Replanting a Church: A Comment Regarding Worship for the Readers to Respond to

I get emails —

I read your 11/24 commentary about M.Smith concert.  Not as concerned about ‘bodily movement’ and clapping as about what is actually going on.  So, you believe these people are teaching one another and growing spiritually?  If so… we could ask them about what Michael said… what Scriptures he quoted… what the substance was.

A parallel:  I work in the same complex in Houston as the largest North American church:  Lakewood.  I see folks pouring in on Wednesday evening (I use the same parking garage); I talk to them.  What are they going to hear?  Shallow root-less ‘be successful’ teaching by J.Osteen.  But they LOVE his concerts.  That is the 21st century cultural model you are defending:  Christianity that has the root structure of a field of corn?  That is why folks cannot think through the ethical decisions they face.  They have very little understanding of the Word of the Lord.  I hear it day after day as I chat with folks where I work.  They have almost no concept of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, even when they worship somewhere.  Some do not have any understanding of the letters of Paul!  If you are suggesting that the 21st Century model of concerts is helping people grow spiritually, nope, do not believe it anymore than I believe the high-octane Dionysus concerts that lasted for centuries were spiritually uplifting (after all, in our time ‘God’ can be whoever we say he/she is, right?… compliments of The Shack).

PS — And yes, I believe in worship assemblies that are meditative at times and also exuberantly joyful.  People need both.

Dear readers,

I’ve written three draft responses to this email, but I’m not happy with any of them. And so I thought I’d post some background material and ask you all to respond to the email in the comments as you see fit.

Jay

Michael W. Smith

In my post, I linked to the following YouTube video of Michael W. Smith in concert.

YouTube Preview Image

He was singing “You Are Holy (Prince of Peace).” Here are the lyrics —

You are holy (You are holy)
You are mighty (You are mighty)
You are worthy (You are worthy)
Worthy of praise (Worthy of praise)
And I will follow (I will follow)
I will listen (I will listen)
I will love you (I will love you)
All of my days (All of my days)

(Guys)
I will sing to
And worship
The King who is worthy
I will love Him, adore Him
And I will bow down before Him
I will sing to and worship the King who is worthy
I will love Him, adore him
I will bow down before Him

(Girls)
He is Lord of Lords
He is King of Kings
He is mighty God
Lord of everything

He’s Emmanuel
He’s the great “I AM”
He’s my Prince of Peace
Who is the Lamb

He’s the living God
He’s my saving grace
He will reign forever
He is ancient of days

He’s the Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End
He’s my Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, and friend

(Both:)
He’s my Prince of Peace and I will live my life for you.

You are holy (You are holy)
You are mighty (You are mighty)
You are worthy (You are worthy)
Worthy of praise (Worthy of praise)
And I will follow (I will follow)
I will listen (I will listen)
I will love you (I will love you)
All of my days (All of my days)

(Guys)
I will sing to
And worship
The King who is worthy
I will love Him, adore Him
And I will bow down before Him
I will sing to and worship the King who is worthy
I will love Him, adore him
I will bow down before Him

(Girls)
He is Lord of Lords
He is King of Kings
He is mighty God
Lord of everything

He’s Emmanuel
He’s the great “I AM”
He’s my Prince of Peace
Who is the Lamb

He’s the living God
He’s my saving grace
He will reign forever
He is ancient of days

He’s the Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End
He’s my Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, and friend

(Both:)
He’s my Prince of Peace and I will live my life for you.

(guys)
I will sing to
And worship
The King who is worthy
I will love Him, adore Him
And I will bow down before Him
I will sing to and worship the King who is worthy
I will love Him, adore him
I will bow down before Him

(Girls)
You are Lord of Lords
You are King of Kings
You are mighty God
Lord of everything

You’re Emmanuel
You’re the great “I AM”
You’re my Prince of Peace
Who is the Lamb

You’re the living God
You’re my saving grace
You will reign forever
You are ancient of days

You’re the Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End
You’re my Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, and friend

(Both:)
You’re my Prince of Peace and I will live my life for you.(2x)

Dionysus Cult

According to Ray Vander Laan

Dionysus was considered to be the source of fertility for the grapevines, and one of his symbols was the phallus. He was also viewed as the source of life, so ceremonies dedicated to him included a variety of sexually immoral practices. The cult attracted the common people because it promised eternal life to worshipers and catered to human lusts aroused by the pagan cults. Drunkenness and sexual immorality was so extreme during celebrations in Dionysus’ honor that his worship was banned for a time in Rome because it was too perverted! Again, Satan created a counterfeit to take credit for the things of God: eternal life, happiness, purpose, and fertility.

