What is the cure, Doctor?

With various issues brought into the light of day, and a number of apparently unaddressed needs discussed, the picture being painted might appear to be a tad bleak. In the face of some of the issues that may well be the case. As a side note, I have just started to read John MacArthur’s latest book (The Truth War) and discovered that I have been harping on roughly the same track. It is encouraging on the one hand to find that much greater thinkers are proposing similar concerns, but discouraging in that it further confirms my suspicions. That having been said, however, I am still naive enough to think that there are a number of simple prescriptions to move things back toward the yellow brick road.

Let me also state that there are surely many other better answers and approaches than those proposed here. That having been said, anxiety about inadequate answers can be an excuse for inaction and decline. For those old enough to recall a TV show named WKRP in Cincinnati, the series opening show had the newly self-named Dr. Johnny Fever exclaiming on the air “Give it to me straight, Doctor. I can take it”. With that in mind, we shall wade in boldly and see what happens.

Overall, I think that we can preserve much of the popular ‘look and feel’ changes that seem to delight people, while still re-incorporating the foundational basics. The point here is not to declare all current changes as unwanted and throw the baby out with the bath water, but to use the present preferential changes to enhance the foundational basics. The problem to date has often been that the new approaches have replaced the basics and not enhanced them, as if these modern preferences formed an equally valid theology of their own. That is surely the road to apostasy!

The other present day reality is that of financial resources. A great advantage to the re-incorporation of the foundational, biblical content is that is it relatively cost free. This also conveniently removes a major excuse.

One key is to give those foundational basics at least as much emphasis as the newer issues. Moreover, in order to re-orient things, it may be required in the short run to put more emphasis on the issues to be re-established as foundational. The next, but likely the most important, key is consistency. The foundational basics must be consistently and persistently taught, preached, discussed and thought about until they are second nature and endemic in the congregation’s paradigm. This second point is absolutely crucial to success. Application of those two changes alone would likely yield a positive result even in the short them, but they must be actually applied, not simply thought about about or talked about.

So how can we practically combine the present and the foundational basics? Here is an off-the-cuff action list (in no particular order of importance) for starters:

1. Blended contemporary and traditional worship – many do this now and it seems to work well.
2. Preaching which is foundational and biblical at least 75% of the time. This means exposition, not excess commentary and particularly not application!
3. A congregational approach to familiarity (preferably with some memorization) with foundational Bible verses.
4. Bible reading, both individual and congregational (this is not small group bible study from a booklet).
5. Congregational education on the denominational doctrines and distinctives to a level of repeatability.
6. A provision for and endorsement of congregational prayer, specific as well as generic.
7. Church leadership (beyond the paid pastoral staff) actively and obviously engaged in the clear Biblical requirements – spiritual guidance, teaching, preaching and congregational care.

And one further point, more an attitude than an action – Forget church growth! It is a side effect of Glorifying our Lord, not an activity.

That is a start. It will no doubt offend the “church is boring, you must engage people to draw them to the Gospel” set. Good! That would indicate that we are at least actually discussing the issues. Points two and possibly four could use some expansion since two is so pivotal and four is such a strong focus in today’s church, but that can wait until the next article.

Within the points listed there is a basic framework for at least a beginning toward more general biblical literacy. And that is real literacy, not just talk about it and vague references. This might just yield an assembly of people who actually are of the Book


8 thoughts on “What is the cure, Doctor?

  1. cnaphan

    One thing I would like is for people to stop using the word “worship” as a synonym for “music”. French Protestants call the service, “the worship” (le culte) which is a little better but still wrong. The Bible never speaks of music as being the same as worship or vice versa. Even the word “praise” is the term for “music”, since music should be able to express more than praise, like adoration, confession, lamentation, etc… The issue is that we want a fancy word to exalt our own music.

    I would also like to see more music taken directly from the psalter. These are songs given to us by God, hundreds of them. Why do we consistently choose songs written by men, and modern men at that? Even if the newer songs are inspired by Biblical texts, which most are, is this not the same question as whether we’re “of” the Bible or “about” the Bible? Is God not catchy enough anymore?

  2. kwilson

    On your first point, I hadn’t thought of it that way and I agree for the most part. To use music and worship synonymously is very limiting and certainly Biblically incorrect in meaning. Implying that it is effectively a modern form of arrogance it very interesting and certainly fits with some of my discussion.

