And the Worship Wars Go On and On: On Music Genres

In an article entitled “And the Worship Wars Go On and On: Musings on Why Adventist Worship is Changing for the Worst” I presented R&B as part of the change that has happened in Adventist worship. What I didn’t do is present my views on music genres. For those that don’t know I’ve been involved in worship as a musician since I was about 12-13 years of age. This year makes me 34. So that’s about 20+ years of ecclesiastical worship setting experience. This doesn’t make everything I say dogma. My perspective is simply one of many with flaws and all. Take it with a grain of salt.

There will always be differences of opinion on how to do worship. That much is true. The issue is finding that balance that doesn’t conflict with Seventh-day Adventist belief and lifestyle. The either/or approach doesn’t resolve anything. It encourages unnecessary labeling, and in some cases, demonizing of those with opposing viewpoints. The best way to address the various issues in the worship debate is to be honest about what we can be certain of.

Does the Bible specifically address music genres? I don’t think so. If you see it feel free to share. A big part of the worship debate is music genres. To be honest I think that most people who are addressing this issue usually ignore evidence that contradict their perspective. The arguments are un-fair and un-balance. They exaggerate points which they have no evidence for. This happens to everybody, no one is excluded. What makes the difference is those that, from time to time, step back and evaluate their own perspectives.

I’ve watched myself literally transition from one perspective to another base on what I believe the evidence was saying. This article is my current perspective on music genres in the ecclesiastical worship setting. I will not address the individual worship setting for reasons that will become clear as this article progresses.

The music commonly labeled as “gospel” can easily be classified, or associated with, R&B. The older versions of this music genre and others (rock, country, etc.) are easily accepted as proper in many Haitian Adventist congregations. Perhaps at their arrival they may have been an issue but now they are generally accepted as fitting, proper, and holy. Any sign of initial opposition to these older forms of music genres seem to have long disappeared in the fog of time.

However, a change has come. The change is brought about by the usage of modern gospel music which in some cases sound very different then the older ones. This change has brought about much concern and a “back to classical” movement which is equated with “holy music” in the minds of some. We have one side that wants classical hymns and another that wants modern gospel. I’m in the middle. I think the church will do well with a mix.

Most that are in favor of more modern approach to things share my perspective. However, I think there is a reason to be concerned and to be cautious in what we use and how we use it. First let me present my perspective on music genres. I do not find sufficient evidence to support arguments that claim one music genre is better than another. If I’m in error please show me the evidence publicly or send me an email.

I’m well aware of Lucifer’s role as musician in heaven. I believe that is enough to argue that he can do destructive things with music. However, I don’t think that is sufficient to say that a music genre is bad. On what basis can that claim be made? What’s the rubric by which to judge? These questions are often ignored as arguments are made against a particular genre. If we are going to use something to judge one genre it should be used to judge all.

With all that being said here is where I think we would do wise to be careful. With music genres come culture and lifestyle. Ever heard the phrase “Hip Hop culture?” Music genres can promote a lifestyle. It’s not simply about the sound of the music, it’s also about the ideas and feelings it brings to mind. There are many that gain their philosophical perspective on life base on the words of Hip Hop and R&B artists. These artists selected music that they felt merge well with their thoughts.

Is all Hip Hop and R&B negative? No. Should those Hip Hop and R&B that promote Christ and scripture be allowed in the ecclesiastical worship setting? It Depends. Some of you may be shock at this point. The best way to deal with an issue is to think it out all the way through. The allowance of Hip Hop and R&B should be particular to the congregation in question. If it would cause an issue with the conscience of those people in that congregation then it would be a grave error to allow it. However, if all is in acceptance and the theological nature of that church is not affected then why not?

I won’t say that a Hip Hop or R&B song is bad simply because it is Hip Hop or R&B. I will judge it base on what is being said. But this is not where it ends. It is important to understand that music genres have different effects on people. For some hearing Hip Hop and R&B doesn’t create a longing or a pull for street life. For others a distinction can’t be made. This is where it can really be dangerous.