The cult was so immoral that the Roman Senate — hardly a paragon of virtue — banned it in Italy.

I think it may well be true that parts of Ephesians were written with the Dionysus cult in mind —

(Eph 4:18-19)  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

(Eph 4:22-23)  You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds …

(Eph 5:11-12)  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.

(Eph 5:18-21 ESV)  18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ..

I use the ESV for 5:18-21, because it’s one of the few translations to follow the Greek in showing that the verses are all one sentence. I think it affects the meaning.

The Shack

John Mark Hicks has written a series of essays on the book that I find extraordinary. See “Theological Reflections on The Shack by William P. Young” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Hicks writes regarding the use of a black woman to represent God in The Shack,

In fact, it is a brillant move. I know people who cannot connect with the Father’s love because their own father was so abusive. If they opened their shacks and saw their fathers, they would hesitate, doubt, and reject the “love” offered. Their hearts would leap with fear rather than delight. But if they open their shacks and saw that God has come to them in a theophanic form (metaphor) which connects with loving experiences in their own life, then they would more readily embrace the love offered. God meets us in our personal experiences in ways that best communicate his love for us.

Scripture uses feminine metaphors to describe God’s love for his people (cf. Isaiah 49:15). Young simply uses the metaphor in an extended way to make the same point that Biblical authors do. It is not an indentification but a metaphor or a theopany of divine love.

God, of course, is neither African American nor Asian nor Western. God, of course, is neither male nor female. God transcends and at the same time encompasses such categories. Masculinity and femininity are both aspects of the divine nature since we (male and female) were created in the image of God. Whether black or white or red or yellow–as we sing the children’s song, the diverse ethnicity and colors are also aspects of God’s own diversity (the Trinity) and his love for the diverse character of creation.

Young recognizes the relative way in which God appears as a African American woman by changing the metaphor when Papa leads Mack to Missy’s body. On that day Mack would need a father, that is, he would need the human qualities that father’s represent, and Papa comes to him as male. The form in which God appears to Mack is relative to Mack’s needs as God seeks to commune and communicate the truth about himself with his beloved.

The theological truth is that God is delighted to meet us at our shacks. Young communicates this through an African American metaphor for the Father because it is what Mack needs (and how Young found recovery in his journey through addiction).

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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18 Responses to Replanting a Church: A Comment Regarding Worship for the Readers to Respond to

  1. Scott Stegall says:

    Does God require His people to judge His people? The blanket condemnation of one Follower to unknown Others makes me hurt inside…..

  2. Weldon says:

    If so… we could ask them about what Michael said… what Scriptures he quoted… what the substance was.

    Another of Michael W. Smith's songs called Above All has the following lyrics:

    "Above all powers, above all kings,
    Above all nature and all created things
    Above all wisdom and all the ways of man
    You were here before the world began
    Above all kingdoms above all thrones
    Above all wonders the world has ever known
    Above all wealth and treasures of the earth
    There's no way to measure what You're worth
    Crucified – laid behind a stone
    You lived to die rejected and alone
    Like a rose trampled on the ground
    You took the fall and thought of me above all."

    Try telling me that that doesn't have substance – that that doesn't teach. It is entirely too easy to be cynical toward expressions of worship that are different than what one has grown accustom to.

  3. Guy says:

    i'm really not sure what to say about the particular points made by the email. i gather you were trying to respond to particular arguments. What struck me about the email was just the general concern that worship being like a concert will more likely produce shallow worshipers and edifiers rather than depth.

    we sing the song you mention plus the song weldon mentioned at my congregation and their good songs. but i have to say, after having recently attended a U2 concert, i have my doubts about the "concert approach" to worship.

