Sunday, January 25, 2009

Church Music: part 3 - submission and the bondage of personal tastes

One of the great chronic symptoms of Christianity in America is a crisis of ecclesiology. We have been taught to have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" with such emphasis that the communal nature of Christianity has been largely marginalized. "Church" is not attended on Sunday mornings so much as the local "gospel mall" is visited to find the shop that will fulfill my personally felt needs. Loyalty to the church is maintained so long as it caters to the desires of my heart on any given day depending on mood swings, circumstances of life or whether I've been faithfully on my meds. Scarce is the knowledge of Christ that champions His worshiping "body" over the demands of my whimsical tastes.

For this reason, submission in the church has virtually gone by the board. So democratic is Christianity for some, that they commit the damnable folly of assuming that Christ too "receives (his) just powers from the consent of the governed." On the contrary, our Lord Jesus Christ, by means of the work of the Holy Spirit, has erected processes of his own choosing for appointing leaders in his glorious Church. Within any given church tradition, a "received practice" has arisen over time for selecting pastors, shepherds, elders, leaders, etc. When such practices are followed, with faithful attention to wisdom and the influence of the Spirit, the result is Christ-appointed leadership for that body of believers.

Congregationalist approaches to church structure and polity can, indeed, find biblical precedent. However, the capitalization of such structures has seemed to have had a uniquely American bent, which has contributed abominably to the fracturing of the Church in North America. I do not say this to de-legitimatize congregational structures of church polity, but instead to point out the dangers manifested in American history. Perhaps such times as the pre-revolutionary period could tolerate such fracturing, with new churches being spawned for a growing population in the New World. However, with a post-Christian America dying for want of orthodoxy, such fracturing will hasten the death of evangelicalism in the U.S. As a result, no local church can afford the fracturing that fickle congregation members might encourage.

In this way, church music intersects directly with a strong "ecclesiology of the frontier." In few ways can submission to church leaders be more quickly eroded than in the throws of discussion on church music. Because music is so personally enjoyed, it is often regrettably subjected to personal taste. However, what congregants can at times fail to realize is that the music leader is not attempting to facilitate your (2nd person singular) worship experience. He is instead laboring to facilitate our (1st person plural) worship experience. He's not there for "you;" he's there for "us." The old saying remains relevant: it's not about me; it's about we.

This may be true, but American congregationalism has convinced many of us otherwise. Therefore some will "lobby" for their tastes to be met. My growing understanding of Christian ecclesiology is that my "tastes" could not be less relevant. Because no musician can satisfy all tastes, he should not be bound by the tastes of anyone. Rather he should work closely with the church leaders to ensure he executes his office and facilitates musical worship in a manner consistent with church mission, vision and strategy. Congregational lobbyists do not factor into this. The congregant's options are two fold: (1) submit to the leadership direction - for they were appointed by the Spirit over this church, or (2) exit quietly without causing contention. I do not list a third option here of finding another church, for America can ill afford the "lobbyist" infecting another church down the street.

If the submission is not the response of congregant whose tastes differ from what is performed on Sunday, then their instinct may very well be to inflict the bondage of their personal tastes on others. Some are, at times, alarmed to learn that my musical tastes differ so much with most church music. They should not despair of this, for I have learned that my tastes are not relevant on Sunday morning. The glorious Body of Christ, with her Spirit appointed leaders, have decided the manner of music when we gather, and I submit to them as unto Christ. Besides, my leaders don't like my music anyway.

What shall we say then? Should communal worship be held bound by the tyranny of personal tastes? May it never be! Instead let congregants learn something of the great doctrine of the Church, particularly when "the frontier" requires unified submission to leaders. Throughout history, leaders have struggled with the choice to execute dissenters. Even Lord Nelson detested the naval practice of hanging mutineers. However, so severe was the weighty need for unity and submission of the crew at sea, that even Nelson conceded to the "yard arm" for such offenses. Not that I am advocating the physical execution of dissenting lobbyists in church, but such is the need for unity in the Body of Christ, and the vigilant protection leaders must offer the local church from the bondage of individual agendas.

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