I’m not against Hip Hop Christ-base gospel and the likes. Where I think it can be really dangerous is when consideration is not given to the impact of a music genre on an individual. Just because you are ok with it doesn’t mean it will benefit the entire congregation. Analysis is required to understand the impact of a music genre on your person. We need to think of what is good for the spiritual development of the entire church and not just ourselves.

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The Silent Resurrection

easter celebration white house_0.mediumOnce again it is that time of the year when all the world is a buzz concerning Easter. It is a word that mean different things to different people. For some, it may simply be about bunnies, eggs, and a spectacular meal with family and friends. For others it is described as “the most important festival in the Christian calendar” (BBC). The latter view is held by Christians who accept this time of the year as a celebration period marking the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its association with the resurrection seems to make it an untouchable topic. To engage in analytical conversations concerning Easter with Christians is to, in a sense, disrupt the rapture-like mood of the season. In fact, this is true of anyone who celebrates something during this time. It seems that the intellect is placed to the side when celebration comes. This author dares to venture in anyway.

There has been many commentaries and discussions on the usage of the word “Easter.” Connections to paganism has been made, especially to Eastre, a saxon goddess associated with spring, and the Zidonian goddess Ashtoreth (1 Kings 11:5; 11:33; 2 Kings 23:13). Candida Moss,   Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, not only argues that similarity in pronunciation of words from one language to another and “dying and rising gods” in a variety of religions is insufficient to say that there was borrowing, but that the argument about borrowing shouldn’t be the focus of Christianity (CNN).

The origin of the word is not an issue to me. However, I understand and accept why it can be an issue for others. There is a case to be made for not using words that have historic associations with things that do not represent, or are at odds with, Christianity. This argument is often brushed aside as an ultra-conservative concern. This concern merits considerable attention on the part of those involved in how matters of faith are communicated. Ignoring this concern builds a foundation which will quickly allow usage of words that are more recent and troubling.

The meaning and usage of some words do change over time. The current season is a great example of how true this is. I’ve never heard any celebrant of Easter make a claim of praising a futility goddess. To say they are doing so sub-consciously, in my humble opinion, is also not a credible argument. Oftentimes, in order to prove a point, an argument will be advanced and supported by cliché like statements with no credible analysis to support the claims made. These and tactics such as intentional misrepresentations serve no purpose and should never be use in discussions of such magnitude in Christian circles.

If Easter is the celebration of the bodily resurrection of Christ by those who believe that there was such a thing then why is there not much talk on the resurrection? Sure many will flock to the churches during holy week–Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday–to hear meditations and sermons concerning what took place before and as a result of the crucifixion, but  why is it so quiet outside? Why hasn’t this bold belief concerning the coming to life of a crucified and buried savior not cause believers to spread the message like wildfire?

It seems that the Easter celebration period is not a time for evangelization. Rather, it is a time of reflection for those who are already believers. In other words the way Easter is currently celebrated is deprived of missionary expectations. Christians spend the time thinking and talking about the resurrection with each other. The outside world knows of the celebration but it’s not because Christians are going out to tell them. (This is not to say that there are no Christians talking about the resurrection. If this was the case the rocks would have cried out.) They know it because the media speaks on it. Thus, the resurrection, an event that caused the grieving disciples of Jesus to be strengthen and press on with the mission given, doesn’t seem to be motivational enough to get cultural Christianity–Christians that simply uphold ecclesiastical traditions–up off the couch and out of the pews to explain the story to the outside world.

Perhaps one of the hindrances to this missionary approach is lack of knowledge concerning the resurrection. How can Christians be expected to tell of a story they don’t know much about? This is an opinion and has no tangible support. But, I suspect that if churches were to assign a 100 word essay to their members to describe what happened before and after the crucifixion, they would be surprised. Assuming to know because we have heard it from the lips of another before is not proof that we know. The only way to know if what was heard was accurate is to investigate it from the primary source.

The lack of a major missional buzz from believers is proof that most are not reading and thinking of the resurrection. It is impossible to believe that all of that is being done and it only produce a few passionate souls. Christianity is prayerfully reading and thinking about the resurrection and only a handful feel moved to speak to the world? I think not. What’s likely is that most of us are not praying and reading, and as a result, no fire burns to share what is learned.

