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Worship Is a Sermon/Sermon is Worship…Church Shopping

05/08/2011

Note – Keep your comments to yourself.

I really appreciate this article about worship on The Paperthin Hymn. The article is titled “Worship is a Sermon/ The Sermon is Worship.”

I especially appreciate this part:

When we worship, we are saying things about the Lord. We are teaching, rebuking, professing, declaring, correcting and confessing based on the revelation of God in Christ as revealed in his word. That is the function that our praise and worship lyrics have. Paul says that we ought to teach each other the words of Christ using hymns and spiritual songs- the intent being that this is how the words of Christ will dwell richly in us. That is how we will know more about God, and how we will know more about the words of Christ and how he works through his words. That is a sermon.That is preaching.So when we listen and sing lyrics, we need to ask ourselves “what are we teaching others? What sorts of things are we expounding upon? Are we accurately reflecting God’s character? Are we accurately teaching the words of Christ? Are we teaching the scriptures?” We also ought to ask ourselves if we are preaching deep, thoughtful sermons through our music, or if we are singing light, breezy, unclear, muddled, mindless, vague sermons?

I wanna sit at your feet
Drink from the cup in your hand.
Lay back against you and breathe, feel your heart beat

That is profoundly different than

Blest is the man, forever blest,
Whose guilt is pardoned by his God;
Whose sins with sorrow are confessed,
And covered with his Savior’s blood.

Which of those sermons do you prefer? Because the latter is a far cry from the modern notions of worship, [the former] the bulk of which is incessantly vapid and whose function within an ecclesial setting is to get people riled up on an emotional high; which they then mistake for a spiritual experience, which they can then feed off of the rest of the week, nourishing on and being sustained by the vapors of their own emotional delirium until the next Sunday.

Thinking out loud, so my true opinions may vary to what I write below:

Today, I didn’t go to church. Didn’t want to. Didn’t feel like it. Wasn’t “led by the Lord” to do so. Increasingly I have to ask out loud what purpose church serves in the Christian life, because as church is looking in the 21st century, it is increasingly irrelevant. Now, before you get all concerned at my apostasy, or feel the need to “encourage” or “fix” me in any way, I’m entirely dedicated to the biblical model and notion of church. A group of believers living in community (defined more as “friendship”, so minus the commune and creepy “everyone is somehow related to the pastor” aspects) who regularly gather to worship God, administer the sacraments, and study the Bible together is a beautiful, wonderful, body of Christ thing. Yet that is all but dead in the 21st century it seems.

When it comes to church related things, increasingly God is teaching me to keep my mouth shut and just let things go. I’ve learned more about grace in the last year than I ever expected to learn in my life. And on the great confessional that is the Internet, I feel free enough to admit a large part of that is female related. Girls tend not to like when you speak bad about something they like. Even here on my own blog, I’m tempted to self-censor instead of being honest and listening to the guidance of the Spirit. But since one of the things I’ve been working on defeating in my life in the last year is the fear of man (and women), then honestly prevails.

I’m hard on the church. Yet I also love the church and want to see it improve and to see my friends not hurt themselves. No one today is willing to use their brain and rationally think through things. No one studies history. No studies theology. No one studies the Bible. Everyone is relentlessly positive and anti-antagonistic. That’s not to say most people should be the exact opposite, and I know some consider me the most negative person they know, but the goal as always is balance, to be realistic, to be knowledgable, wise, discerning. It would surprise many to find out that I believe exactly like they do; I just take things a little more seriously.

So regarding that blog article above. Can you see the difference between the two worship styles? Let’s say I move to a town where there is only one church. If that church follows the “jesus-pop/jesus-is-my-cosmic-boyfriend” style of worship and preaching, then I will stop going to church. Period. With no guilt at all, because my Shepherd provides in other ways. And increasingly, the Minneapolis area is starting to feel like that. I’ve made no secret that I’m looking for a new church to attend, but I’ve known from the start that factors other than myself will be involved in my ultimate decision to attend somewhere (which I will, because I have a deep desire to be involved and to serve). One church has some pretty good people and worship, but the sermons suck or the pastor comes across as untrustworthy. Another church is skewed theologically but has some truly deep, mature Christians attending. And yet another has great worship, great preaching and a great pastor, but the average age fo the congregation is over fifty years old.

To avoid your concern, just know that I’m still looking for a church and constantly redefining what is truly important in a church. At this time, I’m growing, I’m learning, and I’m worshipping in multiple locations. And God does not condemn me for it, no matter what man may say. I do not plan on joining a church any time soon, nor do I plan on making regular Sunday attendance mandatory. I have enough law in my life, don’t need to add another rule to it. And obviously I realize there is no such thing as a perfect church. But there is a church God will lead me to, in His timing.

