Musical Mayhem??? Part 3 (and final)

Addressing the remaining issues… (see parts 1 and 2)

C. “This is Protestant music.”

What exactly makes music Protestant?

What makes anything ‘Protestant’?

We define our denominations according to their theology, as well as their history, culture and demographics and so on. For example, we speak of the “Russian Orthodox Church”, and we know we are speaking of a group of Christians who hold to an Eastern Orthodox theology, who are mostly of Russian descent, although there are many members from other ethnic backgrounds, and who use chants and prayers and hymns in the Russian language and style.

But which of those descriptions is essential for the salvation of the Russian Orthodox individual? Which of them really characterises what it means to be Russian Orthodox? Do you have to be Russian? Do you have to speak Russian? Do you have to use that particular musical style? Certainly, the style helps define the CULTURE, but it does not define the FAITH. Greek, Macedonian and Japanese Orthodox Christians all hold to exactly the same faith, the same theology, yet they express their faith differently, according to their own culture and style of music. Without doubt, a style of music should enhance and complement one’s faith and beliefs, but there is nothing in our faith to say that only one particular style of music is going to do that.

Don’t get me wrong – I am absolutely in love with the rich treasure trove of Coptic Hymnology. I wish everyone could taste it and enter into the beautiful world of the spirit it can open up. I believe strongly that it should be carefully preserved and experienced and passed on intact and inviolate to the next generation. But I also believe that there can be room in our lives for more than one style of music.

A musical style cannot, in itself, be ‘Protestant’. Yes, perhaps historically Protestants have tended to use it, but that doesn’t give them ownership over that style, anymore than Protestants doing mathematics gives them ownership over the set of natural numbers. Can you imagine that? “No! We mustn’t count in our Church! We’d become Protestants!”

D. “We don’t want to become Hillsong.”

Hillsong, if you don’t know, is a Pentecostal Assemblies of God movement based in Northwestern Sydney that has grown in numbers and in notoriety over the past few decades. It specialises in worship services that are closer to a pop concert than they are to a traditional Christian worship service. Thus they have appealed to a young generation who enjoy going to ‘church’ to sing and dance and have a great time. All the traditional Christian Churches have, I think, felt the impact of Hillsong as their own young people are at times attracted to go and find out what it’s all about, and occasionally, they stay and never come back. This has made the traditional Churches somewhat defensive whenever the name ‘Hillsong’ is mentioned.

What is it about Hillsong we don’t like? I propose that we should not be cranky about their apparent success at drawing young people in, nor about their professionalism in putting on concert services, nor about the industry standard slick CDs they put out. There is nothing inherently wrong in singing snappy, catchy tunes to praise God. Nor is their anything wrong in using the music that speaks to a new generation – “I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some” quoth St Paul.

No, our problem with Hillsong is their theology, and their philosophy. Theologically, they preach what has come to be known as the “Health and Wealth Gospel“. The gist of this is that material success is a sign of God’s favour and blessing – pretty much always. Thus, they soothe the consciences of the rich (it just means you’re God’s favourite) and their pastors are quite proud of their own personal wealth (extra special favourites!) It really is Christianity for Yuppies, but with such dangerous and subtle flaws that it genuinely runs the risk of no longer being true to the Gospel of Christ who remarked that not only did He have nowhere to lay His head, but encouraged His followers to sell everything they had. If the precepts of the Health and Wealth Gospel were to be consistently followed through, then God must have totally rejected St Paul the Apostle, since he was deprived of both health and wealth in the most dramatic of ways through his whole preaching life (just read 2 Corinthians 11 & 12 if you don’t know what I mean).

Philosophically, we have a big problem with reducing Christianity to the level of a consumer item. Yes, it is true that we should follow in St Paul’s footsteps and be all things to all men that we might by all means save some, but I don’t think watering down the Gospel and commercialising it is really what he had in mind. There is s fine line between doing something professionally and doing it commercially, and I think that Hillsong too often cross that line. It is true that Hillsong have a very large “front door” with large numbers going in. But it is a lesser known fact that they also have a very large “back door”, with lots of people leaving all the time in disappointment and disillusionment. Their congregation is not as stable as most traditional Churches, but the faces are always changing. Added to that is their Pentecostalism. That is perhaps a topic for another day, but I have deep concerns about modern day Pentecostalism and its ‘showiness’ and lack of theological foundation or even of sensible purpose.

No, it’s not Hillsong music that we distrust.

E. “This will make the youth think Church is giving them permission to listen to horrible worldly music on the radio.”

And they don’t already? OK, here’s my understanding of our Church’s attitude on Christian liberty: “All things are lawful to me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful to me, but not all things build up” (St Paul again). Our role then is not to ban our youth from engaging with the secular world, but to train them and equip them with the divine wisdom, discernment and passion for God that will make the influence flow the other way – not from the world into them, but from them into the world. Whatever happened to “Let your light so shine among men” (Jesus this time)?

We only fear our youth listening to modern music because we fear it will lead them away from Christ. But surely this means we have failed miserably in instilling them with a genuine love for Christ? A person of any age who loves Christ with all his/her heart will not need anyone to tell them “Turn that song off – its leading you away from Christ”. They should be self-aware enough to sense the danger and devoted enough to make the right decision. There is even the possibility that the young person might use the secular song to bring them closer to Christ. Some love songs, for example, if sung with God in mind as the Beloved, can actually be quite beautiful prayers. This is not something new – King Solomon made a Book of the Bible out of that very concept!

Christianity, more than anything else in this world must be from free choice and sincere desire for God. Sure, we restrain younger kids with strict rules of what’s allowed and what is not in order to protect them from hurting themselves. They don’t yet know how to handle the world, so we help them do it. But is anyone really going to argue that a 25 year old, who might be responsible for millions of dollars or dozens of workers at work, can’t be trusted to be responsible for his/her own salvation?

F. “What is our Church coming to???”

Its senses, I hope. We live in a world of change, and often the answers of yesterday lose their relevance very quickly. If we are to remain strong as a Church and true to our core Christian mission, then we simply have no choice but to quickly separate the chaff from the wheat, to distinguish what is merely cultural norm from what is spiritual imperative, so that we can preserve that spiritual imperative by applying it to the ever changing cultural landscape in which we find ourselves.

I’m sorry, but musical style is not one of the spiritual imperatives of the Gospels. Yes, music has a powerful effect on people, but it is also true that it affects different people in different ways. I find today’s contemporary pop music just as cacophanous as my parents found the Beatles back in the 60’s, or their parents found jazz back in the 20’s.

Authentic Christianity isn’t bogged down in changing fashions.
It speaks the language that gets the message through, for it is the message that matters, not the medium.

Fr Ant