As an Adventist, I’m aware that there has always been major conflicts within our ranks concerning what to do with Easter. Where we have found common ground is not in a festival that incorporates imagery from all sorts of origins, but in reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, we don’t seem to be different from the rest of Christendom when it comes to sharing during this time. We are plagued with the same issue: a resurrection spoken of only at home and the church.

Is it the resurrection that produces silence? No. It’s our lack of understand of and appreciation for the significance of that resurrection. Somehow we have grown cold and are in dire need of a resurrection ourselves. At this time the best way to go about initiating this is to go back to the most important resurrection: that of Jesus Christ. May we study and experience a personal spiritual resurrection so we can talk about the risen one.

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The Allure of a Foul Mouth: Curse Words and the Church

imgres-3These days it seems like everybody uses curse words. Although those that monitor the usage of these words in the media call for censorship, they allow just the right amount of letters to slip out of the bleep so that the intended audience can have some idea what the word is supposed to be. This type of censorship reflects the attitude of the culture that it’s in. If a large amount of those that live within the culture were bothered by the usage of these words then the censorship committees would be hard-press not to bleep them completely, or better yet, rework the dialogue so that there wouldn’t be a need for bleeping.

The existence of a censoring committee is evidence that a large part of the audience is concerned about words. The committee would not have existed and any attempts to create one would have been strongly protested if a large majority of the audience was fiercely against it. The majority of the audience is not anticensorship and if they are, they are not passionate in their conviction. However, over time it seems that the committee has become more lenient in what it allows. The partial bleeping of certain words and the removal of some from the bleeping list–that is to say they are not curse words, or that they are acceptable curse words–are indications of the progressive leniency of the committee. It is only able to do so because a lenient audience allows it.

In its day to day interactions the audience uses a vast array of curse words. A curse word is used when one wants to degrade another, to express anger when something goes awry, or as an adjective in a sentence. It seems like there is no end to the type of ways curse words can be use. It has gotten to the point that if you don’t curse you stand out as an anomaly. The reason that this is possible is because the underlying drive that pushed not only the explosion of curse word usage, but nudity and the telling of what use to be classified as “private business,” is the self-expression mentality.

The mentality goes beyond simply being yourself. It’s about allowing the world to see who you are without care for what is considered right and wrong, no sense of morality. Everyone reveals things about themselves to some degree. It’s natural. However, this mentality allows for the extreme: the revealing of everything without care for the opinions of anybody else. It allows for rebellion to be glorified and to be viewed as how things ought to be.

What happened over time is that the mentality has also grabbed hold of most of those that it initially was reacting against. So now it’s not really a reaction, its a norm. Part of the norm is the constant use of curse words. It is in this environment that the Christian is found. Lo and behold curse words are heard more than ever on the lips of Jesus’ followers. Is it for the better or the worst? It’s easy to get an answer within the confines of a faith community. But how do young Christians sort their way through this complex environment?

The existence of a faith community entails not only that those within hold to the same beliefs but that those beliefs are reflected in their lifestyles. There are Christians that don’t curse. This does not mean that they’ve never said a curse word. It means that they rarely curse. They hold to the view that using foul language is wrong so they don’t use it. They tend to be more cautious with what they say and therefore choose their words carefully. They are viewed as anomalies for their rejection of the everything goes communication system.

There are Christians that curse. Some of these don’t want to do it and are struggling. Others are not really concern with stopping and feel that it’s completely acceptable if they use some choice words here and there to get their point across. Making the distinction between those that are struggling and those that don’t care is important because Christianity recognizes the inward struggle of the believer between what is right and wrong. Whereas foul language may be an issue for one, it’s not necessarily an issue for another. The one that it is not an issue for shouldn’t feel superior.

The Christian can’t allow cultural environment to alter classification on what is right and wrong without significant thought. Whereas on one hand the culture applauds those that mingle Christian views with itself, it is quick to identify certain behaviors as unfitting for those who profess Christianity. One of those behaviors is cursing. If you were to ask non-Christians: do Christians curse? They would say yes. If you were to ask them: should they be cursing? They would probably answer no.

