Contemporary vacuum

I recently…

We’re defining recently with the same loose definition as I apply to my idea of regular when I say “my regular blog posts”

… had a discussion, this discussion encompassed many, many different theological and doctrinal issues. The participants in this discussion had a somewhat varied religious backgrounds. There were Roman Catholics, somewhat contemporary Anglicans and a Baptist or two. The Anglicans came from a somewhat charismatic church… I say charismatic, but this is a relative term, they are charismatic in the sense that they have flag worship dancers up in front during worship. That is about as charismatic as it gets, there is also sporadic hand raising, but that’s really the extent of it. So compared to most Anglican churches I’ve been in (and my experience is admittedly rather limited) it’s EXTREMELY charismatic.

When the discussion swung around to salvation and what that is, and potentially what it looks like things went a little wobbly. I suggested (and I was being as broad and inclusive as I could be, possibly too broad) that given a certain time frame the believer should be able to recognize a difference his or her life from before they were saved, to after they were saved. The longer ago the salvific event was, the more stark the difference would be. However, even if we are talking about a really short time frame, the saved person should be able to recognize a change, their new nature should cause a desire for things they did not desire before, and a hate of things that they once desired. This increases as the holy spirit does his work of sanctification in the life of the believer. I was told, to a greater or lesser degree, that this was somewhat misleading, or harsh. Who was I to tell someone that if they have ALWAYS been a Christian, because they were raised that way, that they might be wrong? Well, I’m not here to tell anyone they are not a Christian, what I would like to do is help individuals work out their salvation, and to examine their faith according to what the bible describes. If a broad description of your experience is not outlined in scripture, e.g. you were always a Christian, then you need to examine, for yourself, why that is the case.

Grace is amazing, it is so sweet to hear because it took someone as wretched as me and saved me. I was lost before, but someone found me. I couldn’t see, but now I can. I was so wretched that this amazing grace first had to show me that I was in trouble, and teach my heart to fear God, and the consequences of my wretchedness, but it was that amazing grace that then showed me Christ and all my fears were relieved. How precious did that grace look, at the time that I began to believe it? Now I know that the troubles I have faced, that it was grace that brought me through them. I know that grace will lead me into eternity.

If the paragraph above isn’t shockingly obvious, then it must surely be ringing some pretty serious bells for you. It’s now a few months on from that discussion, and the thought struck me. “All of the people in the discussion would affirm that the hymn ‘amazing grace’ is perhaps iconic of Christianity”. The song encapsulates the ideas that you and I are wretches, that we were blind and lost! Something came along and first had to show us our sorry state and then show us what it had done for us. We were blind to the fact that we were wretches, and had to be show, and then we feared. But that grace showed us that there was a solution to our very desperate problem and our fears were relieved. It shows us that grace is the thing that brings us through dangers toils and snares and it is grace that will carry us to the finish! Grace does this and not us; we have no room to boast.

The hymns taught some fantastic biblical theology, things that we are losing as we move away from them into more contemporary Christian music. I’ll touch on something here that I hope to expand on in a loose series continuation of the problems with church growth. That is the idea that as we divorce Sunday services from the idea of worshiping God and learning about him through the preaching of the word, we begin to lose more than we might be aware of. Worship of God through song becomes something to make the crowd “feel”. The songs become more emotionally manipulative than they extol the virtues and wonder of God. So now we have emotive pseudo Christian spiritual songs making the individuals participating in the event that is the service, ready, hyped up and prepared for the life coaching and ego stroking that is to come. Contemporary worship (not all, but certainly a growing significant fraction) is leaving a gigantic theological vacuum. We no longer learn the very theology and doctrines that underpin a hymn like amazing grace and so it fires no imagination anymore. It doesn’t recall to memory what God has done for us, causing us to once again express our gratefulness in worship, it’s just another song to sing that makes us feel good. It’s amazing to me that I can have a discussion with people where we disagree  about quite specific things, but those same people will sing amazing grace with great fervor, never mind the underlying theology of the song is the very thing they were just denying.

If you are tired of behaving well so that in the end, God might look at your track record and allow you in because your goodness outweighs your badness and you are aware of the fact that you do indeed have quite serious badness to try to counteract. Or you are tired of trying so very hard because God expects it of you, and it’s what you are supposed to do. If you don’t do the good things then God will punish you with financial troubles if you don’t tithe, and you will get sick because you have not been praying hard enough… or your marriage will be in trouble if you don’t jump though spiritual hoop xyz. If you are weary of doing all these works, then come to the saviour in repentance and faith and he will give you rest. His yoke is easy and his burden is light!

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