I’ve been listening to a wide variety of music lately. It seems to vary day by day. One day, I’m listening to 80’s synth pop music. The next, I’m listening to old-school country music. Today, it’s been church music. Not your stereotypical hymns and organ music, mind you! I’m talking old-time, down-home, runnin’ and jumpin’, pentecostal music – the kind of music that if you played it in a baptist church, they’d kick you out for being over the top. The kind of music where you don’t sing the words so much as you preach and shout them.
This is the kind of music I grew up listening to in a small pentecostal church. Not a single person had any formal music training, and a good portion of the singing would be considered mediocre at best to the trained ear, but there was SOMETHING about it that just reached down and grabbed you. It bypassed polish for passion and exactness for excitement. It’s also where I first learned the basics of playing “open jams.” These songs never had a set structure, and often would go on for anywhere from 3 to 10 to even 30 minutes at a time (depending on how the Spirit was moving). When you’re playing the music for those songs, you learn very quickly how to pay attention to where the singer is going and respond accordingly. To say I have a fondness for this music would be putting it lightly.
While listening to this Holy Ghost music, a thought crossed my mind: it sure would be fun to play this during a service at our current home church – a baptist church. And not just play the song, but play a video of these pentecostal singers as well. The shouting, the jumping, the dancing, the running….all of which would be looked upon with a bit of, shall we say, distaste.
Yes, I got a chuckle out of that vision. Then I was saddened. Not because I can’t show said video, necessarily, but the reasons WHY I can’t show said video.
We used to live in a town that had (no joke) approximately 10 churches on one 5-mile stretch of road. Some of these churches sat literally next door to each other (and unless you were familiar with each church, the odds of pulling into the wrong driveway or parking lot were quite high). Baptist churches. Nazarene churches. Churches of God. Non-demonimational. Catholic churches. Methodist churches. All on the same road (which was locally referred to as “Church Street,” despite being officially named otherwise). Why are so many churches present in a single location? Heck, why are there so many DIFFERENT churches at all? And why is one church so completely against what other churches are doing?
In some instances, I feel that some of it is just flat out petty competition. No matter what this church does, that church will have a problem with it, or vice versa. This church believes that. That church believes this. They do this, which we don’t agree with, and we do that, which they think is wrong. It’s no wonder so many view Christianity with disdain – we Christians already to it each other, so why should the non-believing world by any different?
Now, I get that there are some churches that are fundamentally flawed in their teaching and theology (Westboro comes to mind), but where I have a problem is when the doctrines are the same, but the “day-to-day” aspects are separating us. “They do things THIS way, which we don’t like.” Well, is it biblically WRONG? “No, not necessarily, we just don’t do it here.”
Have you found the common link in all of these arguments yet? It’s a very simple word: “we.” The focus is not on God; it’s on US. WE can’t get along with that church because WE think THEY are wrong. Linear focus.
It’s not even other churches necessarily. A lot of times, it’s the people within a single church. “She said this. He did that. I have a problem with that.” Well, I’m sorry you have a problem with it. Why are you looking at them instead of focusing on God? Is your eye completely healed from that plank?
Then we have the issue of numbers. Our goal is to reach the lost for Christ. Instead, churches are too busy reaching members for tithes. Again, don’t get me wrong; I know that there is definitely a business aspect to the modern church (whether we like it or not), but what good does it do us if all we’re doing is bringing in people and not feeding them? How effective is a hospital that brings in hundreds of patients, but fails to treat any of them? Sure, in the short-term, the numbers go up, but failure to help those in need means that the solution is temporary at best.
I admit this is one of my biggest struggles when it comes to my faith – dealing with the church. I’ve dealt with so many different aspects of this same problem for most of my adult life. I have somewhat learned how to handle these issues, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling like we’re failing somewhere. It’s as if we’re just too busy being a church that we forget our calling to be THE CHURCH.