In the meantime, welcome to the post-evangelical wilderness. There are many of us here, we are growing, and it’s probably your fault (lol).

And since on Sundays I watch House, here is a gratuitous Olivia Wilde (de)motivational!

Olivia Wilde is Thirteen out of 10

Olivia Wilde is Thirteen out of 10

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. 05/08/2011 10:04 pm

    Hey Stu. Just wanted to say hi, and that I appreciate the pingback. You have some thought-provoking posts here. May God be with you in joy and sorrow.

  2. khow430 permalink
    05/08/2011 10:07 pm

    I love this. You have taken exactly how I feel and laid it out very logically. Well done. I will add, however, that I LOVE that first song quoted, but I understand the point you are making.
    K How

  3. 05/09/2011 12:43 pm

    WELL time for the agnostic to weigh in….I had a lot of problems with church which also contributed to my lost faith in God. Here were some of the things I noticed…

    1. Prosperity Gospel is everywhere!! I mean you can’t escape it. Where does the person who is suffering/ have cancer/ the drug addict/ or the Gay with HIV go when a person goes to church and hears nothing but succes stories? Nothing but God blessed me and I got that job/got engaged/the kid was declared healthy at the doctor visit/got that promotion, etc… Do you understand what I am saying? I realized this when I left the Christian bubble of Wisconsin and moved to the DC area. I experienced incredible hardship in DC in my job, life, etc.. and it was something that people didn’t want to hear. It taught me as to how the prosperity gospel is so embedded in the evangelical church.

    2. Too conformist…worship at church has become too conformist. People are being pressed into being conformed and those that can’t are being dishonest to fit in. One of the biggest threats to a person today is that they can lose their character going to a fundegelical church.

    3. Who is called? What does that mean? Why does called mean big and grandiose things? Why does it mean gong to be a missionary in Africa yet ignore the people dieing in your local hospice? Why does it mean “a family of Pastors related to each other running a fundegelical chruch?” Is being called a reason to escape a job? Marriage problems? etc.. Is “being called to serve God” just canother way for a person to manipulate God for their own use?

    Those are a couple I can think of off the top of my head…

    • stuartblessman permalink*
      05/09/2011 12:50 pm

      I agree, the Prosperity Gospel is everywhere, and can take many different forms. I’ve seen the traditional “God wants you to be healthy and wealthy”, as well as the “just pray for healing, just pray for wealth, God will bless you” approach. On one hand, many overemphasize the Old Testament passages, and on the other, many overemphasize the New Testament passages. Rarely do you see anyone who embraces both, and honestly, I’ve never yet seen a church or a particular pastor do so.

      2 – I won’t conform either, therefore I don’t belong. Especially when you realize that what everyone is being conformed into is utter bullcrap, and you watch people change year after year, constantly being conformed into the newest thing (“new wine”, to go biblical on ya). Steadfastness has no place in modern Christianity. I’d rather be an individual than a bleeping member of the flock.

      3 – yeah, the calling thing is huge as well. People tend to preach one thing but believe another, preach that even a 9-5 job is a ministry and a calling, but then believe and impart to their congregation that you gotta be RADICAL, SOLD OUT, ON FIRE, EMPOWERED, ROOOOOOAAAAARRRRRR for JEZUS!!!! Bullcrap.

