Friday, March 5, 2010

Sectarianism Sucks

Regi Stone is the worship leader at Christ Church Nashville, the congregation I serve. Every Sunday he leads us in singing joyful songs that lift up our hearts. He composes many of the songs we sing, and other congregations around the country have adopted them for their own worship services.

That’s pretty much the extent to which I have known Regi.

The other day however, he sent me a prototype for a new worship magazine he is about to launch. I was blown away! The magazine was filled with stunning photography and wonderful articles by people from all parts of the Lord’s church. It was visually and theologically committed both to contemporary worship and to a deep 'rootedness' in the soil of our ancient faith.

Like many believers, I have been troubled by the American worship wars of the last decade or so. Some churches sing hymns but refuse to sing newer worship choruses. Other churches banish the organ, damn the choir to the outer regions of Hades, and only sing songs written in the last five weeks.

Largely, these churches are built around specific generations. Older people tend to like hymns; younger people tend to like praise choruses.

When the conflict gets really hot, each group refuses to share community with those whose musical tastes differ from its own.

Me? I like ancient, liturgical worship. I like Russian Orthodox chant. I like the great hymns of the Reformation. I like songs that make me think as well as feel.

I also like Matt Redman, Israel Houghton, and The Gettys.

I like C.C. Winans and really great black gospel choirs.

I really want it all. I want access to every part of the Lord’s church and all that every part of His church offers.

I think sectarianism sucks.

Jesus didn’t seem to like rigid religious categories either.

Nor cultural categories, for that matter.

Jesus was not a monk. He came from a working class family that lived in a poor village.

Nazareth was a crossroads where caravans of merchants made their way to and from the various cities and towns of what we now call the Middle East. This means he was exposed to many different types of people and languages.

Jesus was not the sort of Jew one might have found in Jerusalem, someone who might live most of his life with only minimal contact with those of other ethnic backgrounds. It would be too much to call Jesus cosmopolitan, certainly. However, neither would it be accurate to say he was from some isolated, rural background. Jesus was a child of the empire. He was keenly aware of his peoples’ heritage and that his people were a disadvantaged minority within the Roman Empire.

He was familiar with both farming and fishing, as we can see from his parables.

He seemed neither ill at ease with the wealthy nor the poor because he demonstrates an ease and familiarity with both.

He was not an ascetic, one who to seeks to gain God’s favor by living a severe life. In the time of Jesus, there were many such people, men who wandered through the desert trying to kill off all the desires of the flesh. Such people would provide a model for later Christian monks. John the Baptist may even have been one of them.

Jesus did not speak ill of the ascetics, but he was not one of them.

He was a friend of sinners and a lover of life.

He was, by his own testimony, a wine drinker and a meat eater. In fact, the gospel writer makes a point of the fact that Jesus began his ministry by blessing a wedding party and making more wine for it. The way he intentionally began his ministry demonstrated his claim that he came to give life, not to destroy the legitimate pleasures that enhance it.

He spoke often about Heaven and the appropriate use for self -sacrifice.

Upon occasion he would go on a spiritual retreat. During those time, he experienced severe, one might even say ascetic, deprivation. However, that was not his normal lifestyle.

Jesus was not overly fond of religious strictures and control and he famously challenged the Pharisees who adopted religious control as their core attitude toward life.

At the same time, Jesus believed most of what the Pharisees believed.

The Lord’s disciples were zealots, tax collectors, and fishermen. That would be like having a church with truck drivers, florists, members of the John Birch Society, and leaders of Acorn.

You just can’t nail Jesus down. He escapes all efforts to categorize Him.

So if you just hang out with Christians who sing like you, preach like you, and vote like you; well, it’s quite likely that your perception of Jesus has become terribly narrow. You may not know Him as well as you think.

Regi Stone has a great idea and I hope it soars to success. I’m going to try to help that happen if I can.

He doesn’t have an ax to grind or battle to win. He just wants us to listen to what others think about worshipping God – in song, in art, in prayer and in life.

Someday, Francis of Assisi is going to meet Matt Redman. The two of them will have a long conversation with Charles Wesley and Oral Roberts. John Calvin will ask Joel Osteen to explain his sermons and Sir Christopher Wren will want to know what the heck we were thinking when we decided to build church buildings that look like office parks.

Regi wants to do all that now.

Well, why not?

Jesus did.


J. C. "Jim" Rushing III said...

Salt must "touch" what it intends to change and influence; and, Light must be "in the presence" of what it illuminates. We are charged to be "missionaries" to the Board Room, the Ball Room and the Production Room and perform with Holy-Spirit enabled excellence to "win the right" to influence and to illuminate. May God constantly change us so that "as we go" we become that kind of Salt and Light. Eyes that are blinded and hearts that are hardened must be approached and must receive the life-changing ministry of the Salt and Light we claim we possess. Knowledge and/or Worship that changes nothing is weak. Nothing that touched the life and walk of Jesus Christ was ever the same. That's the model for the ministry of Salt and Light.

MLH said...

Good gravy! You can write faster than I can read. But, it's music to my ears.

pennyshire said...

Pastor Dan, this is by far one, one, of my favorite post! I love this, thank you! I'm looking forward to the release of Regi's newest creation, divinely guided visions, he's been empowered to share.