In the last four years of serving in youth ministry I have had ample experiences trying to incorporate some new idea into ministry. By something new, I don’t mean an open bar or stripper poles but a different order of worship, new musical styles/instruments, changed missional focus and etc. Generally speaking new ideas rarely go well, especially in church. Having conversations on this topic with other local leaders from my own Slavic cultural background, and even a few people from local English congregations, revealed this same phenomenon. Attempting to try something new (with the hope of being edifying and helpful) can often get one classified as worldly, liberal, or worse “charismatic.” While that sounds pretty cool in English and can land you a job if you put it on your resume, in the Russian community to be called charismatic is actually a very bad thing. Overall the confusion often stems from this idea that the church building/service/culture/tradition is very sacred and derived straight from God, and to change it you must “bring the world into the church.”
OUR SACRED CHURCH ICONS ARE A HOAX
The funny thing is, however, that some of the very items that are gossip generators are in fact not “worldly” but have a biblical history and conversely the “sacred” and traditional church symbols were actually brought from the world recently, just a generation or two ago. Below are some christian hoaxes that are or were believed by all or a part of churches that I have been in, visited, read, or heard about firsthand. I recognize that all churches have the right to their own governance, including choosing how to “do church” my only issue it that the argument that “______ is worldly” is often a lie used to shame anyone who disagrees. If a group of Christians come together and say “we will wear ties because we like it,” God bless them, If they say “we will wear ties because anything else is sin” then it is our job to expose that lie lest it obscures the Gospel.
“Piano/guitar are the only “Christian instruments” – The piano was missing for nearly 1700 years of Christian history. The inventor of this holy instrument was an Italian, Bartolomeo Cristofori. He did this while being employed by Ferdinando de’ Medici, the Grand Prince of Tuscany. The prince who funded the creation of the piano was famous for two things, first being a patron of music, second for his numerous romantic affairs, some with other men. The guitar is commonly thought to descend from bowl harps and tanburs, which are traced back to the ancient Sumerian, Babylonian and Egyptian civilizations. The oldest instrument most closely resembling the guitar is the Egyptian Har-Mose Instrument and most definitely does not come from a Christian church.
“There is a specific church music style, the others are worldly” – There are musical styles that are publically considered as being church music or gospel music, yet the definition has been different for every country and time period. Churches from Eastern European descent differ dramatically between the West. What is known as gospel music in America, and rejected by secular culture as too religious, is simultaneously ridiculed by many from the Slavic churches as being worldly. I wholeheartedly believe many would reject the music in the Bible as being worldly because it’s so different. Many of todays songs are in a musical style that is considered holy, sacred, devoted, yet was one hundred years ago secular. The original church organ of generations ago came out of the gladiator fights in the 8th century and into the catholic church. The contemporary version came from bars and pubs and into the church. The music style in Slavic churches today is undeniably worldly, the only issue is that it’s the worldly style from one to two hundred years ago.
“Clapping hands or cheering is worldly” – There were somber periods of church history where persecution, death, disease, and more took away the incentive to be joyful except with tears. Because of that, many still harshly look at expressing emotions with hand clapping or loud voices as being “worldly.” I remember while growing up I was told that clapping was only done by communists at their meetings and bringing it into church is heresy. I understand the psychology behind that, I do, but its hard when a simple bible search will reveal that thousands of years before the communists the God inspired Psalmist instructs all nations to clap for God (Psalm 47:1). And as far as being loud, cheering, and shouting, all of the bible is filled with the instruction to “shout to the Lord.” How can it be secular if God was the one who said it again and again? (2 Chr 15:14, Ezra 3:11, Psalm 27:6, Psalm 100:1, Zechariah 2:10 and etc)
“The only way to preach is while standing motionless behind the pulpit.” – I wonder which of the disciples had the burden of carrying Christ’s pulpit… what do you mean he did not have one?! It would appear that Jesus himself will not fit our criteria. For the record, I love pulpits, and I think they are super handy, especially to hold notes on. Is this the only way to teach, even in a church setting? Of course not! Walking around is not sinful, Jesus himself preached differently, sometimes standing, other times sitting. He even taught from a boat (Mark 4:1). Hear me out here, if I sat down on a chair and began to preach sitting down, some would accuse me of being too lazy to stand, or too careless with God’s word. Yet Jesus himself gathered a crowd, and sat down to preach a sermon (Luke 5:3). He even preached our favorite sermon, the beatitudes while sitting down (Mat 5:1). I am not advocating we must all legalize sitting sermons, no, merely stop calling it worldly if someone preaches differently, because Jesus preached differently.
