A Response to the Papal Visit

Pope Francis greets a child after celebrating Mass on the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 19. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo) (May 20, 2013) See POPE-PENTECOST May 20, 2013.

This week Pope Francis, the recognized leader of the Catholic church made his first visit to the U.S. Pope Francis is extremely popular, not only among the Catholic church but with many non-Catholics as well.  His outward demeanor, his refusal to hide behind the peaceful sanitary confines of the Vatican in favor of mingling with his flock and dirtying his hand in service have not gone unnoticed.  He is truly a peoples’ Pope.

The overwhelming crowds and cheers along his parade route and the pomp of his arrival yesterday is not too surprising.  What is surprising, however are those who not only oppose his visit and his views, but who do so with disdain and a classless disrespect for the position.  Just today on popular social media sites he has been called a moron, a dope, a tree-hugger and other unmentionable labels by those who have no fear or reverence for the Church or its leaders. The protestors and hate mongers have already made their presence known and this is only the first full day of the Pope’s visit.

I am not a Catholic but I attended a Catholic High School and I appreciate the history of the Catholic Church and understand somewhat its long held Christian views on many of the social issues that have polarized the Church. I don’t have to be in agreement with every stance held by the Catholic Church any more than I agree with all the various Protestant beliefs of my current practice. That said, the Catholic church, perhaps more so than the Protestant counterpart, has held firm and in line with the Biblical views on the sanctity of marriage, the protection of the unborn and the benevolence of the under privileged that society chooses to overlook. Pope Francis favors responsible and reasonable capitalism as a means to further provide for the “least of these”. To many he seems to be saying and doing all the right things.  This fact alone has brought out the end-timers in great numbers.

Throughout modern history there have been those who are sure who the anti-Christ will be, where he will come from and how we will recognize him.  Various apocalyptic movies have portrayed the anti-Christ coming from the Vatican.  You don’t have to search past the first google page to find articles claiming the possibility of this Pope being the anti-Christ.  While I am not ashamed to admit I don’t know everything, I find it both laughable and sad that a man who is doing everything according to scripture, both Catholic and Protestant scripture, and consequently being hailed by the hundreds of millions he represents as the genuine article, is being labeled an anti-Christ because of his resulting popularity. Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Barack Obama and Taylor Swift EACH have over 60 MILLION followers on Twitter.  Should we be looking at them as possible anti-Christs because of their popularity? Is there any credibility in the criteria being used to prop up the Pope as being Anti-Christian? I would argue that not only is that answer a resounding No but Pope Francis seems to be the embodiment of what a Christ follower should look like.  If you read scripture closely, you will see that everywhere Jesus went crowds followed.

Another argument touted by many non-Catholics is that no one man should be given so much attention or held in such a high esteem.  This would be true if one were propping himself up as a god to be worshipped and followed.  We are to have no gods but God.  However, there is a story in the book of Acts that gets little attention.  It involves the Apostle Peter, viewed by most as the first head of the Church.

“More and more people believed and were brought to the Lord-crowds of both men and women. As a result of the apostles work, sick people were brought into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.” …Acts Chapter 5

There is a lot of misunderstanding between the Catholic, the Orthodox and the Protestant churches, and sadly a lot of exclusivity. We don’t accept iconology so it must be wrong.  We don’t get incense or confession so it must be inaccurate.  We don’t accept free worship and non-liturgical approaches so they too must not be correct. I wish it weren’t so. I’ve looked and looked for geographical, denominational and liturgical parameters in scripture but to date, I have found none. What I have found is that God so loved all the world, He gave up His Son.  All who accept, believe, emulate and worship Him are called children of God.  I find that true religion consists of taking care of orphans, widows, homeless and the less fortunate without boundaries or qualifications. Any man that shows me how to do this has my respect as a religious leader, be they a Pope, an Orthodox priest, a monk, a nameless face working skid row, a missionary to a third world country or even (choke) a political leader. When we stand before the throne of Christ there will be no titles, no rankings, no vestments and no exclusive recognition.  We will be on our faces before the one true and forever leader of the Church. Until that day comes we have been given the Pope Francis’s and the Billy Grahams to emulate as leaders.  If we are called through Holy Scripture to uphold, pray for and respect those in public office, how much more should we show the same respect for our religious and spiritual leaders, even if outside of our faith approach or practice.  God bless Pope Francis and all like him who carry the banner of Christ.

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My Worship Music is Better Than Your Worship Music

THEMIX

I know when a post is bound to get me into hot water with some.  This is one of those times. I am often amused, bewildered, confused and disappointed at the comments I hear or read about various styles of musical worship in the church. The common complaints are:

The music is too loud; The music is too contemporary; The music is too old; I wish they would sing hymns; We changed churches because we didn’t like the music; God doesn’t move through that kind of music.

We choose churches many times like we choose which concerts to attend, based solely on the quality and genre of the worship music.  We want to attend where we receive the best worship experience and where we feel God’s presence over other locations. Even worse than this, many still view the Worship time of a church service as simply a time to allow stragglers to get there before the sermon begins. Even while composing this I can’t believe the arrogance we display when we approach corporate worship. Are we really that self-centered a church that we use worship style as criteria for membership?

