Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Axiom Questions, I’ll Tell You No Lies

Originally published May 1, 2015

axioms

Why do churches do church the way churches do church?

Ever thought about that? Moreover, have you ever thought about why churches take for granted that they have to do certain things or do things a certain way? Is there an unspoken assumption at your church that you have to have a sermon outline in the bulletin (or for that matter, that you have to have a bulletin), that Vacation Bible School is a non-negotiable event, or that the deacons absolutely must wear ties when serving the Lord’s Supper? Has it gone on for so long that now “it goes without saying”?

Don’t get me wrong- sermon outlines and bulletins can be very helpful, VBS is a great outreach, and I’m in favor of more men wearing ties to church, period. And I’m not talking about irrefutable biblical truths, either, such as, “faith in Christ is the only way of salvation,” or “God created the world,” or “women are not to instruct or hold authority over men in the church.” What I’m trying to get at here is that there are lots of church practices, preferences, and philosophies that we take as axiomatic. We never question them. We just assume they’re true. We act on them as though they’re immutable laws of physics or something. And every once in a while, somebody notices this and wants to change things up.

When it’s an axiom that’s been around for a few decades, the people who hold to that particular ideal are often chided (sometimes deservedly, sometimes not) by those who are pressing for changes. They’re called “inflexible” or “enslaved to tradition.” They’re labled as the “We’ve never done it that way before,” or “We’ve always done it this way,” people.

But have we ever stopped to think that, in many cases, the changes people seek to make today are the outmoded preferences of tomorrow? Often, we’re not making the church better or more biblical, we’re just adding a new premise here or trading one axiom for another there. Like rearranging deck chairs on a cruise ship. Or the Titanic.

Let’s take a look at some of those new axioms that have materialized over the last couple of decades and are now assumed to be a “given” when it comes to ecclesiology.

1. Pastors need to “cast vision,” and churches need a vision/mission statement.
No, they don’t. Christ is the head of the church, the CEO, if you will. Therefore, He is the only one whose place it is to have a vision for the church and to set a mission statement for it. And He has already done that for us. It was one of the last items on His agenda before leaving earth. It’s called the Great Commission:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

2. Churches have to be attractional.
Should you invite people to church? Absolutely. Should you be kind and welcoming to visitors? Of course. But that’s not what “attractional” means these days. Attractional means assimilating church into the culture so that lost people will think it’s a cool and groovy place and will flock through the door in droves. That’s why you see pastors coming out onto a stage and giving a Tonight Show-esque monologue while dressed like a teenager at a concert, churches playing music that sounds like what you hear on the radio (sometimes music that is on the radio) accompanied by bands that mimic whichever artist is popular at the moment, no choirs, no pews, no crosses, no pulpits, no hymnals, but a Starbucks in the lobby. Everything a sinner is used to in his daily life. Everything that will make him perfectly comfortable.

Where is this model of doing church found in the Bible? If you answered, “nowhere,” you’d be correct. The church, by definition, is made up of believers. Christ Himself is what is attractional to people who have genuinely been born again. And when we meet together, we have one purpose: to worship and grow in Him. The Bible never tells the church to make itself look like the world to bring lost people into the church. Christ tells us, believers, the church, to go out and make disciples, to go out into the highways and byways and urge the lost to trust Christ so that His house might be filled…with believers.

3. Church should be fun.
Nope, not going to find that one in the Bible either. Worshiping Christ should bring us the deepest joy we can fathom, but that’s not the same thing as rock concert, bouncy house, stand up comedian, outlandish props and gimmicks, music video back up dancers, cash and prizes giveaway, “fun”. Church should be joyful, welcoming, warm, and pleasant. It should also be reverent, solemn, and, often, serious. Worshiping Christ, handling and learning His word, partaking of communion and baptism– these are not frivolous things, and the climate of the church should reflect that.

4. When it comes to the size of a local church, bigger is not only better, but more spiritual.
I see articles from denominational leaders and church growth gurus all the time that start with the presupposition that if your church isn’t constantly growing until you’ve reached thousands in attendance and have to go multi-site, you need to get on that problem, pronto. Or that if your attendance numbers are “stuck” around the 200 or 300 mark, it’s a crisis that needs to be addressed. Pastor, you need to do something about that. It’s assumed that you want to do something about that.

