By: Rev Ed Schneider
Have you ever noticed that whenever anyone becomes passionately connected with any idea, issue or item of contention, they become so isolated within their beliefs that it seems impossible to have a comfortable conversation on the subject? Let subjects like school prayer, Iraq, the environment, or the innate evil of either the Democratic or Republican parties come up in the course of daily conversation and inevitably someone will be sure to offer a series of excited utterances. Heaven forbid anyone is foolish enough to offer a dissenting thought or two! All too often, in the mind of the person who is overtly passionate about the subject at hand, there will appear a sense of arrogant indignation followed by what can only be described as an Oscar winning performance of “OMG, the world is ending!”
This same effect can be seen regularly both inside and outside of the local church. It can be quite difficult for some people to balance whatever they view as “church tradition” and the liberty of the Gospel. On one side of this balancing act is the challenge of holding the traditions of “the church” both dear and honorable while expecting, recognizing and applauding the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit which moves and manufactures as it pleases, regardless of humanity’s limitations or “comfort zones.”
This kind of challenge between freedom and liturgical orthodoxy is a constant battleground. The expression of God’s Holy Spirit and the security of the church doctrinal stances on subjects such as music, prayer, worship, evangelism, youth interaction, communion and baptism have all risen up throughout the life of the church and its congregational membership.
It is amazing to me how some people will present their views in such an outrageously over-the-top way when it comes to this “comfort zone” thinking. Why is it that people can lose their “last mind” when their emotions take over their reasoning? Whenever we find ourselves locked in a way of thinking that eliminates the respect of dissenting views, we most assuredly lose any real hope for authentic communication.
This kind of out-of-control impassioned thinking and its accompanying expression often reminds me of the ongoing argument between those who place great value on individual rights and those who place equal level of authority within the assumptions of protecting those who are least able to take care of themselves. Of course, I am referring to the back and forth debates and accompanying arguments within the area of anti-abortion/women’s rights.
If we could learn how to approach those passionately involved in any area of personal philosophy with alternative questions that are based on trying to find common ground without falling victim to “paralyzing language,” we would have a better opportunity of reaching the goal of solving a problem or advancing an important issue.
Good examples of respectful and searching questions concerning the abortion/women’s rights positions that would foster a redefining of conversation as well as understanding could be:
• Is it important, if not foundational, to our humanity to care for those who are unable to care for themselves?
• Isn’t perfectly reasonable for any person to passionately guard against any forced imposition of hurt or harm towards his or her own body?
• Is it proper for society at large to try and save any person who is on the verge of suicide, even if it is their personal choice to do so?
• What would anyone think if “the government” showed up at your door tomorrow morning and told you that your perfectly healthy daughter is going to have to have her leg amputated? I’m quite sure that somewhere in the angered response would be, “Who are you to tell my daughter what she should or shouldn’t do with her own body?”
I think that much of the problem that people find themselves in regarding addressing any conflict of thought, public policy or institutional tradition is the rather immediate habit of purely emotional responses. One quick lesson of life that my grandmother taught me comes to mind. “Not everything requires an immediate response.” In other words, shut up, listen well, think, try to find common ground first, be respectful of an opposing view and then speak only if necessary.
All of this leads me to music in the church.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly an intense argument will ensue when the subject of altering what, when, who and how music is to be presented in the local church. Truthfully, with all of the other life shattering issues we could be upset about, why are some of us about to come to both spiritual and physical blows over music? Again, when emotions rule, the process of reason is invited out of the room.
Beloved, we need a little dose of reality. Those who claim their Book of Hymns are sacred and should be honored are absolutely lying! They don’t know most of the hymns in the first place, and let an unfamiliar hymn be offered up in worship and “holy hell” will be raised.
For those who claim to have great disgust for those “stiff-necked” old hymns, you also need to stop lying. If what you are searching for is more upbeat rhythmic content and simplicity of melodic expression – just like the music you listen to on BET or MTV – then you are cheapening the expression of God and cheapening your own personal experience with some of the great music of the church. You also need to take a long look in the “mirror of motivation.”
In the New Testament book of Revelation, chapter 14:3, it says,
And a new song was being sung in front of God’s throne and in front of the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn that song, except the 144,000 who had been rescued from the earth.
I find it interesting that apparently only the ones who had proven their ultimate value to God – those who had received the favored seat of eternal victory – were rewarded with a new song – the same “new song” that would be sung in front of God’s very own throne. So maybe all of us church folk who claim to be saved ought to lighten up on receiving the “new” music. It may be just the song God wants sung or played that will glorify who and what the Creator is and does.
In contrast, Revelation 15:2-3 says, in part,
…the ones who had defeated the beast and the idol and the number that tells the name of the beast. God had given them harps, and they were singing the song that his servant Moses and the Lamb had sung.
The above scriptural sequence paints the picture of those who have stood the test of spiritual warfare and found themselves singing a “very old song” to celebrate their victory. God had given those who claimed victory a harp that would elevate their musical proclamation so that every person would have the privilege to joyously proclaim God’s greatness – through an “old” song.
What these two scriptures tell us is that both old and new songs are not only to be cherished and expected, but also to be encouraged.
So beloved, let’s just lighten up our emotional reactions and try a new song in a new way. You might find you will like it if you focus on its message. Also, those who think there are no good hymns at all – wake up! The musical traditions of the church are not all bad. Most are a treasure of greatness in the life of the church itself.
I would encourage you to listen and meditate on the words of these great hymns and you may just find that God will speak to your heart.