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Are you a fundamentalist? You’re probably some kind of fundamentalist. Religious, Hyper-literal fundamentalist; athiest, materialist fundamentalist; even people who are cynics are fundamentally cynical. We all want to believe we know. Anyone with a relatively fully developed world-view will be fundamentalist to a degree, because the one thought that scares us more than anything is that we don’t actually have a clue.

People like to think that the image of man as a pathetic, helpless victim of forces beyond his understanding and power is just a painful memory in our collective mind, forever banished by the shining beacon of “Science and reason”. Science, that saving grace of mankind – the only force that keeps us safe from the horrors of the dark ages, when malevolent phantoms stalked our dreams. Now we live in an enlightened age. An age of objective truth. Now we can know.

Lies.

As wonderful as science has been for mankind, and as much as she has done to banish cruel witch-hunts and needless suffering at the hands of nations and nature, she can never give us objective truth. She has it in her hands. She is ever willing to share the secrets of the universe with us. Sadly, the problem lies not with science, but with men.

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake wrote:

“Scientists like to think of themselves as engaged in a bold and fearless search for truth… insofar as the scientific endevour is illuminated by this heroic spirit, there is much to commend it. Nevertheless, in reality, most scientists are now the servants of military and commercial interests. Almost all are persuing carreers within institutions… the fear of career setbacks, rejection of papers by learned journals, loss of funding, and the ultimate sanction of dismissal are powerful disincentives to venture too far from current orthodoxy, at least in public… Scientists are part of larger social, economic, and political systems; they constitute professional groups with their own initiation procedures, peer pressures, power structures and system of rewards. They generally work in the context of established… models of reality… finding what is looked for is an essential feature of everyday human life. We are not surprised by such biases in politicians, nor by the differences in the way that people see things within different cultures… but the ‘scientific method’ is generally supposed to rise above cultural and personal biases, dealing only in the currency of objective facts and universal principles.”

Dr Sheldrake (who is incidentally a former Research Fellow of the Royal Society) then goes on to write more than fifty pages illustrating how helpless science is to give us truly objective truth when wielded by fallible human beings. My favourite example is taken from Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man”, in which the author describes how “purportedly objective studies of human intelligence, show how persistently prejudice has been dressed in scientific garb”. 19th century anatomist, Paul Broca, managed to cook the books so effectively that he convinced the scientific community that “in general, the brain is larger in mature adults than in the elderly, in men than in women, in eminent men than in men of mediocre talent, in superior races than in inferior races”. This was then considered to be objective truth. Gould concludes, “Quantitative data are as subject to cultural constraint as any other aspect of science, then they have no special claim on final truth”.

Loud applause and a resounding “We told you so!” from all the “anti-science”, Bible-literalist, “no such thing as dinosaurs” fundamentalists! And they are as bankrupt as any of us.

Religious fundamentalism is at least as subjective as science. Last night I was talking to some teenagers about worship. I was tasked to answer the question “how should we worship?”. I began by assuring them that this is a pointless question. There is no objective truth regarding our customs. Every denomination insists that theirs is the only “true interpretation”, and all are based ultimately on the traditions of men. Tertullian, the respected Church Father admitted candidly that he implemented many man-made rules for worship in his fellowships. These included:
– No kneeling in worship or fasting on Sundays;
– Making “the sign” on your forehead before doing virtually anything (bathing, going outside, eating, sleeping); and
– giving “oblations for the dead ” during the sacramental meal on the anniversary of their passing.
When asked by a rival for clear scriptural support for these practices, the great Church leader simply shrugged his shoulders and said (effectively), “It’s a matter of tradition and faith”.

If only we could all be so honest.

I struggle with this sort of honesty. I believe with all my heart in Jesus. I know Him experientially. My faith in Him as my savior and my decision to follow Him in His way seem reasonable to me. I want to be able to say with a confident smile, “Mine is a reasonable faith”. Sadly, this is just not possible. There is nothing objectively true about my beliefs. It’s all a matter of faith. For me. For you. For everyone.

In 1843, the father of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard, published “Fear and Trembling” under the pseudonym, “Johannes de silentio”. In it, he was anything but silent in his criticism of Hegel’s attractive idea of putting the irrational faith of scriptural Christianity (initially fine as a “provisional state of mind”) aside and converting to a truer, rational faith “appropriate to rational reality”. Kierkegaard rightly describes “rational faith” as an oxymoron. Pointing to Abraham’s act of obedience in (almost) sacrificing his beloved son at God’s request, he shows how the act can only be seen as one of two things: either it is an act of madness, or it is an irrational act, resting on “his belief… that he is going to get Isaac back after sacrificing him”. Either way there is nothing rational about this faith. And scripture knows no other kind.