    On the second, I would also agree. There are a number for Reformed Presbyterian churches that sing only Psalms. Though I am not sure I would go that far and would miss other music, I do find that in general many of the old hymns are more meaty and theologically meaningful and sound. Though many newer songs convey the emotional experience, they are lacking in substance for a steady diet and for real understanding.

    In both cases, but particularly the second, we return to the substitution of the moments of experience for solid knowledge. Though the experiential moments are certainly significant, as the only foundation they a dangerous foundation to build upon and unlikely to withstand serious tribulation.

  3. Andrew

    I’m afraid I have to throw my hat in to the ring here on this music thing.

    I agree with the first point, and would say that worship music is a subset of all that is worship. On top of that, I’ll say that Christian music intersects with all that is worship.

    Most church-attenders make a distinction between “old hymns” and the “new stuff.” A couple of years ago I realized that this distinction was trivial at best, and it’s a head space we need to get out of in order to think clearly about church music. One reason is that at one time the old hymns were considered the “new stuff.”

    Even though your wife may know, academically, that you love her, she still wants to be told periodically. And it’s probably a good practice for a husband to be in to tell his wife how he feels, and to do so frequently. If we take the model of church music and apply it here, there are two ways to do this. One way is to tell a friend, hoping your wife overhears. The other way is to tell her directly. Now, I’m not even remotely married, so I’ll leave it up to you to tell me which you think would go over better.

    Furthermore, when telling your wife how you feel about her, how much you love her, do you list her attributes? “Oh, sweetheart. You’re 5’6″, you have brown hair down to your shoulders, with a 7 to 10 waist to hip ratio. On your right hand, your index finger is longer than your ring finger, and your purse goes very well with your shoes!” (I think I missed the Bryan Adams love song where he does that.)

    I learned that a much better distinction to make when considering music for church is songs that are “about God” and songs that are “to God.” A lot of the “old hymns” have wonderful theology, but it occurrs to me “WHO CARES?!”

    For my own personal worship time, I would take my guitar out and pour out my heart before God. Then I realized half the time I was just singing about God, and hoping He overheard. (I love the song “It Is Well”, it’s got some good theology, but it didn’t seem to fit the purpose.) Other times, I would sing a song that was pretty light on theology, but fit the purpose perfectly. (The song “I Love You, Lord” really doesn’t have any theology, but doesn’t it just say it all?) I tell ya, there’s nothing like playing a song like “Hallelujah, You Love Is Amazing”, looking out into the congregation and seeing people, with hands lifted up, eyes closed, absolutely lost in worship, in the presence of God, and worshiping with all their hearts.

    You can tell when I pick music for a Sunday morning. The first set will be songs about God, and the second set will be songs to God. I think that that’s an appropriate response to a sermon.

    Not that I have anything against theology in church music. And I would have an issue with a song with incorrect theology. I just don’t see theology as being the main point of worship music.

    Also notice, I don’t use the terms “worship music” and “church music” interchangeably. “Worship music” is music for worshiping God, and “church music” is music we either sing in church, or could concievably sing in church, whether it’s “worship music” or a song about how happy I am to be saved, and how I must pass it on.


    Gee….if I keep leaving comments this long I’ll have to start my own blog

  4. kwilson

    Thanks for stepping in, Andrew. I guess that I have to come back to my comment about using a blended mix (point number 1). That likely addresses the “you can’t please all of the people…” to whatever degree is possible without splitting services on style grounds.

    For myself, I think that many of the current songs are wonderful. They appeal to me strongly. I would like a tad more theology in some cases and that is where the more traditional hymns in the mix come it. Some of the modern ones I personally would class as ‘in the car’ music rather that in the service, but that is just my preference.

    As to “who care?”, well many do, including me. One common complaint about modern lyrics is that they use endless, and as a result possibly mindless, repetition. In some cases I would have to agree. I have occasionally thought “great song, but please end it before I go to sleep”. Without some meat in there for the mind that is what happens for many people. But I grant that your mileage may vary.

    Another interesting comment that was made to me by a mature (but not old) church attendee brought up something that I had not thought about. They said that the tone of some modern songs was too human love oriented, and that they found it disrespectful in terms of addressing the Lord. They felt quite strongly that it moved from the love of the Lord to the love of ones human sweet heart. They found this inappropriate in tone. They did not sing in the congregation on those songs. A few questions indicated that they were not totally alone in this evaluation. I am not championing this view but I do see it, and it can not simply be dismissed.

    Lots to think about.