Says who? Says people who have made a lot of money selling church growth materials and want to make more, that’s who. The fact of the matter is, mega churches are the exception, not the rule. The average size of a church in the U.S. is 186 people, and 94% of church goers attend a church of under 500 members.

There are many perfectly legitimate and biblical reasons why a local church might be small. Smaller churches foster intimacy in fellowship, accountability in discipleship, and make it easier for pastors to shepherd individuals and small groups. Certainly, a church should welcome any newcomers wishing to join and should seek to minister to the surrounding community, but if zeal for the gospel is in place, there is no shame in being a small church.

5. Our worship music has to be contemporary.
Why? No, really. Why does it have to be pop-contemorary style? Because we’ll lose or fail to attract young people? First of all, there are plenty of young people who, believe it or not, like hymns and traditional worship music. Why aren’t we concerned about alienating them? What about the older people who like hymns? What about the young people who like country music, or classical music, or rap, or screamo, or death metal, or opera? How come we don’t cater to any of their musical preferences (assuming that’s the basis on which you choose the genre of worship music) during the worship hour?

Up until the early ’80’s or so, when you went to church, you expected to sing hymns out of a hymnal. There’s nothing wrong with adding new songs here and there to the church’s repertoire, but there is something wrong with trying to replicate what’s going on in the world in order to entice lost people into the church. When people go to a funeral they expect to hear funeral music. When they go to a fais do do they expect to hear Cajun music. And have you seen how incensed people get when somebody tries to put a fresh spin on the National Anthem? It’s perfectly all right for church music to sound churchy. We don’t need to apologize for that.

6. Leaving a church (or deciding not to join one) because you don’t like contemporary worship music is selfish, petty, and reeks of spiritual immaturity.
Really? I thought you just said we had to use contemporary music to get young people to join and keep them from leaving. Are they selfish, petty, and spiritually immature for having their music preference catered to? Why don’t they have to suck it up and sing hymns? Would you go to a church that used only a genre of music you hate, like rap or opera? Does that make you selfish, petty, and spiritually immature?

It’s time we stopped shaming people for wanting to leave a church that has changed to a genre of music or a worship style that they hate. There will be times in every church when a particular song (or maybe even several) is sung that you don’t like. That’s normal no matter which genre your church uses. But music is a huge part of our worship services, and if, even after making an effort to embrace the music, you are so distracted by the genre that you’re incapable of focus on Christ, you need to go to a church- a doctrinally sound one, mind you – where you can worship.

We make a lot of assumptions about the way we should do church. Maybe it’s time to start questioning some of them.

What are some other church axioms you’ve noticed?

Easter, Top 10

Top 10 Best Easter Songs

Originally published April 3, 2015

There are so many great Easter hymns and worship songs out there. After all, how can a songwriter go wrong proclaiming the glorious truth of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection? It was hard to narrow it down to my ten favorites, but I gave it a shot.

(Please note- I am not familiar with all of these musicians. Their presence here is not an endorsement of any unbiblical theology any of them may hold to. Please thoroughly vet the doctrine of any Christian musician you choose to follow and make sure it matches up with Scripture.)

1. Jesus Paid it All– Nominated by my 11 year old son, who said in the car on the way home from church, “They need to do ‘Jesus Paid it All’ next week, because it is a very appropriate Easter song.”

2. Arise My Love– The grave could not hold the King!

3. Low in the Grave He Lay– You’re not really a Southern Baptist unless your church does this one every Easter.

4. The Old Rugged Cross– What a precious song this is and what a beautiful job this family does on it. (Us Louisianans know how to sang!)

5. Sunday’s On the Way– The resurrection is not an allegory for your personal problems coming to an end. Other than that, this is pure 80’s “in your face, Devil!” CCM awesomeness.

