Thessalonica, that the Gospel is not about kid gloves. It’s about people’s eternal life, that is the ultimate issue, even if people don’t recognize it. It’s not up to us to candy-coat it or treat it like entertainment. It’s up to us to proclaim it with great knowledge, great compassion, integrity and urgency. Treat the Gospel in a way that is with utter respect as to its importance, not the way most people treat it which is a secondary issue and why worry about it, God will work everything out. I get that attitude all the time and it is just not true.

 

Paul writes to Timothy, one of his disciples who he is mentoring as a pastor. Timothy is in Ephesus, he is a young preacher and it would seem that he was contending with a lot of different people who were teaching false doctrine. Paul tells Timothy: “ESV 2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Paul is telling Timothy you know what is important, you know what you need to do, don’t stop doing it just because there are some people who are opposing you and trying to shut you up. We see that in too many young pastors today, “I don’t want anyone to get mad, I don’t want to offend anyone”. I look at it in terms of; “am I worried about upsetting this guy here, or God”? If it’s a choice, I’m sure not going to upset God. Paul makes it clear that it’s about what is in Scripture.

To underline that he goes on to write in the strongest terms: “ESV 2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Paul is serious and he’s telling Timothy; by all that we hold as holy, you need to go out and teach that. Don’t pull punches, don’t tell people what they want to hear. That’s not your call, your call is to tell people what God has given us in Scripture. Anything else would be to “suit their own passions”, which isn’t God’s intention, is it? Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort. These are not make nice words. Paul’s words are telling Timothy to make sure people understand these words are serious. Don’t let people get away with it if they’re trying to sell nonsense. We see that today with so many false teachers, it’s no less today than it was 2,000 years ago. Today when you’re faithful to Paul’s teaching you’re going to catch all kinds of flak as to how mean, judgmental, unloving, whatever phobic and whatever other adolescent prattle you hear from people who don’t want to hear God’s word and want to wallow in their nasty little sin. But they still expect God to come through for them and save them, do things their way. Bizarre, but people today truly expect everything their way and that includes God. After all, to quote the prattle from false teachers, God just wants us to be happy! Huh!? God wants us to become mature Christian disciples. That’s much more than “happy”.

Titus was probably an older man, another of Paul’s disciples and he was the pastor of the church on the island of Crete. Ever hear the expression “Cretans”? Not a flattering expression. Titus apparently had to deal with some pretty crude actors.

Paul gave Titus the same direction. Don’t be bashful, preach the truth of the Gospel: “ESV Titus 2:15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” The last part “Let no one disregard you.” Don’t be brushed off or ignored, don’t let people patronize you, and wow you see a lot of that in the world today dealing with Christians. No! This is the truth, you may not like it but don’t be cavalier about it either, this is serious, treat it as such.

Paul goes on to write: “ESV Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Yes doctrine does matter, don’t play around or minimize it, preach it. “7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,” Have Christian integrity, stick to what you know is the truth, be faithful and strong. But do it with dignity too. Don’t look silly and get all emotional and flakey. Assert the truth and move on. People too often don’t treat Christians seriously, make them take you seriously know what you’re talking about. Now more than ever we need to take those words seriously and stop putting on shows of “tolerance” or accommodation. “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) There is no other truth! You may disagree with me, but you have to take Jesus’ words seriously.

As Christians we get a lot of just straight out stupid messages from the world. Too often we make the mistake of trying to dignify them, of being too gracious. Paul, Timothy, Titus and us, we don’t have that luxury. We need to be serious strong disciples and evangelists and witness in a way that we will be taken seriously. It’s not always going to result in conversion, but, Paul told both his disciples, don’t be bashful, rebuke wrongful teaching. Don’t get defensive about someone telling you you’re being judgmental. Say what you want and try to use weenie words to avoid the truth, I’m telling you the truth, and it is judgmental. If you disregard the truth of Jesus Christ : “ESV John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” I’m telling you the truth, if you chose to ignore it or minimize it you’ve “judged”, “condemned” yourself, not me.

Idols hmmmm, really? Tells me to remember who’s really in charge!

I am the pastor of First Saint Johns Church in York, Pa. First Saint Johns (FSJ) was completed in 1875, as you can see from the featured image, the altar, and the rest of the sanctuary are very nice and very reverent.

There are those who I have showed the sanctuary to and felt that there was just “heavens, too much idolatry”. Rather amuses me. I’ve been in a lot of sanctuaries where you might truly wonder what the space is actually used for. By looking at this picture, there should be little doubt what or, better, Who this space is about. It’s all about Jesus and the people who built his sanctuary 140+ years ago knew it.

The altar is especially interesting in that it shows the most important aspects of who and what Jesus is all about. Underneath the flat part, called the mensa, is a lamb, shows that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Next is a crucifix, reminding us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Next is Christ ascending to glory in heaven. The top stained glass window shows Jesus as Lord of all creation, at the right hand of God the Father.

The stained glass windows on the sides have various Christian symbols and at the top is one of the apostles.