The reason that a Christian should not curse can’t be base on wether or not the culture thinks so. It should be base on the meaning, the impact, and the intent behind the usage of the word. If this concept is difficult to understand it is because there exist a lack of exposure to biblical teachings on speaking. The teachings speak against the anything goes approach. Perhaps this is the reason why they do not receive sufficient attention. This automatically puts Christians at odds with their surroundings. They are then face with conforming to the biblical stance or going the way of all the earth.

How do we help young Christians? We need to teach them what the Bible says about speaking. Adults need to be aware of their speech. There is a dual effect when teaching and living flow together, They shouldn’t only be told about it, but they should see it. Perhaps part of the failure may be that a large amount of Christian adults are now cursing and so those that come after are simply following in their footsteps. Sometimes what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander.

The allure of the foul mouth will keep calling. This contra-Christian, rebellious, mystical way of being will attempt to sink its teeth on any Christian who dare to stare longingly. It’s time to show the better way of communicating. One in which countless neglected words in our languages are use to communicate effectively.

 

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And the Worship Wars Go On and On: Musings on Why Adventist Worship is Changing for the Worst

imgresFor some time now Adventism has been engaged in a worship war. Not too long ago it has reached the front steps of Haitian Adventism in North America and made its presence known. The conflict is base on differing views on the styles and methods of liturgy–”a fixed set of ceremonies, words, etc., that are used during public worship in a religion” (Webster). Since Liturgy, by definition, is already established, the arrival of a different one automatically presents an issue. The problem is not necessarily that there is a conflict, but what needs to be addressed in order to resolve the conflict.

Many have set out to resolve the conflict by submitting theological perspectives that they believe support their position. This is often found amongst the proponents of traditional liturgy. They are correct to begin the discussion on the principles of worship that can be obtained through sound biblical exegesis. However, there is a tendency to stretch the meaning of a passage to support pre-supposed assumptions.

 Proponents of emerging liturgy are not well known for basing their stance on biblical perspectives. Those that do claim a biblical stance seem to also overstate their arguments like their counterparts. It almost seems as if the argument is base solely on the need for something different.

Clearly these are over-generalized categorizations of the two groups. Both sides do contain individuals who have substantial arguments for their positions. However, there is no end in sight to the war. Instead, an augmentation is on the horizon. At this juncture I’ve decided to voice my opinion concerning why this conversation between the two opposing sides is necessary and what I believe is the cause behind the rise of the emerging liturgy, new way of doing corporate worship. My focus will be on new music genres into the divine worship hour(s).

The very thought of speaking about the way corporate worship is done can put a damper on things. The assumption behind the dropping of countenances is that the discussion will result in the stoppage of the emerging liturgy or modification of the traditional. Many have found it comfortable to take a neutral position where the emerging and the traditional can function together in the same place. In terms of the music some have argued that the best way to deal with the issue is by mixing the traditional with the new.

This laissez-faire stance is problematic. This is not said concerning their stance but in their handling of a major dividing issue. The worship wars can cause division in congregations. Anything that escalate to the point of potential division should face a great deal of scrutiny by all that are involved. The present church should not only be concerned about itself but also the impact that its decisions will have on how future generations respond.

I don/t believe that the new way of doing worship has it’s origin within Adventism. This is not to say that it never occurred in our past or that there weren’t individuals within our midst who wanted to do so. What I am saying is that in recent North American Haitian Adventism context the reason behind the emerging liturgy is a probably a desire by our young people (millennials) to have a worship setting like unto that of Protestantism. This is reinforced by the desire of some adults in the church who found the new way appealing.

We are getting the way we do worship from those with a completely different theological system then we have. What is motivating the change? Is it discoveries concerning God in scripture or is it simply base on what is seen? Protestant theology not only affects the words in their songs but also their music. For example a church that believes in speaking unintelligible tongues will have worship with music that reflects and/or allows for this.

