I have made this point several times, but I think it bears repeating. Evangelicals and cultural transformers spend a lot (inordinate, in my estimation) telling the wider culture how it needs to follow Godâ€™s law. Much of this activity happens during the ordinary days of the week. When James Dobson calls for a Justice Sunday or some such, it also happens on the faithfulâ€™s lone holiday.
But when many evangelicals and culture transformers gather for worship (or for church business â€“ namely, ordination, instruction of the youth, Bible studies, etc.) they do not do as they say â€“ they donâ€™t follow Godâ€™s word but they follow their own rules. An obvious example is contemporary worship led by non-ordained church members. Another example is the Reformed or Presbyterian congregation that follows the praise & worship methods of charismatics and Pentecostals. Such Reformed Christians are awfully serious about husbands and wives respecting their marriage vows. Do they actually worry about the vows their pastors and elders make to uphold Reformed teaching and practice?
I wrote these paragraphs even before reading a juicy example of this very inconsistency at the blog of the Brothers Bayly. Pastors Tim and David are apparently big fans of contemporary Christian music in public worship. I cannot tell what their services are like entirely but I have seen clips of worship bands in their services and have followed links to the Good Shepherd Bandâ€™s page at Myspace. (Church of the Good Shepherd, by the way, is the name of Pastor Timâ€™s congregation in Bloomington, In.) So readers of their blog naturally receive the sense that services in the Baylysâ€™ congregations is up-tempo.
The Baylys left no one to wonder about their worship preferences when this past week they posted a piece in which they divided the world between the effeminate traditionalists/classicalists and the manly singers and performers of contemporary Christian music. In particular, Tim faults Reformed Protestantism for simply being a stop on the ladder of upward mobility:
The Wesleyan or Southern Baptist moves up to Presbyterian. And there in his new Presbyterian church, our convert finds the accoutrements of his new social class wonderfully reassuring. Itâ€™s the churchâ€™s zip code, the ministerâ€™s Genevan gown or collar, the frequent repetition of those peaceful words â€˜providenceâ€™ and â€˜sovereignty,â€™ the high priority placed on the education of the congregationâ€™s Covenant children, the preacherâ€™s thoughtful message and splendid vocabulary, and of course the high classical style of music.
Musical style is simply an expression of socio-economic status. Could the Marxists teaching down the road at Indiana University have said it any better? This led to remarks, one part anti-intellectual, one part anti-elitist (and therefore egalitarian), that contrasted the snobbery of Reformed upper-middle classness with the poor and uneducated apostles whom Christ turned into fishers of men. â€œ Our converts donâ€™t take pride in the foolishness of the Cross,” Tim writes, “so much as the wisdom of Calvin and their senior pastorâ€™s earned doctorate from somewhere across the pond.â€
This standard leftist cultural analysis in turn led to a brief on behalf of contemporary Christian music:
Speaking specifically of the music of our worship, Reformed pastors would do well to consider whether it isn’t time to stop despising the musical vernacular of our own day. There may be some congregations where musical archaisms have put down such deep roots that it would split the church to turn the clock forward, embracing the musical vernacular. But I’m betting use of the amplified instruments, tunes, and vocabulary of the common man in worship won’t happen in most of our Reformed churches for the same reason preaching against the heresy of egalitarian feminism doesn’t happen. Elisabeth Elliot put it well some years back when she said the problem with the church today is that “it’s filled with emasculated men who can’t bring themselves to say ‘no’ to a woman.”
Thus, when we set the musical forms and instrumentation of our other six days a week beside the musical forms and instrumentation of our Sunday worship, we find our Sunday worship to be cloyingly feminine, an historic specimen best suited to be trotted out by the curator for occasional museum exhibits.
So important is the fork in the liturgical road prompted by contemporary Christian music that Tim thinks fidelity to the gospel is at stake:
We must stop trying to kill two birds with one stone. Either we seek to make men into disciples of this Jesus Who chose tax collectors and fishermen to be His Apostles, or we make men into disciples of these archaic liturgies and exquisite musical forms that have evolved across centuries of Western culture. Yes, they’re true and good and beautiful. But what is the cost of making them the focus of our churches’ culture?
Somehow, the Baylys think the only alternatives are the praise band or the robed (see, they really are effeminate) four-part choir accompanied by an organ. They donâ€™t seem to know or allow for the cultural idiom between high-brow and mass culture which is folk or common. (Ken Myers is brilliant on this point in his book, All Godâ€™s Children and Blue Suede Shoes.) And if Reformed have a folk culture certainly one part of it psalm singing (another is the high-carb, low ruffage, pot luck supper). As Shaker furniture can well teach us, simplicity and order can reveal treasures of great beauty, and clearly the Reformed are on the side of decency and order and should be seeking simplicity.
But what may be most troubling about the Bayly post is how much they imitate the academic left that they believe has led the culture astray. The Baylys reduce culture to socio-economic and gender categories. They are as egalitarian and radical as the lefties they oppose. And just as these sorts of arguments have ruined the study of the liberal arts in universities and colleges, so they are also responsible for ruining our churches and undermining any credibility about the church as pilgrim people set apart from the world. In fact, if you see the embarrassing antics of worship leaders and praise bands you have all reasons you need for Kellerâ€™s arguments for using professional musicians in services. Again, the choice isnâ€™t between the dudes and the proâ€™s; the psalter or hymnal accompanied by one instrument or sung acapella depends neither on the failed rock star or the conservatory student.