“Don’t show videos in church, you can only do it at home” – This view is usually held by people because they say the church building is too holy because God lives in it. The Bible says God does not live in a building (Acts 7:48 Acts 17:24), but instead He lives in his people, we are his temple (1 Cor 6:19) and we are the church, not the building its in. Once we understand that God lives in us, video in one building vs another is no longer an issue. Things that are edifying, and not sin-glorifying, can be shown both at home and in a church facility. A tape recorder can record what is heard, a video camera can record what is seen. Both record aspects of the human senses, it depends not on the camera/projector but on the heart and purpose of the one recording. The simple principle here is whether it edifies the church, and clearly not every sermon builds the church, many are wrong and destroy it, so clearly the medium of sermon preaching is not in and of itself made holy. It’s the message (of Jesus) that matters, not the format.
“Stories portrayed by dramas defile the holy sanctuary of church” – There is a funny moment I remember where a group of local youth had worked on an Christmas Nativity play, which included many great props including even a camel (2 person costume) that came with the wise men. This group of teens wanted to visit local churches and were refused fully or told to change the play. The reason for this was the elders had decided having an animal (even a costume) would be defiling to the sanctuary of the most High God. The one thing that had me laughing the whole time, was that Jesus specifically, purposely, and intentionally was born in a barn manger. God himself, born in a cave-barn, and today we try to be so holy as to make sure we don’t show a representation of that animal when we tell the story of the God who was born next to them. How is that not hilarious? Yet some put on somber faces and talk about how “the world is coming into the church.”
“Its worldly to sing songs in order without preaching” – This is mainly a Slavic church issue, simply due to the culture the we grew up in. First, the Scriptures never ever say that. Second the Scriptures instruct us to sing songs, they never say “sing one song, then have a poem, then sit/stand” and etc (Psalm 107:22). Thirdly we are told that in Heaven the praises to the Lamb go uninterrupted for many cycles, it continues on and on. Now the point here is not that we must abandon the current order, or we must adopt this new order, not by any means. The whole point is that order is good and it’s ok and normal to do things differently as long as Scripture does not forbid it; there are numerous varying examples in the Scripture where different order is used. The point is we have adopted our cultural method which is fine, and it worked well at one time and place so now we have elevated it to be something sacred, but that it is not
There are many other traditions and hoaxes I left out, some due to time constraints, others quite simply because I don’t want trouble. The Catholics killed the protestants during the reformation for simply debating whether the Sacraments constitute the real physical flesh of God or only represent it. Many people cannot peacefully discuss things to do with religion but fight and get angry.
If you have read up until now and you are pumped up in your heart, nearly screaming “that’s right we surely need to do/change all those things” you probably missed half the point. We don’t NEED to change the order, music, tradition or etc. We need to change our nearly idolatrous attitude towards it. We need to change our legalistic hearts which desire to contain the Christian experience in a small box of church practices and rules to be open to Christ outside of our rules and practices. We need to recognize the supremacy of the Word of God over our traditions, for if we merely throw away one tradition, we shall surely adopt another momentarily and idolize it just as well.
As far as change, sure we are allowed to change if it will be for the benefit of the church; one person ought not scare the other with fables of “worldliness” to avoid change, he can merely express desire to keep things the same because he likes it.