Yesterday I climbed Mt. Baldy with my friend Daniel. Starting at Ice House Canyon, the "3 T's Trail" crosses Telegraph, Thunder, and Timber peaks on its way to Mt Baldy's summit.
As we began our descent from the summit, we cut back to the "Baldy Bowl" trail. During the descent, we became so engrossed in a discussion on worship styles in the SDA church that we missed a turn in the trail and found ourselves descending a steep canyon with a stream running through it. As the slope of the canyon increased, we worked our way through a series of cataracts on hands and feet.
The fire-road was in sight when we came to a final drop of about 40 feet. With no safe descent in view, we cut up the side of the canyon to the east, crossed a scree slope, and found a trace-trail which took us to a parallel wash that we were able to safely descend to the fire road.
It was a discussion on worship style that (indirectly) led to our rewarding but precipitous descent off of the marked trail. While the metaphor cannot and should not be comprehensively applied, I do believe that worship styles in the church are indicative of our theological trajectory.
I invite you to consider that there has been a major shift in the past 10 years from hymn-singing to what has been imprecisely characterized as "praise music." In company with the musical shift, praise in worship is often characterized by performances that draw attention to the song leader(s) by use of lighting, big screens, and volume.
If you haven't noticed already, our experience of music in the church is highly relative to what you have your radio pre-set to. Most conversations on music in the church begin and end with this recognition. Instead of miring ourselves in this quagmire, I'd invite you to consider the most frequently cited reason for making the musical transition:
"The youth aren't interested in hymns any more. Look at what is on their iTunes playlist; we can't expect them to have a real experience of praise with such anachronistic music."
I'm reminded of the remarkable packaging transition in Silk Soymilk when the company changed hands in its early days. The first cartons were uniquely information-rich with facts about history and health. After the company changed hands, some executive group likely made an evidence-based decision on the basis of a supply-demand curve that predicted better sales if the packaging could be "main-streamed" so that consumers would recognize it as a viable alternative to their milk beverage of choice. Nowadays, the packaging has relatively little information on it - a few sentences about heart health and calcium make up the whole of it.
If the "worship style" shift was purely a matter of re-packaging the truth -- a practice known in missiology as "intentional contextualization" --I would still be uneasy. The troubling aspect of this justification is the implicit judgment that popular demand should inform our worship style. Should we really be treating communal worship like Silk Soymilk? Should "praise" in worship become a packaging for the truth that is dictated by the mores of the majority? The great absurdity of this approach is that while telling of His greatness, it excludes God from the center of worship.
A fascinating postlude to the Silk Soymilk story is that the changes made to the packaging led to changes in the product itself. Over the years I have enjoyed Silk Soymilk on my cereal, I have noted the sugar content has steadily increased. Having been titillated by the sugar on your average dry cereal, your taste-buds will be unimpressed by a low-sugar milk. The logic for adaptation of the product exactly mirrors the logic for adapting the package.
Take the time to compare the message of the familiar old hymn "Amazing Grace," and the song "This Is Amazing Grace" (voted the #1 most popular praise song on the website PraiseCharts)
I have no criticism for what the song "This is Amazing Grace" does say - as far as I can see, it is a biblical message. And please, forgive me if it seems like I am picking on a song that has been a blessing to you! What does concern me is the content it leaves out. Consider Verse 4 of Newton's version:
"Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come; 'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home."
Here Newton unwraps the concept that "Grace" in addition to its substitutionary power, has redemptive and transformational power. This particular distinction represents a theological watershed of enormous importance. Like Silk Soymilk, the product has changed with the packaging.
I hope and believe that our generation will see Jesus return. I pray that we might take time to consider whether this issue represents a waypoint -- a trail-marker -- in our personal or collective experience.
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