So what then? Are we damned to subjective guessing and hoping? Are human beings ultimately “stumbling around in the dark” hoping that we might find something to believe in?

Yes.

God remains ultimately a mystery. Life remains ultimately an adventure. Faith remains our only option. And God smiles.

The wonder of the blogosphere strike again! Like a massive electronic “staff suggestion box”, guaranteeing virtual anonymity and a rapt, impersonal audience just begging us to vent. It’s theraputic for the writer and helpful for exposing “the secret thoughts of men”. Consider this beauty of an Evangelical Creed by “w. dennis griffith” (check the udderblogger link):

“I believe in God who once was Almighty, but sovereignly chose not to be sovereign; and in Jesus, my personLordandSavior, Who loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life, Who came into my heart when I asked him to, and is now seated at the right ventricle of my belief in him, Who walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way, and tells me I am his own, Who shall come again with secrecy to rapture us outta’ here, Whose kingdom shall last exactly one thousand years; And in the Holy Ghost, who did some weird stuff at Pentecost, but doesn’t do much more anymore except speak to the hearts of individual believers.

And I believe in this local, independent, and powerless church, insofar as it is in line with my personal interpretation of the Bible and does stuff I like; in one Believer’s bpatism for the public proof of my decision for Christ; and in giving my personal testimony for soul winning.

And I look for the identity of the Antichrist, and know that the Last Days are upon us.

– Ay-men”

Obviously Mr. Griffith is not an evangelical [this hasty assumption was later proved incorrect – please see the comments section]. I am. Pity me… so misunderstood!

What does it mean to be an evangelical?

Wikipedia (“Evangelicalism”) points out that “While most conservative Evangelicals believe the label has broadened too much beyond its more limiting traditional distinctives, this trend is nonetheless strong enough to create significant ambiguity in the term.[4] As a result, the dichotomy between “evangelical” vs. “mainline” denominations is increasingly complex (particularly with such innovations as the “Emergent Church” movement).”

In response to the ambiguity and the unfortunate association with American Fundamentalism, many young evangelicals are becoming “Post-evangelical”. We are “Emerging” in our thousands, even before most of us know what “Emergent Church” even means. Is it right that we should surrender the “Evangelical” tag so passively to the fundamentalists? I’m not sure that I’m ready to surrender just yet.

Let’s get back to basics: what are the central elements that define evangelicalism?
According to the Institute for the Study of American Evanglicals, four specific hallmarks of evangelical religion are: 1: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed;
2: activism, the expression of the gospel in effort;
3: biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and
4: crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

What’s so bad about that?

The salvation experience, the great commission, the revelation of God in Jesus as recorded in scripture, and the Christ event as the defining moment of history. Yes… I can live with that.

So I’m happy to stay Evangelical for now. Perhaps we need to redefine ourselves. If you are an evangelical, please submit your own attempt at an Evangelical Creed. My own will follow shortly.

The “Worship Wars”. What a wierd phrase… wierd, but very real. Consider what Peter W. Marty writes regarding this struggle between the old and the new:

“When Mark Twain finally mastered the intricacies of piloting a steamboat on the Mississippi and had catalogued in his mind every trifling feature of the great river, he confessed to a deep deprivation: “I have lost something which can never be restored to me in my life. All the grace, and beauty—the poetry—has now gone out of the majestic river!” The river, of course, had not changed. But familiarity with the language of the river had killed a certain spirit of wonder. The routines of navigational life had tamed the water’s treachery. The poetry was gone. Two decades of worship wars are beginning to do to the splendor of church worship what Twain’s piloting routines did to his view of the river… Years ago, it would have been unthinkable that two adjectives, contemporary and traditional, would so thoroughly captivate the imagination of the church. It would have seemed strange that these simple words could govern the views of those who plot the church’s worship. But aptivate and govern they do.”

As a worship leader, how should I approach this argument?