    –Guy

  4. Kyle says:

    My one counter would be you could ask those same questions of many of our churches regardless of worship styles or preachers.

    But I will agree that most of what I've heard Joel Osteen teach via television (on the occassional Sunday morning) woud be what i would consider at best shallow and at worse a complete misrepresentation of the gospel. But I'm sure the same could be said for some things I teach.

  5. Larry Short says:

    I have no problem with Smith or Osteen. Both do provide good Bible lessons. I am saddened by people who choose a church for entertainment over buliding a Godly life. I'm very saddened that church leaders would bulid a weak body.
    We need to teach them and try to do better ourselves.

  6. Neal Roe says:

    Dear "People Need Both":

    Please go your pew Sunday morning and steal a Songs of the Church or whatever version your using based on your being progressive or conservative. Take the book home and see how few of our songs are Biblical. How many are out of touch with our needs today. How many are from other denominations. How many are just plain wrong in light of the Word. That's redundent I know but it hurts to actually sing some of the songs that some just can't live without.

    As for your concern, "Some do not have any understanding of the letters of Paul!" Romans 15:4 says, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." Paul was writing about the Old Testament here. Let's go back to the Psalms, worshiping in truth using the music of David, Asaph, and all their musicians. I'd even settle for a good old Gregorian Chant on some Sundays. We need to reach the world with the message of Jesus or we're just whistlin in the wind.

    Above all have grace because we sure need it and the Lord sure has it. Thank you, God for hearing our praise no matter how messed up we make it at times.

  7. jamesbrett says:

    I struggle a great deal with attractional models of church and evangelism, which might include the "concerts" that are being discussed here. When we are bringing people to events, there is always danger of being shallow — especially events that are / can be of interest to the general (and non-Christian) public.

    But at the same time, I understood the point of your original post, Jay, to be that when a group of Christians is together singing praises to God, there should be joy, and a full expression of that joy. I'm completely on board with that.

    To me, it's just sad that we've relegated "worship" to what we do on Sunday mornings or in organized and planned events. I understand that we all know better, but I wish we'd redeem the word worship, and give it back its true meaning. The way we use it now is just plain poor theology, and encourages a distinction between the spiritual and the secular.

  8. Jody B says:

    Weldon, you nailed it.

  9. bradstanford says:

    Indeed, rather than attractional, the church is supposed to be immersional, described in three types: water, spirit, and community. Like the three legs of a stool, if any are missing, the end product is much less effective.

  10. Tim Archer says:

    Thought I'd mention that John Mark Hicks just brought out an e-book with his articles on The Shack:
    http://johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/mee

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  11. stan says:

    People are not always successful in translating their feelings, thoughts, and concerns effectively. What they say or write many times misses the mark of what is in their heart. We all know this, and we see it in the things people write on this blog. Of course, in our minds we conceive that many are just not as informed as they think they are, and we think we see through their pitiful, shallow ideas.

    There is something legitimate behind the thoughts expressed at the beginning of this blog. The comments remind me of a couple I know who worshiped at the church Max Lucado teaches at. The couple had been worshipping with the church for years, but after moving to a different city, they aligned themselves with those who spinkle infants . . . as if the word of God and Jesus' example didn't matter. Their comment was that they only worhipped where Max Lucado was at because they loved the music. They were drawn to the music.

    And so it was apparent that they were not drawn to the truth and the godly examples given by those who were leading them. They traded the truth for a lie.

    What the individual is weary of is when love for the truth . . . a hunger for righteousness . . . a desire to be more like Jesus . . . a desire to be Jesus to the world . . . takes a backseat and is replaced by a love for something else. Maybe love of music like the couple I described above. The individual senses that the worship he is describing is not really worhip of the Lord . . . but is rather…worship of self. It is a sense thing. His senses may be wrong . . . but then again his senses may be correct.

    We sing these songs at my congragation as well. I like these songs. They help me express love to my God. They build the congragation up. I understand these songs. At the same time, I also sense that there are others who just love the music. I too sense that there are some who are drawn to the music more than they are drawn to my Lord. When that occurs, they are no longer worhipping the Creator God. The focus has moved to self.

  12. todd says:

    But what if I am drawn to the music because it draws me closer to God? Is it still entertainment when it speaks to my heart, even though it doesn't speak to others?

