It has been about seven years since I took the course “Theology and Preaching in Worship” from Vanderbilt Divinity School under Dr. L. Susan Bond, but I will ever be thankful to her for her prodding of the students to have a sound theological rationale for all that we do. It was in that class that I was introduced to the marvelous works of the Lutheran theologian Marva Dawn.
Professor Dawn wrote a book entitled A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World. In this book, professor Dawn talks about the needs and purposes in worship. You may have seen me quote this book before.
Today, I wanted to look at this quote:
In our overly entertained, and blatantly consumerism-oriented culture, with little concern for serving the common good, many “churches” have become, in George Hunsberger’s masterful phrases, “vendors of religious services and goods,” instead of “a body of believers sent on a mission.”
Too often we see the church’s job as simply to fill the seats. We “reach” or “touch” unbelievers by catering and appealing to them. As we do this, the church becomes less like the “church” and more like the world that we are addressing. Please note that I am not speaking of music per-se. Definitely we should use all music at our disposal that we can to articulate the glory of God. But the point is to articulate the glory of God and to encourage and equip the church for its job of ministry in the world. If God transcends my own understanding, then certainly there will be times that certain music is used that may not exactly be to my liking.
However, Dawn here is encouraging us to see that the whole idea of choosing music based on “reaching the world” puts the church in a precarious position. Now instead of “worshiping God” as being the center of our choices we must change our style for the world. We must use methods of the world to attract the world. And what happens? If the world is a consumerist driven capitalistic world. Then our music will take on that characteristic. Our ministry will degenerate into a bowing to the culture so that we can get more of those invested in that culture to come sit in on our worship entertainment.
I note again, certainly we must make use of different types of music. However, we don’t do this to bend to the societal norms, but we do it because we have no choice if we are to fully worship the God that is above our understandings.
Now let us be blunt. Perhaps the church is now mute in the face of sin in its own congregation because for too long we have made church simply about giving the world what it wants rather than using our worship time to think about what it means to be the church and how can we glorify God. Perhaps the church tolerates “sin in the camp” without as much as a word, except the word of condemnation against so called “hypocrites” because we have allowed the definitions of the world to become our understandings of “hypocrisy, truth, error, hate, and love.” Perhaps we as the church have lost our ability to critique the practices of the world and of ourselves because we have bought into the idea that we need to “reach” the world on the worlds terms and not fulfill the mandate given to us by Almighty God.
Ministry built on copying the mindset and the content of the worlds patterns of communication will only create a church that is the mirror image of the present evil world. I thank Professor Dawn for reminding us that worship is not about getting “butts in the seats” but about glorying almighty God.