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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Church in Harwood Missouri
The little white country church in Harwood Missouri I went to as a child when I visited my grandparents. My Mom went here growing up. The photo shows some of my cousins when we gathered in 2006 after my Mom's burial service.

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"The Tyranny Of The New" (Part 2)

"This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it'" (Jeremiah 6:16).

Yesterday's message dealt with the obsession our society has with the "new". I tend not to be an "early adopter"; that is, embracing the new as soon as it comes out. I figure someone else can do the testing and pay the higher price. However if you visit our home you'll see that we have indoor plumbing and electricity, something relatively new in human history, along with a lot of other new stuff unique to our generation.

But today I consider the "tyranny of the new" in regard to the church. As I write this I am sure there will be those who will quickly dismiss me as just an old-fashioned preacher in his mid-fifties, but please hear me out.

My concern is not the adoption of the new. Really, hasn't every generation done that to varying degrees?  In fact here in Lancaster County with the influence of the Plain people we have a colorful history of church disputes among the brethren in regard to what degree to adopt the new.  Some of their issues are now dealing with the use of cell phones and computers, especially the interface with the internet. A faithful reader in this series has been an old order Amish man who has an email account at work. He is the one I send music to on his cell phone voice mail, which I refer to as my Amish Music Ministry!

Our church uses PowerPoint and I have learned to prepare my sermons for projection just like the famous conference speakers. We sing a mixture of new and old or what is often referred to as a "blended service."

But most churches now want to be identified as contemporary (whatever that really means). Wouldn't most churches in 1900 or at any other time in history have been contemporary during their age?

My annoyance at the contemporary church is not the embracing of the new, something I feel has been done all through history, but rather the tendency to devalue and disparage the old.  Among so many I encounter a snobby attitude toward older music, i.e. hymns or even music written within the past twenty five years.

I was visiting with a friend after Easter who attends a self-identified "contemporary" church in our area. He's my age and has a history in the church. I asked him about the service, "Did you sing some of those great Easter songs like 'He Lives' or 'Christ The Lord Is Risen Today'?"  He told me, "Oh no, we just sang new choruses." I asked if they sang any songs dealing with the Resurrection. He told me they sang an "old" song from 1999 that he thought might have had something to do with the Resurrection! That's Sad.

I don't think this church is that untypical. Many churches of our day view any use of the old as a turnoff. I recently visited a church that is aiming to go entirely contemporary in style. They previously had two services with one being a "traditional service".  The brochure stated that they would be singing all new choruses with a band but would periodically include a hymn, but assuring the congregation that the hymn would be sung in a modern arrangement! Pity them if they actually sang the hymn as it was written and has been sung by believers for generations!

Do young people realize the great heritage we have through 2000 years of church history? Do the new among us realize our faith is not a new thing, but rather a continuation of the faithful servants of Christ for 2 millinium?

Here's how one typical church seeks to describe itself:

"Celebration worship times are 9:00am and 10:15am. We’re not big on doing church the traditional way, so dress casual and come worship God in a relaxed, contemporary, and informal setting! Gather your family around a table, have coffee or juice, and a treat while one of the bands, Down to Earth and Altar Ego play uplifting and contemporary music. The sermons are short, practical, and positive. The entire worship service is approximately forty five minutes."

Actually since many churches now describe themselves similar to the above example they are by no means distinct, although I find it amusing that each acts as if what they are offering is new and original! Essentially it seems to me that there is widespread competition to see who can be the newest, or as one article states; to be "trendier than thou".  A dreaded moniker among many of my pastoral peers is to be labeled "old-fashioned".

I enjoy singing new songs (which we do) but I also enjoy singing old ones. I prefer singing them in the original words which the hymn writer wrote and in the same tune, not changed to try to be relevant, although on occasion this can be enjoyable as well.

Relevance is another buzz word that will have to wait for another message. I don't recall as a young pastor seeking to prepare irrelevant messages, for Bible truth is never irrelevant! My messages are for young, middle-aged, and old. I don't segment the congregation by age.  But the contemporary church acts as if relevant messages are a brand new thing for the present generation.

God called the kingdom of Judah to "ask for the ancient paths."  Today the last thing most people have any interest in are the "ancient paths". Our culture is obsessed with the lure of the new. For so many the ancient paths have no appeal at all and are generally scoffed at.

"Ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." I believe the meaning here is spiritual and a call to obedience as found in God's Holy law.  This is the "good way" and by walking in it one will truly find rest for the soul.  Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

But many then and so many today emphatically declare, "We will not walk in it." 

We need to appreciate the "ancient paths" and those who walked faithfully in them.  We must commit our lives to be obedient servants to Jesus Christ our Lord; to the entire infallible, authoritative Bible, and to the great examples set for us by scores of dedicated, sold-out believers throughout the ages of the Bible and the Church. 

My earnest prayer today is this, "I stand at the crossroads and look; I ask for the ancient paths where the good way is, and by God's grace I choose to walk in it and accept Your promise that I will find rest for my soul."

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer:  Father, we look to those who've gone before us, who've walked the ancient paths and remained faithful to Your principles as they have served You.  We all come to the crossroads at various age intervals in our earthly walk and we must choose which path we'll take.  Help us to be careful of the untested path that disregards all that our forefathers taught us either by their example or in some instances their lack of wisdom or self-control.  We thank You for all that You have for us now and for that which is carefully handed down to us from our Christian ancestors.  May we honor You in the way that we choose to honor them.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
Brooksyne's Perspective:  Since I've been involved in music and worship most of our pastoral years let me share a couple thoughts.  By deleting the classic hymns in the church services year after year we're soon going to be unable to minister in song to the residents in senior homes.  The intergenerational songs are the hymns that have been sung for centuries.  I love to sing songs like "The Old Rugged Cross" and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus".  On occasion I reflect upon the years I sang them with my parents and grandparents as a youngster.  These hymns are known everywhere and by multiple generations, but are beginning to disappear.  I like to mix familiar with new, for that which we come to love and cherish is that which we've sung enough to memorize and sing on our own.  I'm very thankful for Christian Radio where we can hear lots of newer songs with current artists whom God has gifted with music along with the classic hymns and songs written in the 1900's.

Just this morning I was practicing with a Praise Team for an upcoming Mother Daughter Banquet and little David, 22 months, began to sing, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I Know" (also known as "There's Within My Heart a Melody"). His mother said he sings it a lot at home but neither she nor David's father taught it to him.  I asked, "How about Grandma or Grandpa?" where he stays when Mom is working. She agreed that he would have learned it from them since they certainly enjoy singing the hymns (once again an example of intergenerational worship – three generations enjoying the same hymn message).  We've segmented our children, youth, young adults and senior adults so much that it can be difficult to find common ground for worshiping together.

Overhang barn in Lancaster County, PA
We pass this barn, which is right along the road, on our way to church.
I like the way they decorate the front with old implements.

Today's Suggested Music
and Supplemental Resources
Click on the link to open and play.
In some cases you may also need to click again to start the song.

"Sing Allelu"  Video  
I read that this song (or at least part of it) was written in 100AD.

"The Church's One Foundation"  Video

"Am I Just Tired Of Relevance?"  A brief article with comments on a contemporary church's marketing techniques  A great read!

"The Contemporary Church" Article

"Five Deadly Sins of the Contemporary Church"  Blog style articles with most recent (yesterday) at top.  Scroll down for earlier articles in series.

"Innovative and Relevant Pastor Needed Immediately" Have a laugh!

"Most Relevant Pastor"  Another humor post (satire)

Send a message to Stephen & Brooksyne.

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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