I am an evangelical. Evangelicals are often ignorant and love simplistic answers. When I ask the question, “What principal should guide the way we prepare for and lead worship?”, evangelicals will almost always reply with a triumphant, “well, the Bible, of course!” Lovely answer… and completely useless in practical terms. With worship practices (as with most important things) there is no “Biblical Way”. The Bible is not a rule book, or an instruction manual for life. The Message is a record of God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus, and yet, even though the Good News of the Grace of God in Jesus Christ hides behind every part of Scripture, if you don’t know the Christ, you will find Him nowhere in the books. This is our Mysterious God’s way… the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Search google scholar regarding “Biblical Worship” and you will find journal entry after journal entry and thesis after thesis of contradictory views of what “Biblical Worship” is. These arguments have been going on since the days of the Anti-Nicene Fathers!

So the Bible cannot be used to prescribe worship practices. Now what? Consider these approaches:

Catholics (and to a lesser extent, independant Charismatics) follow an Ecclesiastic approach. Simply put, “The Church” (here read “the top power structures of the congregation / denomination”) decides what is allowed and what is not. A brief glance at Church history will quickly show why trusting a few, fallible, powerful men to decide what is right is an invitation to tragedy. Call me a rebel, but I cannot accept this approach.

The “regulatory principal” championed by the descendants of the Puritan Church is straightforward: “Anything that the Bible does not command is forbidden”. Drums, guitars, rhythm circles, and certainly lasers and smoke is considered to be “strange fire” (Leviticus 10:1-2). Great if you’re into a literalistic approach to Scripture. My approach to the Bible precludes this approach (and my artistic heart rejoices! You can only handle so much Choral singing!)<

Most Independents (as well as most “Emergents”) have a pragmatic approach. If it works, do it! If it facilitates a natural, enthusiastic, relevant, worship experience then it must be right! Charismatics often say “look at the fruit”. God is “visiting” these meetings, so it must be ok! The Council of Jerusalem may have been decided by this sort of approach. The Council were convinced that the inclusion of the Gentiles must be ok, not because of Biblical prophecy regarding God’s heart for the nations (of which there were plenty!), but because the Gentiles had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This approach looks like freedom, but many argue that it leads ultimately to idolatry! When the focus shifts to making it “easy” and “relevant” for the people, we learn to seek the worship “experience” – seeing worship as something we walk into and enjoy instead of something we give to God. For this reason, I can’t accept this approach.

Some say that the “Worship Wars” are not something to worry about. Ultimately, the Church will fight it out at the extremes and ultimately settle on a happy compromise. Conflict between extremes such as “only Psalmody” and “free prophetic song” don’t need to be sorted out. We can simply adopt both. Thus we have services with Hymns, Solo artists, and worship bands all popping up. Everyone gets what they want and nobody is happy! No thanks.

Mary Conway describes an approach which she calls “maintaining dynamic tension”. In this approach, instead of deciding between the arguments (such as worship music as art vs. worship music as facilitating function; singing about a transcendent God vs. singing to an immanent God; writing that appeals to the rational mind vs. writing that appeals to the emotions; worship as joyful celebration vs. worship as vulnerable lament; worship as participation vs. worship as performance; worship as cultural vs. worship as counter-cultural; worship service as seeker-friendly evangelism vs. worship as believer’s communion, among others), we need to maintain “compromise in the positive sense: to keep these tensions
in dynamic, constructive balance.” She admits that this is easier said than done, and I am not sure that I could even define this approach correctly, let alone put it into practice!

In the words of Bono: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.

In the end, the only thing that is certain is that our approach to God should be childlike. No matter what I settle on (if I ever settle on any approach) I will have to do so with a good deal of humility and sheepish grinning. I like Thomas Long’s description of worship (“Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship” 2001):

“Even when Christian worship is at its best, it is much like that Mother’s Day breakfast. It is always the work of amateurs, people who do this for love, kids in the kitchen overcooking the prayers, half-baking the sermons, and crashing and stumbling through the responses on the way to an act of adoration”

That’ll do for now.

About Me

Ecstatically married to Leane. Studying Theology and Teaching. Working as a worship leader, teacher, coach, guitar teacher. Living in the Mighty City of Mkondo in the sunny province of Mpumalanga, in the blessed country of South Africa.

Favourite Thoughts – Outbox

Religion is to be defended - not by putting to death - but by dying. Not by cruelty, but by patient endurance. - Lactantius (c.304-313).
What is essential Christianity? From first to last it is scandal, the divine scandal. Every time someone risks scandal of high order there is joy in heaven. - Soren Keirkegaard.
Where there are two Christians, there are three opinions... [Actually a Jewish saying, but at least as true for Christians]

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