It is only logical that if we are going to borrow from them that we are true with ourselves concerning why we are borrowing from them. Man is unable to see the heart but God knows if the borrower is doing so base on the conviction that the song is pointing to God or simply the “feel-good” affect of the song. Throwing God’s name in it doesn’t make it a godly song. It also doesn’t help that most of the singers that are being copied look like R&B artists.

Which brings me to my next point: looks like R&B, sounds like R&B, is R&B? I think this is a fair conclusion. The emerging liturgy in Protestantism seems to mimic the music and stage presence of R&B. It is mixing pop culture with Christianity. In this mixing the main focus seems to be on individual expression, excitement, emotionalism, and performance. This is a scary way of doing worship. Often times the emphasis seems to be on fun. Worship is not about how much fun we can have or how good we can feel.

By taking R&B styling and bringing it inside the church we participate in the secularization of corporate worship. This then lowers the standards of individual worshippers in their beliefs about how to react to secular society. Allowing our youths to be expose to this will eventually leave us with a generation that is very lax on principles. What kind of church will they have if we don’t instruct them properly?

I do admit that there are elements in my musing that are not altogether correct. For instance, my comments on how the new worship style got in Haitian Adventism is purely a guess. However, it is here and needs to be scrutinize. I do believe that we are borrowing from Protestantism, and that part of the reason it is appealing to us is that we are also becoming secularized.

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Ecclesiology: Introductory Thoughts About the Church

For as long as I can remember I have always been a part of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Initially it was because I was born into an Adventist family. I didn’t really become an Adventist until I decided to get baptized. Baptism was my way of saying publicly that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior, and that I believe the Adventist church has a more accurate interpretation of scripture then the other Christian denominations.

For a few days now I’ve been attending a program at my church on the Holy Spirit. The objective, as I understand it, is to present a biblical perspective on the identity and the work of the Holy Spirit. There is special emphasis given to His dealings with us, individually, and the church community at large. I’ve come away from these meetings thinking of what our actions and words as members of the church really say about our thoughts on the nature and mission of the church. Though these meetings are the catalysts for this post, they are not the beginning of my reflections on the church.

My reflections came as a result of various sermons and statements made on the exaltation of one or a group over the other members of the faith community. Now there is truth in saying that God exalts persons over their enemies, whether they be in the church or not. However, I get the impression that most of these statements are driven more from feelings of hatred because of wrongs done. A spirit of division seems to anchor itself in us and as a result we become determine to prophesy of our ascension over the entire church even though God didn’t send us. In creole a major phrase that gives voice to these feelings is, “Bondye mete m ‘sou moun,” (translation, “God put me over people”).

Hatred for others is sanctified and deemed acceptable as long as we structure our statements to emphasize God’s uplifting of ourselves. To some extent it is not our fault because that’s what we were taught to understand. On the other hand we have a responsibility to seek after the realization of Jesus’ prayer for the church in John 17. Unity must be emphasized unless it is spiritually damaging to do so. Of course we will not admit that most of the time the motivation for which we say these things is because of hatred, but our refusal to find unifying means by which to resolve conflict is indicative of our beliefs. Actions speaks louder then words.

The criticism stated above reveals two things. Either we are blindsided by the frustration that conflicts bring and thus our minds narrow in to selfish resolutions, or we don’t know what the Bible says about the nature and mission of the church. A third possible option is that we have rejected what the Bible says. If this is the case we need to really consider why we have joined the church.

These cherished ideas are the progenitors of some of the clicks that are form within churches. Division in of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. In a community some will be closer to a set of people then others. This happens even in families. However this closeness should not be a dwelling place for anti-others sentiments. We should never allow our friendships to be a centre for character assassination. Division should serve as an enhancement to the community.

The church will fail in its mission if it doesn’t understand how it should exist. There will and must be a struggle in our attempts to align with the biblical model of what the church should be. In return the struggle will strengthen us as a community and reinforce our belief in the surety of the Word of God. For if the church can’t and doesn’t desire to unite as a body then it can’t exist as intended. The church will always exist, but if we wrestle against God we may not be a part of it.