Sunday, January 15, 2017

Spectators, not Participants

"Church" has shifted its meaning. When we use the word we likely think of that building on the corner where Christians gather. If we're thinking, we might also think of the entire group of Christians down through the ages, the "Church" with a capital C. But what we've forgotten is the actual intent of the word translated "church" in our Bibles.

Jesus used the word first. "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (Matt 16:18) That was it -- "My church". "My ἐκκλησία." "My ekklēsia." "Stan, we've told you this before. It's all Greek to us." Yes, indeed. The word referred to the "called out" ones. Oh, wait, hang on. Where's the building on the corner? Where's the monolith of historical Christendom? No, "church" was neither of those. "Church" refers to the corporate group known as "the elect", those specially called out by God to be His own.

When you see this, the contrast between gathering together of those who are Christ's for the purpose of loving relationship, fellowship, rebuke, exhortation, edification, worship, mutual support, bearing one another's burdens, stimulating one another to love and good deeds, and so on with today's version might be drastic. Today we are perfectly happy attending church. It isn't necessarily an immersion; it's just something we do. Go, sing some songs, hear a good sermon (hopefully), "get fed spiritually", maybe greet a few friends, and then go home. Not really the same thing, are they?

Take, for instance, music in church. Scripture records that on the night that Jesus was arrested, Scripture records, "After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." (Matt 26:30) Traditionally drawn from the Psalms -- especially Psalms 113-118 -- the word refers generally to any song of worship. Paul and Silas sung hymns in prison (Acts 16:25). Paul included them as part of the standard worship gathering (1 Cor 14:26). There he said, "Let all things be done for edification." Paul commanded in both Ephesians and Colossians to speak to one another with hymns (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

Somehow, then, it all seems quite strange how we've become more and more spectators rather than participants in church -- the gathering of the elect. Somehow we've absorbed a different perspective on music -- the world's perspective. More and more churches are treating music as performance rather than participation. We specialize with bands and musicians and singers. We turn up the volume and turn down the lights like any good concert. We've bought the idea that innovation is good in itself, where newer is better -- out with the old; in with the new. Not because it is better, but because innovation is good. We make music about quality rather than content. In doing it, we introduce syncretism. Syncretism is the blending of practices. For example, when Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in the Caribbean, they found it easier to blend the religion of the islands with the religion of Catholicism than try to make them change. The result is Santeria, a mixture of Catholism and pantheistic spiritism. The same blending can be seen in churches when the world's "Let's use music to entertain and amuse" bleeds into the church music.

What we've forgotten is music as message. Paul says to "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (Col 3:16) Teach and admonish? With music? That's what Paul says. It is a different perspective than ours. We would need to change our outlook on music in church. We would need to select music for worshipers, not singers. We would need to emphasize the performers rather than the performance because the performers are the congregation, not the leaders. We would have to aim at teaching rather than performing. That would require minimizing performance in the front instead of the careful staging, lighting, and presentation so many go for today. We would need to have a focus on the congregation, engaging them rather than putting on a good show. We would aim for worship rather than "good sound" and "good feelings".

Does worship music matter? I think so. Is it important to sing together? Scripture says it is. There is a joy we share when we sing together. There is a shared sense of community when we sing together. There is the unexpected benefit of remembering Scripture when it is put to music better than when it is not. There are lots of benefits to congregational singing. The fact that it is declining in our day is not an improvement.

Church is the gathering of those called by God. It is for sharing our gifts, both natural and spiritual. It is for edification (Eph 4:12-16) and exhortation. It is for spurring one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24) and assisting each other to hold fast our confession (Heb 10:23). Church is the ultimate interactive event, both with God and with the saints. It is much, much bigger than that little building on the corner where we can go and get fed when we want. When that's what it is to us, we've purchased and extremely meager meal when a feast was available.

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