As I was going through some papers in my desk drawer today I came across an old “Feedback” comment card that our church uses to track visitors and connect members. Late last year someone in our congregation had a gripe about something they heard or saw in the worship service. They simply wrote, “We don’t want the world in our church!” Typically such a complaint is usually based around the worship style of our church, about how the electric guitar solo, mushy pop song or endlessly repeated chorus are not the way God intended Christian worship to be, or something similar. I don’t know what the commenter was referring to (nor did anyone else on staff) but it probably referred either to worship or a movie clip our preacher used to illustrate his sermon.
I heard such complaints on a less-frequent level when I was a worship leader at a small church years ago. Back then, I tried to “update” our worship from a keyboard and old songs to a more ensemble style with some newer songs, usually brought to my attention by Deena, the pianist. But one Sunday my friend Mike and I introduced the church’s first drum, a djembe, and Mike played it softly on two songs. We were both nervous about how the drum would be received and, well, I’ll just say it wasn’t met with “let’s hear that baby again!” In fact, the senior pastor sternly told me after the service, “Don’t ever do that again.” Funny thing is… his wife bought two conga drums and we used those for a few years with no complaints. Oh well. I guess the whole incident was a reminder to me that change takes time. Especially when you deal with people’s emotions, which you usually do. So break in the drum gently. When I left the church six years ago, we had a guitar player (me), a bass player, a pianist and someone on the congas and shakers. Every now and then we even mixed in a few new sounds.
Back to the present age.
The comment, “We don’t want the world in our church,” struck a nerve in my missional heart. If we are to completely separate the church from the world there would be no church, for the church is composed of people from the world that have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ — thanks to the fact that the church is in the world. It is because Christians are living in and interacting with the world that those who do not know Christ believe in Him.
What the commenter is probably intending is, “Don’t let our church’s worship resemble the sinful aspects of this world.” I’d agree with that. But let me rephrase this sentiment for the purpose of a deeper discussion: “Electric guitar solos are found in rock and roll and not church, therefore to have them in church is to lower the standards of this church to that of the world. Same with using secular movie clips, turning up the drums and bass, and playing modern songs that lack melody. The world does that; we should do better.”
The reality is that this complaint is a matter of personal taste and not public piety. It’s what we’re comfortable with and what we want for our church. It’s our ideals — likes and dislikes, not a matter of sinners and saints. What do you do during a guitar solo? Try closing your eyes and praying that someone in this crowd will be ministered to by the music being played. Is that hard to do? Or maybe, like me, you can close your eyes, lift your head, and let your heart worship. The guitar player is worshiping, too. Why deny him or her a chance to use their gifts in a public setting to glorify God AND maybe soften someone’s calloused heart? A lot of people think Christian music is “soft.” Many won’t sing if it is too sappy or traditional. That guitar solo may have opened a heart — simply by its very form.
Should the Church, in general, be separate from the world? Yes. How else will people know that there is a difference between one who follows Christ and one who does not? Warnings abound in the New Testament about getting lax in faith and lukewarm in love. It is clear that the behavior of the Church — gathered and individually — will be a light in the darkness and will draw the curious and seeking towards Jesus Christ. Therefore, there needs to be a separation. No doubt. Read this with me:
Jesus prayed about His disciples, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them bythe truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” He later prays, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:15-18; 20-21).”
Here is the great dilemma of the Church: how can we remain in this world, bearing witness of Christ, while not being of this world? We are sent into the world just as Jesus was sent into the world. Our mission is to reveal the light of Christ in a darkened world (a.k.a. proclaim the Gospel) and as a church to be united in love (see Jn 13:35) in the full sight of the world. You can’t witness if you hide. Nor can you shine the light of Christ with thick stone walls around your church.
I stumbled across a program on National Geographic channel a few days back that documents the lives of a colony of Hutterites — a Euro-German Anabaptist sect of Christianity that is determined to keep the world out of their community (think Amish & Mennonites). The colonies vary in degrees of strictness but all are determined to remain “unstained” by the world. In the episode I watched, a group of women was trying to get the colony elder to let them use the communal van to go to Canada for a wedding. In reality, they just wanted to experience the world and get out of their strict system for a spell. I was shocked they even had a van. While the intention of holiness in such colonies is good, they usually fall flat when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission because there is little evangelism or witnessing. It’s off-balanced Christianity. It is our interaction with this world that shows the world how different we are — and how desired our relationship with God is.
Coming back around now…
I used to be a strong proponent of keeping “church and state” separate, so to speak, when it comes to the secular and the sacred. My doctrine was thick and my barriers were high. But then I gradually started to realize that I was throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Not everything in this world is evil and bad. Sin is bad and the world system is deteriorating but there are a lot of good things around us. Music is one of those things. Can music be bad? Sure. Take Marilyn Manson, for example. But to reject anything that doesn’t have “Jesus” in it is to throw away a lot of great music. Same with art. I’ve seen strong spiritual themes in movies created by atheists. Do the atheists realize that they are creating spiritual works? Not likely. But are those works useful for teaching truth or leading someone to Christ? You bet. Charlie Peacock, the famous music producer and artist, once wrote that because all things are under the kingship of Christ, good art doesn’t have to show crosses and empty tombs — it can show sunsets and gritty streets. All can glorify the Lord if they reflect His truth in the world He made — whether or not the hearts of men intend praise.
Should the church become like the world? Not without losing its distinctiveness. But it can use the world to point people towards Christ. The world is our weapon. Should the world become like the church? We can only hope! That’s why Jesus left us here. He commanded us to go into the world — united — and point the world towards Him.