6. The Wonderful Cross– Who ever thought something so horrific could be so beautiful? But it is.

7. Man of Sorrows, What a Name– Hallelujah, what a Savior!

8. He’s Alive– The resurrection through the eyes of Peter. Oh how sweet it must have been for him to see Jesus alive again.

9. I’ve Just Seen Jesus– I love singing this one with my husband.

10. Christ the Lord is Risen Today– He is not dead. He is alive. We have this hope in Jesus Christ! This arrangement is such a nice blend of the traditional and the contemporary.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Happy Easter everyone!

Random Ramblings Ruminations Resources

Random Ramblings, Ruminations, and Resources

We’ve got to stop meeting like this…only once or twice a year, that is. When I first started 4R, I kind of envisioned it as a four or five times a year feature, and now we’re at about once a year. Well, life happens, I guess.

It’s time for some Random Ramblings, Ruminations, and Resources! Ready, set, go!

#FreeJamesCoates

Have you been following the story of James Coates, Pastor of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada? He was recently arrested and imprisoned for obeying God rather than men by refusing to stop holding church services and refusing to bar those who desperately wanted to attend from coming in to worship, among other official Covid-related reasons that were given. The restrictions on gathering in that particular are are so strict they have effectively shuttered churches. (No, they cannot hold services outside {Have you ever been to Canada in February? I haven’t, and even I know that’s a ridiculous suggestion.} No, “online church” is not the same as gathering in person and it is not a biblical long-term substitute for gathering in person.)

I’m not alerting you to this situation in order to debate whether or not James and GLC should have given in to the draconian demands of their local government. (Frankly, I was shocked and downright embarrassed at some of the cruel and critical comments that were made about James and GLC- by people who profess to be Christians – on my social media platforms Wednesday when I posted about this. And after everything I’ve seen in ministry, it takes a lot to shock and embarrass me. Those folks ought to be ashamed of themselves. No such comments will be allowed on this article or my social media platforms. They will be deleted and you will be blocked.)

I’m asking you to pray.

Pray for James, his wife, Erin, and their children, and GLC. (If the name Erin Coates sounds familiar it might be because she was one of my sister speakers at the Open Hearts in a Closed World online conference last summer, and coming up again this summer.)

The elders of GLC have suggested these prayer points:

Erin’s Instagram handle is @erincoates80 if you’d like to follow her. Here is her most recent update as of the time I’m writing this:

What is something tangible you can do? Open your churches. Worship Christ. Practice the one anothers, sing your hearts out, let your pastor see your eyes as he preaches the word of God to you. Don’t underestimate this task in your life. Obey Christ with all you have.”

Erin says it better than I ever could.

Fakes and Frauds

If you haven’t already subscribed to Justin Peters’ YouTube channel, what are you waiting for? I know it’s super-duper long, but you’ve got to watch one of his most recent videos: 2020 The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Year For The Prophets, especially if you’re unfamiliar with New Apostolic Reformation heresy as it relates to false prophets / prophecy. This will get you up to speed. Also included is an excellent interview with Nathan Busenitz on what Scripture says about false prophets.

Hymn and Hymn, but Not Hymn

You’ve heard that old joke, right? One Sunday morning, the minister of music announced from the pulpit, “In honor of Miss Doretha’s 80th birthday, we’re going to let her choose three hymns today.” Miss Doretha jumped breathlessly to her feet, scanned the room, and began pointing: “I’ll take him, him, and him!”

Well some young whippersnapper took it upon herself (a few years ago, but I only saw it recently) to pick 10 Christian Hymns That Need to Be Put to Rest. At least I’m inferring from the tone of the article that the author, Jennifer, is a young whippersnapper, because – I’m sorry, I’m honestly not trying to be mean here, but to me she comes off as a bit immature and shallow.

Or maybe I’m just old and curmudgeonly, having reached the “GET OFF MY LAWN!” stage of life.

Jennifer’s argument for putting several of these hymns out to pasture seems to be, “This hymn is too hard for people to understand,” or “People don’t understand what these words mean”.

By her logic, we should ditch the King James Version of the Bible, the Puritans (certainly Jonathan Edwards – my stars, have you ever tried to read his stuff?), the Reformers, and the early church fathers.