      • khow430 permalink
        05/09/2011 2:46 pm

        Ok, In the spirit of friendly debate I’m going to respond. I’m not trying to belittle your beliefs and opinions.
        I think you guys are missing the point. Churches are flawed, people are flawed, and no church is ever going to live up to your standards if you continue to criticize them in this way. A church is simply a gathering of people following Jesus Christ. Now, I do agree that the typical modern day church is EXTREMELY corrupt if you compare it to the beginning church in the bible. There are definitely some fundamental things that a lot of churches in America are leaving out. I have experienced this first hand, twice. And I’ll also agree that the church vernacular is confusing and cliche and sometimes flat out wrong. But I don’t think you can fairly group every single church, and every single Christian, into these complaints. And remember, it’s the people that keep screwing it up, not God.
        Prosperity gospel is everywhere. That’s completely true. I’ve heard it a million times in dozens of churches and it makes me feel guilty that I’m dead broke every time. However, you can’t escape the fact that tithing is in the bible, giving offerings is in the bible. The original church in Acts brought in money all the time. It says in Acts 2 that the people sold their belongings to give money to the church so that it could be distributed among those in need. The great things you hear about people getting jobs and money and cars etc, could very well be true because I know god blesses people that do His work, obey Him, and truly care about His people. I obviously can’t back up every claim that God did this or that because I tithed, but I have seen it in my friends’ lives first hand. The point of giving your money, however, is to help people. It’s up to you how you choose to do that, whether it’s giving to a church or an organization or just giving it to the people you know that need help. It’s a sad fact that money makes the world go ’round and we can’t avoid that so we might as well get used to churches asking for money because if they’re going to do any kind of ministry at all, they need it.
        The whole anti-conformity thing… look, that was my reason for dressing like a homeless person and shaving my head in middle/high school. It’s honestly a really lame excuse not to go to church. Be who you are, God accepts you. There’s a point where you have to choose which is more important: worshiping God to the “conformist” music, or standing out. I personally choose to worship God. In that moment, who cares if you’re being like other people or not? Why is it so bad to be like other people in some aspects of your life? If it comes down to God and blending in, or standing out and leaving God behind, I choose to blend in every time. But I will say that that is not God’s plan for us. He wants us to shine with the individuality that He gave us. He made us all different for a reason and we have the right and duty to use our unique personalities and characters to glorify Him. PS, yeah… you should be on fire for God. Jesus did crazy radical things, and we’re called to be like Jesus so… logic would suggest that we should be pretty radical ourselves. At least fearless.
        And last but not least, I know that a “calling” sounds really high and mighty, but you can be called to anything. Plumbing, sanitation work, missions, hospitals… I met a lady in Charleston, SC, that was called to be homeless for a year! Callings change, they develop. It’s just a term that churches are used to using to say, what God had planned for you. It’s just a word. Some churches to build it up so high and make you feel like if you aren’t “called to ministry” by being a mega-church pastor, then you aren’t a good Christian. Or they make you feel bad for not wanting to go overseas. But it’s between you and God what you’re called to do. The church doesn’t decide that and ultimately, it’s up to you whether or not to allow a church to control you in that way.
        So I hope I’ve given you another view to look at. 🙂

      • stuartblessman permalink*
        05/09/2011 4:50 pm

        khow430, we are on the same page for the most part. Yes, it is people that are flawed which leads to flawed churches. And part of those flaws come in the form of flawed theology, flawed worship, flawed priorities…etc. So when we recognize that those things are flawed, we can’t immediately just say “you are flawed, therefore I want nothing to do with you”. There are degrees of flaws. For example, I consider a church that is KJV-Only to be deeply flawed to the point of heresy or being a cult; the same applies to churches that are strongly Pelagian or joined to the hip with IHOP. So the goal is to find a church that is flawed but with acceptable flaws, because those definitions of what a flaw is are constantly shifting and changing as we mature. For example, I no longer consider a church that only sings hymns to be flawed…just shortsighted and missing out on a lot. Same to those churches that never sing hymns.

        Regarding blaming God instead of just blaming people…well, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, if Jesus Christ is the true head of the Church, and places Christians where he wants them, and appoints all pastors into their pulpits…then Jesus is to blame for every heresy, abuse, false teaching, etc. I can provide Scriptural backing for each part of that statement. (But I don’t believe it’s Jesus’ fault, again, just playing devil’s advocate…having a little fun, lol).

        Tithing is an Old Testament thing and not binding on New Testament believers. We are instead called to be generous, but the Old Testaments practice of tithing is a good (lazy) model for Christians to feel justified with. And yeah, God does bless people, whether they deserve it or not. It’s entirely grace and mercy.

        Regarding the conformity thing…I don’t use it as an excuse to not go to church. But it is an observation of a difference I and others share between many who go to church uncritically and those of us who take things a bit too much seriously. For example, if all your Xian friends were buying Xian t-shirts and shopping exclusively at Xian stores, should you conform and go with the flow, or would you go shop at Target, Macys, Hot Topic, whatever? By the way, that’s not a made up example, I know several Christian families who will only shop at Xian stores, supporting Xian causes, and think wearing not Xian t-shirts is wordly and a false message, plus a missed chance at evanglism. And with those families, the longer I am around them, the more likely they will look down at me and others similar to me, and eventually will become so offended and upset with me that they will cause trouble (see – professional weaker brother syndrome). This has happened, and is not in the least made up.

        Nor do I use that as a reason for “standing out”. Sure, I take a stand on some issues. I proudly carry a non-KJV Bible, for instance, but that’s more of a hobby horse and a product of my legalistic upbringing. But better to effect change from the inside than be relentlessly critical from the outside. Nor is it such a black and white thing as “if it comes down to God and blending in, or standing out and leaving God behind”. That implies that there is always ONE right answer, ONE right church, ONE right view, ONE right anything, which is simply not the case as I spend more and more time meeting extremely righteous and Godly people from all brands of Christianity.