  13. stan says:

    Todd,
    What do you mean "IF"?? That's how it should be for all of us. If it's not drawing us closer to God . . . then what is it drawing us to? And of course, if the music draws us to God, we will want more. I love great music that expresses my heart. I know you do too.

    At some point, though, the focus should be our Lord . . . not the music. This is something I deal with at times. I am a very musical person. 10 years of piano instruction (the three Bs) choral and vocal training . . . and lots of Boston, Queen, ABBA, ELO, Foreigner, hell yea. . . you know the great stuff. Sometimes I just love the music. It's like I'm loving it . . . but the Lord is not what is driving my joy. My joy comes from the sound and beauty, but not the beauty of the Lord. I seek a real joy that comes from the Lord. But I don't always have it.

  14. Jerry says:

    The problem I see here is that some are trying to blame a worship style or an evangelism technique for the shallow faith and understanding they witness in themselves or others. The truth is that a person's faith is only obtained by the working of the Holy Spirit (HS) in their hearts and by that person listening to the HS's prompting. If the only time you feel moved by the HS is in a worship service you have a fundamental heart problem. The error is not found in the style of worship used on Sunday, but it is found in the practice of ingoring God and the scriptures thoughout the rest of the week. I have seen this problem in the conservative churches of christ that I have been affiliated with over the years as well. Just show up, sing six songs, say 2 prayers, take communion, give a contribution, listen to a sermon, and then punchout till next week. If you are really good you showup Sunday PM and Wendesday PM.
    Everyone needs to get back to the word and what better way to do that then by teaching the lost about Jesus. Do that and you will see and feel the HS daily. Your worship, what ever style you use, will be forever changed when you worship beside someone that was lost but now is found.

  15. todd says:

    I guess the point I was hinting at was we should not condemn a worship practice simply because it does not appeal to us or is not to our exacting standards. As a preacher I feel the depth or shallowness of the service, is as Jerry suggests, more up to the worshipper, than the style. If I consistently provide good spiritual food, and the songs/music are Biblically sound the lack of spiritual growth on the part of others is not laid at my door.

    Also, again, if all we focus on is one hour a week our worship will ALWAYS be shallow, some will just be more fun to be around than others depending on your point of view.

  16. Does God stand on one foot and expect any one time of worship to be all things to all people and take them from never really having known Christ to belief and baptism and complete spiritual maturity by the time the parking lot is empty?

    It is sad when folks never leave the shallow end of the pool to learn how thrilling and beautiful and dangerous the deep can be. It's sad when those who hope to speak for and about Christ never call others to dive into the mysteries and draw them ever closer to the heart of God.

    But we all have to start someplace.

    Some ministries specialize in introducing people to God through Christ. Others are better at helping develop and deepen relationships. A few – I'd include Osteen's – completely misunderstand and therefore misrepresent who God is and the kind of eternal, spiritual wealth He wants for us … no matter what it costs Him or us. And some ministries just work better for some people at their present stage of life than others.

    I think the commenter can accurately say that a Michael W. Smith concert does not help him or her grow closer to God. I think it would be presumptuous to say that must therefore be true for everyone.

  17. Doug says:

    I love Praise music. I keep a picture of a Laughing Jesus on my computer desk so I can see it often. Even though God already knows how I love to praise him, it's my hopeful thought that he laughs along with me when I sing praises to him as in the song in question. Worship doesn't always have to be so serious, sometimes we need to let our worship boil over and it settles us for the more serious side of worship.

    I lead singing at Prison and Jail ministries. It's always helpful to have a rousing series of praise music and at the end of it, when the inmates are laughing and happy, they are ready to hear the Good News. If it works in Jail, it ought to work on Sunday morning.

  18. Snap Knight says:

    I'm thinking that something was amiss here. The Michael W. Smith concert was only the musical representation of worship. There are so many other facets; people respond differently to each of them.

    If we focus on only one aspect of worship, and minimize the others, then we do ourselves a huge disservice.

    I love a good rousing hand clapping, arms raised singing service. But I also love the other parts of the service and draw deep meaning from them as I praise my Lord and Savior.

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