Schools should stop teaching Shakespeare, Beowulf, and Chaucer. And we should probably get rid of some of our patriotic songs too (I mean who knows what a “rampart” is, anyway?)

It’s just further reflective of the worldly attitude of dumbing things down to the level of people’s sloth (excuse me – “laziness” – since some may not know what “sloth” means).

How about, instead of getting rid of hymns and words people don’t understand, pastors and ministers of music take a second and teach the congregation what those words and hymns mean? Or the congregation could pull their phones out and Google it. We do that with everything else – why not do it with hard words and build our vocabularies and our knowledge base?

But there are some hymns that need to go due to theological issues with their lyrics. I’ve got two picks and then I’ll let you get in on the game. Click on the titles for lyrics. (Please note, I don’t really know anything about the people performing these songs, but I’m guessing I wouldn’t recommend them since it’s pretty hard to find doctrinally sound Christians singing songs that aren’t.)

The Savior is Waiting

It pains me to list this hymn as one that needs to be put to rest because I’ve been singing it all my life and have a deep sentimental attachment to it. Also the music is lovely, and I really do think the hymnist’s heart was in the right place when he wrote it. But…

The entire tenor of the first verse reminds me of a mom nagging her reluctant child to befriend the snaggle-toothed, bespectacled, nerdy little kid on the playground who’s running around offering his entire Hot Wheels collection if somebody – anybody – will just please, pleeeeeeeeeze, be his friend. Jesus is not some pitiful little weirdo whose day would be made if you would do Him the honor of sitting at His lunch table. He is loving and kind, yes, but He is also King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and we humbly bow the knee to Him.

And don’t even get me started on verse two. People who are dead in their sins can’t “take one step toward the Savior,” my friend. Christ has to raise us from the dead to new life in Christ.

Pass It On

This was the (depending on your age) Shout to the Lord, or Oceans, or Way Maker of my day, kiddies, and I have lots of fond memories attached to it, too. It was the song you sang at youth camp, and sometimes – if your minister of youth and music was cool, like ours was – during Sunday night church. (Some of my contemporaries will remember that we used to yell out, “Praise God!” after the phrase, “I’ll shout it from the mountaintop.”).

Whether or not the composer intended to base the opening words of this song – “It only takes a spark to get a fire going” – in Scripture, it evokes James 3:5b, which, in the most popular modern translation around the time this song was written said:

Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

Which would be all well and good except for context, context, context. Because James 3:3-6 says:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Scripture out of context…fires of hell…yeah, as peace, love, and “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” as this song is, I think it could be put to rest.

What do you think? Are there any hymns you think could be mothballed because of their unbiblical lyrics? Comment below and share. But play by the rules:

  • It has to be a non-contemporary hymn. Let’s say anything written between the first century and 1980.
  • None of this, “Everything from Bethel, Hillsong, and Elevation!” stuff. Everybody knows that already. This is about hymns.
  • “Because of their unbiblical lyrics.” Not because the hymnist him/herself apostatized, fell into sin, etc.
  • I get that all of this could be avoided if every church only sang the psalms. That’s beside the point.

OK, get out those hymnals and let’s hear it!

Faith Works

A few thoughts on Hebrews 11:8-19:

The original audience of Hebrews was first century Christians from Jewish backgrounds. Slavery to Law-keeping was so ingrained that the Holy Spirit gave them a chapter of “Old Testament Survey” (let the seminarian understand).

In this portion of the chapter, He demonstrates to them that the central figure of their faith, the one in whom they had their biological, tribal, and spiritual inheritance – Abraham – left them a legacy, not of Law-keeping, but of faith. Abraham believed God, and that is what was credited to him as righteousness, not any good deeds that he might have done. And, indeed that is the preeminent truth of the entire Old Testament: faith in God and in the Christ to come, not good works.

We are part of that same spiritual legacy of faith today. No amount of good works will save you: being a nice person will not save you, going to church, giving offerings, and serving at church will not save you, being baptized will not save you, praying to saints and other religious rituals will not save you, parroting a “sinner’s prayer” will not save you.