        Yeah, Jesus did some crazy things, but he also never did anything contrary to Scripture, so you have to balance the radical with the calmness. For every “take the mountain”, there is a “work your job, shut up, and love God.”

        You need to remember, khow430, that I truly do love the church and want to attend every single time I can (but not in a legalistic, I have to or “I get to” every single time the doors are open way). But I also want the ability to not go to church if I so choose or if God leads me that way. I really don’t understand what is so offensive to many Christians when they hear of other Christians who don’t go to church regularly.

        Thanks for taking the time to comment, khow430. Hopefully we’ve cleared things up. And again, I ain’t ditching the church. In large parts, the church has ditched me, but God will lead me to the church he wants me to be at.

  4. 05/09/2011 9:23 pm

    @Khow430… No offense but I think that is highly questionable to put the issue back on the person and absolve God from the situation. I used to be in Mormonism when I was younger, and that thinking reminds me of what they do in the LDS. “God’s perfect..it’s not him it’s you..”,”Joseph Smith is true if it’s not working it’s you not his teachings…” On and on it went. That almost wants to beg me ask God…okay if this message is so important, so crucial especially for salvation…then why leave it to chance knowing how the message is getting twisted and altered with time, and different interpretations. Follow me?

    I know the church and people are flawed. I don’t have a beef with that. My beef is with the people who play that down and don’t act flawed. Why can’t people be more open and honest? Why can’t Pastors be open about their short comings? Ministry leaders? I think agnostics like myself can see through the bullshit easily because we don’t buy it. But I would have more respect for the chruch if people stopped pretending to be so good and holy, and juts was honest about their alcohol problems porn problems, being arrested in high school for drugs, etc.. Instead of the instand transformation I would be grateful for just plain honesty. I think that would be healthy for the church and that people would have more respect. Hell….if it was like that I might re-think coming back.

  5. khow430 permalink
    05/09/2011 11:41 pm

    Stu: Ok, so out of curiosity, what are the scriptures you’re using to say that Christ is responsible? I agree that God appoints people to their positions, but He’s not going to control what we do once we’re there. He appointed David b/c he was truly a good man, but then later there was the whole Bathsheba incident, and God wasn’t responsible for that. In fact he was mad and he sent Nathan to correct David.
    About the tithing, Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it. So does that include tithing? I don’t think God stops blessing you if you don’t tithe though. And I agree, He blesses you because of His grace and mercy, not what you’ve done, financially or otherwise. I’m a living example.
    On the conformity, I was more speaking to Eagle about not going to church since you said plainly in the post that you do go. I don’t think that it’s bad to not go to church, btw Eagle. I just think that the motivations should be correct. I haven’t been to church consistently in 10 months. No, I’m not a fan of conforming in that regard. Buying only Christian things (in fact most Christian apparel is so cheesy and stupid in my opinion, although c28 has some cool looking stuff) and I don’t doubt that people are stupid about this subject. We had lots of issues with people in my old church because of this very reason, so I do understand what you’re saying. Trust me, I’m not a fan of doing things just for the sake of looking like a Christian. I guess I was a little confused about what you meant when you said “conforming”. Are you just talking about appearance and relating to others? The bible says not to conform to the patterns of this world, and that verse had suddenly taken on a much deeper meaning for me.
    I’m also not saying we have to stand out all the time. That can just turn into a LOOK AT ME! type of attitude. I agree that we should be calm at times and not always loud and radical in terms of our actions and how we act in public. I know Jesus didn’t go around in bright colors, rejecting the normal dress of the day, cutting his hair how he wanted, and going, Well I’m THE CHRIST, so back off world! Hahaha! I think we’re thinking the same thing and I’m not really saying what I mean very well. I pretty much agree.
    Glad we can have this discussion Stu! I hope God leads you to the right church. I hope you don’t think I’m condemning you for any reason. I’m totally not. In fact I have had very bad experiences with churches and I can relate completely. I honestly never thought I’d go back to a church until this past week.

