Monday, April 2, 2012

"Where in the World is the Church" - A Review that Will Challenge Your Thinking

     For some time now, I have had a deep concern for the church at large and the direction it seems to be taking.  There has been a blurring of the spheres in many areas.  For example, how does a Christian relate to art, music, science, education, philosophy, labor, and government?  At one time, each of these areas of
influence was distinct and had its rightful place in the life of the believer.  However, this is not the case in our modern world.  Not only does "The Truth Project" address these issues, but also, an excellent book by Dr. Michael Horton entitled "Where in the World is the Church?".  Dr. Horton is best known for his
work on "The White Horse Inn" broadcasts carried by many radio stations as well as serving at Westminster Theological Seminary in California teaching apologetics and historical theology.
     When I picked up this book at the recent Ligonier Conference, I was immediately drawn by the question posed on the title.  Indeed, where in the world IS the church in dealing with many modern day issues?  His main thrust in this book is that the church has neglected the world to the detriment of all.  Christians have built a subculture and withdrawn from the arts, music and many other pursuits in which God has given them great talent.  It might be considered too "secular".  Instead of seeing the study of science as a divine ministry in which we are gifted, we hold back because of the secular philosophy so often found in this study.  Dr. Horton states:  "The pressure to justify art, science, and entertainment in terms of their spiritual value or evangelistic usefulness ends up damaging both the gift of creation and the gift of the Gospel.  The Reformation freed Christian men and women to pursue their divinely appointed callings in the world with dignity and respect, without having to justify the usefulness of those callings to the church or its missionary enterprise" (pg. 10).
     One area of this book that has spoken to me perhaps more than any other in terms of challenging my thinking is his chapter on "Christianity and the Arts".  He addresses music along with other art forms.  He states:  " Protestantism the great hymns that reflected a God-centered period are traded in for what can only be described as imitations of TV commercials.  And there is an arrogance about this, as if those who criticize this 'relevant' style for its content or composition suffer from a spiritual malady" (pg.76).  He goes on to say:  "My own conviction is that it is not the period of music that makes these hymns difficult; in most cases, the music is actually easier to sing.  Rather, it is (a) arrogance toward the past and (b) the unfamiliarity of the theology contained in these hymns" (pg.76).  I have to agree that much of what passes for contemporary worship services in some fellowships tends to be more of a sing along or rock concert than the worship of a holy God.
     Dr. Horton goes on to expound:  "The church wants to be relevant to the whole world, but it must not lose its own distinctiveness in the process.....Christians should feel free to enjoy and to create popular music, if that is their preference, but is this acceptable in worship?  Is the question not at least worth asking when we are talking about the worship of God?  After all, worshipping the correct God correctly falls under the judgment of the second commandment.  And why must our language in this service descend to the level of the Phil Donahue show?  Is the minister's decision to roam casually during a twenty-minute pep talk merely a matter of style, or does it violate God's pattern for preaching the Word?  The world must not be allowed to tell us how to sing or how to speak in the presence of God.  It is God, not the unchurched, who must give us our pattern for worship" (pgs. 83-84).  To these words, I say a resounding "Amen".  The author has made a very important point for us to consider as we approach worship.
     In yesterday's Tampa Tribune, the front page article read:  "Social Media Gets Religion".  The article dealt with a church in Tampa that uses Facebook, Twitter, and other means of connecting with the congregation.  Their goal is to reach the unchurched even through virtual sermons.  Then, I thought about what Dr. Horton had written.  Are they worshipping God as He directs or are they allowing the unchurched and the world system to dictate their approach?  I am not condemning them, but I think it is a fair question.  I love social media, but it cannot replace eye to eye contact, warm hugs, heartfelt prayer and praise that we find in a church gathering around the Word of God.  In addition, I have heard Dr. R.C. Sproul say on many occasions that the church tries to be "seeker" friendly to reach the unchurched, but he concludes that there are no seekers.  None seek after God.  Scripture clearly says that (Romans 3:11).  This doesn't mean we should not reach out to share the Good News with everyone we meet...but why change our worship services to accommodate those outside the body of Christ rather than to please God?
     Dr. Horton concluded his chapter on "Christianity and the Arts" by writing:  "In short, 'I keep Falling in Love with Him Over and Over and Over and Over Again,' is, once again, bad theology and bad art.  If Christians felt free to write secular love songs (focusing on the horizontal) for secular airplay, and to also write sacred church music of great musical and lyrical depth (focusing on the vertical), perhaps we could see the dawn of a new era of great music in both spheres produced by Christians" (pg. 95).  Once again, I have to agree with his assessment.  This book produces some serious meditation on where the church is in relation to our world.  Have we caved to our modern culture to such a degree that it has more influence on us than we do on them?  Jesus called us to be salt and light.  Are we losing our saltiness?  Is our light dimming?  I pray it is not.
     At the end of his book, Dr. Horton writes:  "...before we can change the culture, we must recover the purity of doctrine and life that has always had a transformative influence in the world.  We must stop accommodating to the very culture that we are opposing and attempting to transform.  To do that we must not only know our own theology, but we must also know the idols and understand the ways in which we ourselves are shaped more by the spirit of the age than by the Spirit of Christ.  As families and churches learn the 'whole counsel of God' all over again and recover the Law and the Gospel in the diet of preaching, teaching, and worship, there will be a fresh integrity to the church's witness before a cynical world that has forgotten the last time it took the church seriously" (pg. 203).  I challenge each of you to read this book.  It will make you think anew about how we as Christians interact with all the spheres of influence in our world and how best to glorify our Lord and Savior.  Selah!

I hope you have been encouraged as you read this and I welcome your thoughts and comments here.
May you be blessed as you serve the Lord and glorify Him!


Christina said...

Wow. What an outstanding review, Barbara! You have given us an excellent overview of the issues that Michael Horton is raising here. Among the many benefits that the Reformation held was a renewing of the Doctrine of Vocation. Indeed, if the Christian's chief end is to glorify God, then we can glorify Him in all that we are and all that we do. And I so love Horton's conclusion. Amen! May we recover the purity of doctrine and life. Thank you for sharing this -- not sure how soon I will get around to it, but this one for the list! Much love & have a beautiful day!

Barbara Thayer said...

Thank you God alone be the glory. He is the one who led me to pick up that book at Ligonier. What a blessing it has been for me to read. My husband is next in line since I have been raving about it so much. Just so eye opening, convicting and such a great blessing! You will enjoy it and be encouraged as you read it. Blessings my friend! Thanks for stopping by!