Only repenting of your sin and trusting that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection paid the penalty for your sin of an eternity in hell will save you.

If you’ve never placed your faith in Jesus and been completely changed into a new creature in Christ with Christlike desires and a hatred for sin, how about doing that today? Check out the What Must I Do to Be Saved? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page for more information.

Holidays (Other), Thanks/Thanksgiving, Top 10

Top 10 Songs for Thanksgiving

Originally published November 18, 2016thanksgiving-songs

Isn’t Thanksgiving a wonderful holiday? It’s a whole day set aside for feasting and thanking God for all of the glorious things He has done for us. And what’s a celebration without great music? Here, in no particular order, are my top 10 picks for beautiful and joyful songs of Thanksgiving. (Click on the titles of the videos without screen lyrics for a lyric sheet in case you’d like to sing along!)

1. We Gather Together

It’s the iconic song of Thanksgiving, and for good reason. Now you might think it’s strange that I picked this particular rendition, but there’s just something awesome about a large group of men singing. I think they did a marvelous job.

2.  My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness

This was a new one for me this year, but it’s already a favorite. With its phenomenal theology and singability, this one is probably already a Thanksgiving staple in many churches.

3. Now Thank We All Our God 

“With hearts and hands and voices.” We thank God in our hearts and by singing and praying to Him, but let’s not forget to serve Him, and others, as an act of thanks as well.

4. Give Thanks

This song quickly became a Thanksgiving standard in the 90’s. I love the way it points us to the simple truth of being thankful for Christ.

5. Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

Sit down and read over the lyrics of this one if you have a moment. The hymnist beautifully weaves together the idea of harvest time and God’s provision for us with the idea that we are God’s “crop,” wheat and tares sown together. And one day “the Lord our God shall come, and shall take the harvest home.”

6. Thank You, Lord, for Saving my Soul

Did you know this song had verses? I have to say I feel a little cheated. I’ve been singing this song all my life and never knew of the three precious verses about thankfulness in this song. We need to bring them back!

7. For the Beauty of the Earth

How often do we forget to thank God for the simple things? The beauty of the earth, the love of family and friends, the church, and Christ, God’s best gift of all.

8. I Thank You, Lord

I’m sorry, but if this song doesn’t have you dancing across the kitchen with the turkey, you’d better check your praise thang to make sure it’s not broken. “I thank you Lord. You’ve been so good to me.” Not a thing wrong with that! (Sorry, I couldn’t find a lyrics sheet.)

10. He Has Made Me Glad

Drawn from Psalm 100 and 118, this sweet little song reminds us of the joy of simply being in God’s presence and thanking Him for who He is.

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving song,
or song of thanks and praise to God?


I HAVE NOT EXHAUSTIVELY VETTED THESE MUSICIANS AND SONGWRITERS. PLEASE MAKE SURE TO EXAMINE AGAINST SCRIPTURE ANY OF THEM YOU CHOOSE TO FOLLOW AND MAKE SURE THEY ARE DOCTRINALLY SOUND.
Worship

Tuneful Tuesday

Today, I thought I’d share with you some of the music I’ve been listening to lately. Enjoy!

That’s What the Bible Says by The Collingsworth Family
“I don’t need no signs and wonders to know that God is real..” Gotta love it!

Send the Light by Acapeldridge
This is a little different version than I’ve always heard, but I like it!

He Giveth More Grace by The Living Stones Quartet
Like a lullaby for a grownup. Just try to listen without a Kleenex. I dare ya!

I Know that My Redeemer Liveth by George Frideric Handel
Yes, Virginia, there are other songs in The Messiah besides the Hallelujah Chorus, and this is a lovely one.
Step of Faith by First Call
Yes, I was a First Call fan in the 80’s. Don’t judge. :0)

I do not necessarily endorse all of the songwriters or performers listed here, the churches/organizations they represent, any other songs they may have written or performed, or their theology. If you decide to follow any of these people or groups, check out their theology first to make sure it’s biblical.


What are you listening to lately?