Tuesday, December 30, 2008


iMonk has a fantastic post today that I'm asking you to read and consider. It's about the opportunity that mainline churches have to reach out to evangelicals who are tired of the shallow, a-historical, stage-oriented, programmed worship and church life of the evangelical movement.

I am about to post a series on returning to the mainline. This article would be an excellent place for us to start talking.

Read it HERE, and join in the discussion. Please.


Daniel said...

Granted, imonk is free to choose to frame the question however he wants. But one gets the impression that he (along with many of the commenters) values the high church tradition more out of their his experiences and desires than an objective study and meditation on God and His purpose for the church.

This is especially seen when he dismisses evangelical worship so cavalierly as “shallow”, “grown-up youth group” and “worshiptainment” without any analysis of why those terms apply to most evangelical churches. There seems to be an unconscious bias that what is old and traditional is somehow deeper or more profound than what is newer and more spontaneous.

For example, the newer modern music is often criticized as shallow or trite (with the implication that the songs in the hymnal or more spiritual and doctrinal). When someone actually attempts to prove this point, they usually end up comparing the best songs of the past with the most vacuous songs of the present (and yes, “Our Love is Loud” does not compare well with, “A Mighty Fortress”). This should be seen as the fallacy it is. A song like, “How Great is Our God” has just as much biblical truth as almost any song in the hymnal, and “In Christ Alone” (Getty and Townend) makes many of the old hymns look almost infantile. If you doubt that last statement, then examine the words to “In Christ Alone” closely compared with such classics as, “Beyond the Sunset”, “O that will be Glory for me”, “I’d Rather have Jesus”, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” or any of the songs by Fanny Crosby (she has 16 contributions in my hymnal).

Obviously to compare things fully would take much work (easier to dismiss things with an insult).

Daniel said...

Perhaps a better question to ask than which format is “deeper” is to examine what God thinks of each style or worship. After all, it is His church, not ours. The difficulty here, or course, is that of discerning His thoughts on this. Since most of these issues are not directly addressed in the Scriptures, it will take serious reflection on those things that God has revealed about Himself.

In my own life, this has boiled down to the following principles regarding church and worship:

• Worship is, first and foremost, something that should please God
• God is pleased when worship is the true response of a person’s heart when seeing or understanding God’s glory and goodness
• God is pleased when the form of worship models His own attributes of truth and beauty
• God is pleased when worship exalts His attributes and nature, the work of Jesus, and the presence and power of the Spirit
• God is pleased when worship displays and celebrates both His transcendence and His immanence
• God is pleased when worship leads the worshippers to greater Christ-likeness

I certainly see areas where my own evangelical church does not measure up in several of these areas as much as it should (and I’m the one who gets to plan the services!), especially in the third, fifth and last items mentioned. I don’t have enough experience in mainline churches to comment very well on how they measure up here, and I don’t want to be guilty of hasty generalizations. I suspect, though, that just as I must be purposeful and intentional to help people to see the transcendence of God (that is, His absolute separation from and superiority to ourselves and our world), that many traditional churches might struggle to display His immanence (that is, His intimate presence and involvement in our lives). And while I cannot say I am satisfied with either my own or my church’s Christ-likeness, I will be frank enough to say that in my limited experience most evangelicals I know take this issue more seriously than those I have known from mainline churches (again, a generalization). Finally, I have lingering questions about how clearly many of the mainline churches proclaim the very heart of the gospel: Christ’s substitution for our sin on the cross.

This explains why I will not be heading down Main Street anytime soon (well, plus the fact that many mainline churches seem to place themselves above Scripture instead of below it). To modify a famous quote, “it takes the whole people of God to display the whole glory of God”, and so I am glad that liturgical churches exist, and I pray that those which preach the gospel will thrive.

laurie said...

Laurie said....

I appreciate the views of what is described to me as a change in our mainstream of worship. I am one of those who have left the church... in pursuit of a church which is not caught up in the conforming of rituals that hinder me from focusing on God. I enjoy Bible studies that I view/listen to from Pastors that have dedicated their ministry to Christian living... and interpret the meanings God speaks of in the Old and New Testaments. I like old style too, but realize that things change. I just don't want to be a part of a group that alleviates the world around me due to I feel strongly we each bring a purpose into the lives of others whether our work, our family life or through our experiences with others.

Michael Mercer said...

Daniel, as always, you are thoughtfully focused on the heart of the issue. Realize that iMonk is in the Southern Baptist Church and that he is responding in large part to things he sees in his own evangelical denomination. Plus, one cannot deny the influence of the Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks of the world, and it is that model, which has proven so pacesetting for the current generation of evangelicals that is being critiqued.

I hope you will read my upcoming series of posts, in which I will outline my own journey and why I think current evangelical practice misses the mark when it comes to worship, the pastoral office, and a missional focus.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, there is so little common understanding of terms and concepts. Evangelical? Mainline? Hymn? Liturgy? Spirit-filled? Essential? Biblical? Do enough people even know what these words mean to enable a conversation about it?

It is great that the "moment" is crystalizing. I was shocked when I first understood that the radical "emergent" movement is a rejection not of traditional Christianity but of contemporary evangelicalism. There is a lot of discontent out there.

God gives us some instructions for how we may worship him, and he gives us some freedom to adapt and interpret those rules to our culture and to our personal preferences. But are we a coherent enough culture...and are we capable of the scholarship and deliberation that will be necessary to sort things out again?