A few thoughts on yesterday’s message:
How much of the clapping phenomenon is really a demonstration of spontaneous, spirit-led worship? Or were your first instincts the right ones — that clapping is a reflection of widespread bad manners and more evidence of worship-as-entertainment and further infiltration of fringe-sect antics based on really dubious exegeses? I know that some Middle Eastern types started dancing and clapping during their “praise” folk dances, but to abandon the beauty and majesty of quiet contemplation and humbling song lyrics because of a few verses in the Old Testament makes about as much sense as installing Paris-style urinals in the back of the sanctuary based on the following verses: 1 Samuel 25:22 & 34, 1 Kings 14:10, 1 Kings 16:11, 1 Kings 21:21, and 2 Kings 9:8!
Is clapping widespread among other denominations as well, or have they been more successful at resisting its encroachment? (That’s not a rhetorical question — I really don’t know.) Traditions are dangerous things indeed, especially when that’s all you have (the Catholics and Jews come to mind), but it seems like we Baptists are guilty of throwing out the baby with the baptismal water. If we’re not careful, we’re going to wake up some day and discover that in our zeal to be hip and cool, we’ve forgotten those things that our forefathers clung to, even when refusing to assimilate meant torture and death.
Speaking of torture and death… I appreciate what you had to say about Luther’s incorporation of the pop music of his day. However, today’s vain repetitions of “holy” and “awesome” (and those are the big words!) hardly compare with “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” The snippets of those glorious old hymns scattered throughout J. I. Packer’s “Knowing God” painfully remind me how diluted and tepid our modern lyrics are by comparison. That’s not a universal condemnation — there are still some great writers out there, but they don’t seem to be getting any “air play” in Baptist churches. And as for the tunes, I haven’t heard many that will be requested down at the neighborhood piano bar. They’re just not of the same caliber as a catchy tune that people will remember (with fondness). Did you notice the difference in the congregation’s participation (and volume) Sunday, between the old standards and the new “praise” songs? And as long as I’m ranting, do we have to use the drums on every dang song? I feel like a galley slave sometimes, with the drummer banging out “stroke, stroke, stroke!”
Of course, deep, meaningful lyrics would be hard to project on an overhead screen, especially with all those fanciful background animations. You missed our Thursday morning discussion when we discussed Packer’s chapter on the dangers (not to mention the outright prohibition) of using images in our worship of God. We talked about pagans and Catholics and even Muslims. We talked at some length about symbols like the crucifix. Not once did anyone (including me — I was being “good”) point out that the images we project and the banners we hang are hardly different except for the technology used. Someone reading the older version of Packer’s book (the same one as yours) protested that he thought the author’s warning about the dangers of images was overstated. He wasn’t alone — here’s what Packer added at the end of the chapter 20 years later:
“A steady trickle of letters over the years has urged that my dissuasive from using images of God for didactic or devotional purposes goes too far. Does it? … the problem is that as soon as the images are treated as representational rather than symbolic, they begin to corrupt the devotion they trigger. Since it is hard for us humans to avoid this pitfall, wisdom counsels once more that the better, safer way is to learn to do without them. Some risks are not worth taking.”
Amen. Clap, clap, clap…