Which leads to the following excerpt from a piece written fifteen years ago that still seems as fresh as it was then pungent:
Why is it, then, that when evangelicals retreat from the public square into their houses of worship they manifest the same hostility to tradition, intellectual standards, and good taste they find so deplorable in their opponents in the culture wars? Anyone familiar with the so-called “Praise & Worship” phenomenon (so named, supposedly, to remind participants of what they are doing) would be hard pressed to identify these believers as the party of memory or the defenders of cultural conservatism. P&W has become the dominant mode of expression within evangelical churches, from conservative Presbyterian denominations to low church independent congregations. What characterizes this “style” of worship is the praise song (“four words, three notes and two hours”) with its mantra-like repetition of phrases from Scripture, displayed on an overhead projector or video monitors (for those churches with bigger budgets), and accompanied by the standard pieces in a rock band.
Gone are the hymnals which keep the faithful in touch with previous generations of saints. They have been abandoned, in many cases, because they are filled with music and texts considered too boring, too doctrinal, and too restrained. What boomers and busters need instead, according to the liturgy of P&W, are a steady diet of religious ballads most of which date from the 1970s, the decade of disco, leisure suits, and long hair. Gone too are the traditional elements of Protestant worship, the invocation,confession of sins, the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the doxology, and the Gloria Patri. Again, these elements are not sufficiently celebrative or “dynamic,” the favorite word used to describe the new worship. And while P&W has retained the talking head in the sermon, probably the most boring element of Protestant worship, the substance of much preaching turns out to be more therapeutic than theological.
Of course, evangelicals are not the only ones guilty of abandoning the treasures of historic Protestant worship. Various churches in the ELCA and Missouri Synod have begun to experiment with contemporary worship. The traditionalists in Reformed circles, if the periodical Reformed Worship, is any indication, have also begun to incorporate P&W in their services. And Roman Catholics, one of the genuine conservative constituencies throughout American history, have contributed to the mix with the now infamous guitar and polka mass. Yet, judging on the basis of worship practices, evangelicals look the most hypocritical. For six days a week they trumpet traditional values and the heritage of the West, but on Sunday they turn out to be the most novel. Indeed, the patterns of worship that prevail in most evangelical congregations suggest that these Protestants are no more interested in tradition than their arch-enemies in the academy.
A variety of factors, many of which stem from developments in post-1960s American popular culture, unite evangelicalism and the cultural left. In both movements, we see a form of anti-elitism that questions any distinction between good and bad (or even not so good), or between what is appropriate and inappropriate. Professors of literature have long been saying that the traditional literary canon was the product, or better, the social construction of a particular period in intellectual life which preserved the hegemony of white men, but which had no intrinsic merit. In other words, because aesthetic and intellectual standards turn out to be means of sustaining power, there is no legitimate criteria for including some works and excluding others.
The same sort of logic can be found across the country at week-night worship planning committee meetings. It is virtually impossible to make the case â€” without having your hearers go glassy-eyed â€” that “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” is a better text and tune than “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” and, therefore, that the former is fitting for corporate worship while the latter should remain confined to Christian radio. In the case of evangelicals, the inability to make distinctions between good and bad poetry and music does not stem so much from political ideology (though it ends up abetting the cause) as from the deeply ingrained instinct that worship is simply a matter of evangelism. Thus, in order to reach the unchurched the churched have to use the former’s idiom and style. What is wrong with this picture?
The traditionalists are of no help here. Rather than trying to hold the line on what is appropriate and good in worship, most of those who are devoted full-time to thinking about liturgy and worship, the doorkeepers of the sanctuary as it were, have generally adopted a “united-colors-of-Benetton” approach to the challenge of contemporary worship. For instance, a recent editorial in a Reformed publication says that the old ways â€” the patterns which used Buxtehude rather than Bill Gaither, “Immortal, Invisible” rather than “Do Lord,” a Genevan gown instead of a polo shirt â€” have turned out to be too restrictive. Churches need to expand their worship “repertoire.” The older predilection was “white, European, adult, classical, with a strong resonance from the traditional concert hall.” But this was merely a preference and reflection of a specific “education, socio-economic status, ethnic background, and personality.” Heaven forbid that anyone should appear to be so elitist. For the traditional “worship idiom” can become “too refined, cultured, and bloodless. . . too arrogant.” Instead, we need to encourage the rainbow coalition â€” “of old and young, men and women, red and yellow, black and white, classical and contemporary.” And the reason for this need of diversity? It is simply because worship is the reflection of socio-economic status and culture. Gone is any conviction that one liturgy is better than another because it conforms to revealed truth and the order of creation, or that one order of worship is more appropriate than another for the theology which a congregation or denomination confesses. Worship, like food or clothes, is merely a matter of taste. Thus the logic of multi-culturalism has infected even those concerned to preserve traditional liturgy.
The Baylys would have us believe that 2k and the spirituality of the church are responsible for moving the church in radical and liberal directions. As Tom McGinnis would say, â€œAre you kidding me!?â€