We are all products of our upbringing and exposure when it comes to church attendance.  Of course we naturally have certain preferences of music styles when given an opportunity to choose.  Many churches actually offer worship experiences either at different times or simultaneously to accommodate all preferences, but that can lead to separation within the church, or an Us vs. them mentality.  I only know the people who attend my specific worship service, about a third of the total church. The problem with this ongoing debate over worship preferences is that by definition, a preference is reflective of a personal, inward “what I desire” attitude vs. an outward expression and contribution to worship of an all inclusive God. That, in my opinion is where we miss the boat in this debate.  There are at least two big problems with the way in which we approach musical worship.

This is the first problem as I see it. I have been involved in heated discussions with some of my Christian siblings regarding which style is more conducive to the moving and freedom of the Holy Spirit of God.  It makes me want to scream and run naked King Davis style at how self-righteous we sound when trying to argue one style being more “spiritual” of “Godly” than another.  Lets take a look back at the history of music as we know it.

Western hymns began with the Homeric Hymns written around 700 BC in Greece and sung to ancient Greek Gods. Their origins are clearly founded in idolatry, not Christianity.

Byzantine or Chant music is an ancient traditional music style that involves a series of tones used to put poems and prayers to worship.  It is vocal only and can be traced as one of the original musical worship forms of the early church.

Gospel music, the basis for Black Gospel, Southern Gospel et al, can be traced no further back than the 17th century as a poetic call, response style set to rhythm with hand clapping and foot stomping.

Jazz is another African American style dated to late 19th century but hailed as an American Original art form.  It gain popularity in 1910 in the New Orleans area with heavy brass influence and has evolved into modern jazz, southern jazz, jazz fusion and the like.

Rhythm and Blues, or R & B, dates to 1940 and combined blues, jazz and urban influence into a new style. R & B bands might consist of piano, guitars, bass, drums, brass, and background vocalists.

Country and Western can be traced to Atlanta, GA in or about 1920 and is easily identified by its guitars, banjos, hillbilly lyrics and all things Apple Pie and Chevrolet. There is no need to further describe Country music.

Rock and Roll emerged in the 50’s as a style influenced by gospel, Jazz, Blues and Country.  It started with Bill Haley and others and now includes Heavy rock, garage or Seattle rock, alternative, rock, pop, grunge and more.

The 70’s introduced us to Contemporary Christian Music, banned on radio stations and picketed at church or concert events.  The list of pioneers who paid heavy prices is too long to list.  Some include Andre Crouch, Petra, Larry Norman, Barry McGuire and the Rez Band. They were booed and protested but they endured and we enjoy CCM as one of several worship styles today.

Here is my problem with arguing the effectiveness and spirituality of worship styles used in the church today.  All of these music genres have one glaring fact in common that can’t be debated.  It’s quite simple but so often overlooked in our arrogance.  Are you ready-wait for it-grab a seat!

THEY ARE ALL MAN MADE!

We are in essence arguing that the music my great-grandpa invented is better than the music your great-great-uncle invented.  We are speaking for God in saying He only moves through a hymn but not an urban rap song.  We are limiting the move and the power and the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit by suggesting this style is more worshipful than that style.  As it relates to corporate worship we are catering to the inward receiving attitude of worship and enabling divisions in the church over worship preferences. We are defining God by time signatures, instrument selection and tradition within styles that are still in their infancy in the great time table.

The second problem and perhaps the greater grievance is that somehow we have made worship all about us and not about God.  We have actually created denominations based on worship genres. We have adopted the attitude of coming to a worship service to receive from God, opposed to coming together to corporately join and offer our outward expressions of love, devotion and gratitude TO God. To put it simply, we paid for a good show when we should have been in the band! We have made it clear that we want to worship this way-we are only receptive to this style-we can only feel God with a 2/4 back beat or a Hammond organ and not with a fiddle, a harp or an acapella choir.

I researched all the verses pertaining to worship music that I could find in scripture and this is all I could determine:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord: Praise him with songs, psalms and spiritual songs; praise him with drums, stringed instruments and cymbals; make merry melody from your heart; enter into His courts with praise!  Play skillfully with a loud noise; Sing your praises to Him.

i can’t determine a defining genre or style being suggested anywhere in the OT or NT. I can’t find where one man-made style is more honorable than another.  I can’t see where God’s spirit was moving until someone hit a bad note or plucked the bass too loud or used an out-of-tune piano as their only backup. I can’t find where the whisper of a shy child singing a song was any less received than the most beautiful operatic voice. In fact I find just the opposite. I’m no saint-please don’t presume otherwise. I have just come to adapt an attitude of grateful praise in whatever environment I am in.  I attend a service where Rock and Blues is the theme and love it.  When I visit my brother’s Greek Orthodox church I relish in the ancient and reverent tonal chants they use that date back centuries.  When I am alone on the weekend I show my age by singing along with the old quartet hymns. When I’m on the beach I listen to the incomparable praise of His created waves-something no man can duplicate, and am moved to awe in worship.

Don’t go to church to worship-bring the worship to church with you. Don’t attend to receive-attend to be part of the two or three gathered in His name.  Don’t go to church to play worship Simon Says-worship god in Spirit and truth from the heart whatever that looks like for you. And please, don’t get caught up in the arrogant self-centered debates over how God decides to respond to His people. Just go and join in a unified response to Him! It’s not about styles, instrument selection or volume levels-it’s about uncontainable and inexpressible reverence, fear and awe from forgiven sinful felons who have had their sentences commuted! But if you want to mic the drums that’s okay too!