People have actually told me how idolatrous this is??? Yet I can go into an old Quaker, Calvinist, etc churches and honestly wonder what’s going on there. I can go into a lot of “community”, “independent”, etc and see no indication that I’m in what purports to be a “Christian” sanctuary. There is a lot of symbology on the altar and on the stained glass at FSJs. A lot of visual reminders of what we believe and Who we hold important. Over the ascending Jesus is the motto “Sola Deo Gloria”, yea wow, “To God only the glory”, yikes that’s a first commandment buster, right?

Why do people really object to this? Why do they prefer to have a “church” that is essentially void of anything that is Christian? I would submit that especially with all the “big-box” non-denominationals, that it’s really more about those in the church preferring to kind of push aside all the Jesus stuff. Yea, they sing about Jesus and kind of preach about Him. But it’s not really about Him, if it was why is there a problem about having a lot of visual reinforcement.

My answer. In the world today it’s all about me, what’s good for me. Well Jesus is good for you, the only and ultimate good. But too many people don’t see it that way. Today’s culture says: I don’t want to be reminded of all that Jesus stuff, if I’m here I’m worshiping what I want, “ooo that gory crucifixion stuff”. Well that’s a whole big subject, and well we just shouldn’t have to do that, just make me happy God. I showed up, I should get the big payoff. Doesn’t work that way folks. It is all about God and not about you. That’s why we have all these reminders to reinforce that in us when we are in true worship, lifting up and praising God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

People who built these great old churches understood that and when I stand in front of the altar here I know exactly what and especially Who it’s all about. It’s why we at First Saint Johns are serious about what we do and why we do it, it’s for Jesus who sacrificed all for us and we will be His for all eternity. So instead of mouthing silly platitudes and not thinking about what is important, let’s all do some serious thinking about what and Who is ultimately important. I have all these beautiful and compelling reminders here, maybe it’s time for you to think about why this is all important.  Sanctuary 140th anniversary

Hubris, millenials the generation of hubris

Yea, I know, might be getting a little to spun up on this subject. Maybe it’s just a function of my becoming an old fuddy-duddy. But I’ve had some interesting interactions with this generation. OK, after this I will stop picking on them, maybe.

Hubris is defined: “ˈ(h)yo͞obrəs/ noun

 excessive pride or self-confidence.
  1. synonyms: arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, hauteur, pride, self-importance, egotism, pomposity, superciliousness, superiority;

    informalbig-headedness, cockiness
    “the hubris among economists was shaken”

    I can’t wait until someone whines to the effect “…eh whaddya gotta speak Latin for”, you know because they’re scare, not afraid, they’re scared. As “educated” as that generation thinks it is, it just isn’t. If you are familiar with the concept you will understand how much trouble a person would get into because of their hubris, arrogance. It’s especially common with people who think they get it, but aren’t even close. (any kind of it).

    However there is hope. I was especially encouraged to see a recent blog by an 18 year old. The article sounded kind of whiney, how bad the church is yada-yada (note I didn’t know the background of the author). It looked more like middle- aged angst, but upon reading further: “So as the Body of Christ, let’s stop thinking of ourselves, our likes, dislikes, and preferences, and let’s make God the focus of our worship within the church. Let’s love and lead like Jesus did for us, for His glory.” ( http://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/christian-you-need-the-church.html?utm_content=buffer84444&utm_medium=fbpage&utm_source=cwpg&utm_campaign=cwupdate) Wow Kelsey, great job! It’s not just millenials who do it, but many who are just not intellectually stimulated; “Well I just don’t like it…” As if your likes/dislikes matter in the least.  I don’t see God sitting up in heaven getting all spun up “wow, Brittany and Hunter didn’t like that part of the Bible. Maybe I should authorize a revision there, all that nastiness in Canaan. Maybe they’re right, maybe that wasn’t “fair”, hmmm”. Ya, our little ones may not “like” it, but it’s not going to change anything, and if they received a little context, they might actually find themselves getting some intellectual depth.

    Going back to ancient Greek mythology, people got into serious trouble because of their “hubris”, this generation is well on their way to that trouble. They are a seriously undereducated/poorly educated group, that have been given little training in any kind of critical capability. (This despite the exorbitant amounts of money spent on public education). Most of their likes/dislikes come from the opinions that their poorly educated, little in terms of life experiences, public school teachers and college professors passed on to them. Even if their “educators” knew the reality, seems they often find it easier to give in, be the popular teacher instead of the one who pushes on their students.

    Problem for us is this; real adults have to deal with straight out ignorance, which also consists of pure sentimentalism. This is from the same group that thinks their adolescence should go to at least 30 years of age, while still knowing more than everyone. If that doesn’t give you an insight into the lack of logic we’re dealing with, I don’t know what will.

    This is an incredibly gullible generation that gets spun up about such things as letting males use women’s restrooms. On one issue they have grasped reality is abortion. Being the generation that was completely under legalized abortion, they are becoming much more pro-life realizing that they could have easily been a victim of abortion.

    In ministry there’s a recognition of the person who thinks that their ministry is one of criticism. They never actually do anything, but they think that it’s incumbent on them to find all the failings in the church and report them to someone to have their issues fixed and to their satisfaction. They don’t do anything except make life tough for other people who are actually trying to do something. We may have created a whole generation like that. People who can’t really provide for themselves, but know what is wrong with everyone else. The bizarre part is that we’re actually listening to them instead of being the grown-ups and telling them they need to sit down and listen. Please sit them down, they really do need to learn something!