    Ok Eagle, your turn! 🙂
    First, I’m sorta glad you’re not a mormon anymore. Mormonism is a cult that twists the truth of the word of God.. The bible is truly inspired by God. The events in the bible can be verified by multiple archeological finds and anthropological studies. There are documents dating back to within the lifetimes of the disciples and they say the same things as our bible today. There are different versions (KJV, NKJV, NIV, etc.) but they say the same things.
    Second, God is perfect. Of all the things that I believe, this is the one thing that I can not be dissuaded from. The bible says again and again that God is without flaws, His knowledge is perfect, His plan is perfect, His timing is perfect, He is good, He is just. He’s perfect. (Deuteronomy 32:4, 2 Samuel 22:31, Matthew 5:48, Job 36:4, Revelation 15:4 to name a few verses.)
    Third, I totally agree that leaders, ministers, and church goers in general NEED TO BE HONEST! Completely true! And I understand that the dishonesty in the church is frustrating and stupid and wrong and how it can mess up an individual and turn them against the church. Again, been there, done that, seen it with my own eyes. I hate it. I firmly believe that transparency in leadership is KEY to having a successful church. When people know that you make mistakes and you own up to it and you don’t hide things, then people with trust you. It’s a basic concept that I wish more churches would abide by. I also know that there are churches out there that are like that. There are pastors out there that are honest. You have to find them.

    Thanks for the discussion guys! Love it!
    K How

    • stuartblessman permalink*
      05/10/2011 5:53 pm

      khow430, I was just playing devil’s advocate. Pretty much any position can be argued (ex: “Christians shouldn’t eat at McDonalds because McDs abuses their animals, employs homosexuals, and supports other ungodly endeavors, so of course true Christians should never eat at McDs.”). I agree with you, man has a huge amount of personal responsibility, and God sets people up at times to see how they will perform. God even uses sin to accomplish his goals and aims.

      Tithing – I was referring to it as a law, Mosaic or otherwise. Tithing is not required in the NT, but generosity and being a blessing is. Sometimes that’s financial in my life, other times it’s not.

      Church – Reading over your blogs, I saw the idea come out that some type of “karma” is given when you go to church. That by going to church, you are more sanctified, or thinking more Godly, or more Christ like, or whatever. I have the same mindset about reading the Bible at times. If I feel sick, I start thinking maybe that if I just read the Bible, God would help me feel better, etc. I don’t think either position is true or helpful. That type of thinking can be highly mystic and reduce God to a lottery or lucky charm. It’s something I struggle with all the time, trying to legalistically please God or earn His favor. Sometimes, in defeating those attitudes, I find it helpful to STOP reading my Bible, STOP going to church, etc. Just to make sure that my motivations are pure and driven by God and not religion.

      Yeah, I’m not a big fan of confrontational Christianity either. Has just created too many problems with very little “fruit”.

      And khow, friendly word of advice when talking to Eagle and other lapsed Christians or unbelievers or whatever online – don’t immediately go “evangelistic.” Listen, sympathize, hear them out, when possible agree with them, and when you have to, firmly disagree IN LOVE. Try not to think about them as a project that needs to be fixed. View them as a friend you love first, and with the understanding that the friendship is not just an act meant to drive a point home. Put friendship first, just as you put Christ first in your life.

      And there are some honest pastors! I’ve found a few…most of them are not in my area though, and the ones that are in my area aren’t senior pastors but instead serving the youth or some other smaller segment of the body of Christ.

      Have fun!

  6. khow430 permalink
    05/10/2011 10:03 pm

    I know you were just playing the devil’s advocate. It’s all good. But I am just going to say this…
    I don’t think that you are more godly or sanctified when you go to church. I do believe… scratch that, I have experienced that when I’m depressed or sad I feel better when I’m around other people who believe in God. I do feel better when I read God’s word because “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. I don’t think it’s mystic or anything. It’s pretty straight forward for me. I have to have God in my life to function properly, and since I’m a highly impressionable person, I have to surround myself with people that are Godly. I have the good fortune to have a group of strong Christian friends that I can talk to and a church that I know is full of good people that I can hang with. Now if not reading your bible or not going to church works for you, then I guess that works for you. But I definitely don’t think of the creator of the universe as a lucky charm, and I don’t believe in karma. 🙂
    Also, I did agree with Eagle. And I’m not being mean to him (or you).
    Nice chatting with you.
    K How

    • stuartblessman permalink*
      05/10/2011 10:08 pm

      Sorry, khow430, didn’t mean to offend in any way. And I agree with you wholeheartedly. I also have a good group of strong Christian friends I want to spend a lot of time with, as well as a church that I know is full of people that are Godly. But I’m also reminded that great men and women of God often didn’t have a Bible to read or a group of Christians to fellowship with, and they did just fine. I don’t think reading the Bible is a mystic experience, I think it’s my daily bread and where I go to find life and leading from God, but I’m also wary of some kind of “reward” from reading the Bible, even if it’s just good feelings. I didn’t mean to imply you view God as a lucky charm or that you believe in karma; I’m just lacking the words to describe properly what I’m thinking, so I turn to too loaded imagery and words.

      Thanks for the discussion again! Hope we can continue to learn from and edify each other!

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