  5. Andrew

    As for the repetition, that has more to do with the music team than anything else. (WARNING: We may repeat “Awesome God” this Sunday more than some might like.) And I think that’s a matter of taste. I’m having trouble picturing God getting angry with a church for repeating a worship song a few too many times (or too few) for my liking.

    As to the love expression of some church music being too human love oriented, I will have to think about that, and do some research. But this does bring to light something I have been thinking about over the past couple of years. I think there is a common lack of understanding as to what worship actually _is_. Most Christians can tell tell you it’s good to worship God, and we do so because He is worthy. A good number will even tell you that worship includes, but is not limited to, song. They may be able to list a few attributes of worship, but few will be able to give a good definition of what worship is.

    Perhaps we need some good, group study (Biblically based, of course) on what worship actually is, or what it’s supposed to be, and what some examples are (including a certain king of Israel dancing before the Lord). Only with a full understanding, including an operational definition, of what worship is can we intelligently debate that which we’ve been debating here. Then we can understand of some love music really is disrespectful or not. Going back to that certain king of Israel, I think a number of Bapti^H^H^H^H^Hpeople might think of some of his stuff to be disrespectful, but he’s one of the best pictures of Jesus that appears in the Bible, and the history of the world. Incidentally, he’s also credited with writing a great number of the Psalms.

  6. kwilson Post author

    Let me go back to a blended mixture of worship styles again as the apparent answer. In the end, the style is just part of the mix.

    Actually, I only put the music point in there for completeness, not realizing it would draw attention. Overall I think it is a point of preference. Though studying it might be interesting, whether casting a result as correct is a matter for discussion.

    Of more significance to the current discussion, if the foundational side is in place, then the music will reflect that understanding, in whatever for it is expressed. It it is not, then the worship style becomes a moot issue.

    If you worship in whatever style on the parapets of a castle built on sand, then when the tide shifts it will be washed away irregardless. Likewise, if you are on the castle with a foundation of the rock of Scripture, then it will not.

    In terms of the mode of expression of love specifically, as voiced by a fellow believer, that would be an area for examination. The fact that life long believers object to the point of non-participation at least merits a hearing.

    I think that this might merit a new thread…

  7. cnaphan

    I’d say song is conducive to worship, but I still think it’s not worship.

    I am curious as to what “human-love oriented” refers to. I do notice that in many songs, if the word “Jesus” were replaced by “baby”, you’d have a pretty good Top 40 song, so that might be “human-love oriented”. On the other hand, I don’t honestly think I can conceive of any love other than human love, which is why we say “the Son” and “our Father”, “the Bridegroom”. I suspect he’s partially right in his critique, but then again, I’m sure some were put off by Jesus always referring to God as “dad”, when perfectly good titles like “Sovereign Lord of Hosts” were available.

    As far as the age of our hymns, this is irrelevant. First off, my wife’s definition of “old hymn” is “like, from the 70’s”. Even if they’re from the 1670’s, they are still relatively modern. Older music tends to sound slow and grating on the ears. We certainly shouldn’t be distracted by the antiquated music, which is all it would do. Even if they dug up a hymn written by St.Peter himself, it wouldn’t be necessarily better than a song written last week.

    I may be wrong about this, but Paul quotes a strange line “Rise up, Sleeper and let Christ’s light shine on you”, which sounds to me like it comes from a hymn (or maybe a common prayer). It’s strangely comforting to know that they had lousy hymns back then too.

  8. kwilson Post author

    [quote comment=”100″]I am curious as to what “human-love oriented” refers to. I do notice that in many songs, if the word “Jesus” were replaced by “baby”, you’d have a pretty good Top 40 song, so that might be “human-love oriented”. [/quote]

    That is what I took from the lady’s comment. She found it too familiar, rather than offensive. In that, she was just uncomfortable with it. I heard a similar sentiment from a couple of others. I must also add that these were all people in a demographic group over the age of 40. Nonetheless it merited mention.

    [quote comment=”100″] Even if they dug up a hymn written by St.Peter himself, it wouldn’t be necessarily better than a song written last week.

    It’s strangely comforting to know that they had lousy hymns back then too.[/quote]

    Amen to both. Again, I think that it is question of preference in most cases. I definitely have my preferences and they are not held my many people. Neither preference is valid in an objective sense. Sounds shockingly like relativism, but with the exception of heretical or diss-respectful content, that is what preferential areas are and likely the one place they are relatively harmless (though I have to think about it some more).

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