Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Institution's Same Old Excuses

During the service at church this morning, my thoughts drifted onto one of my pet peeves - institutional church legalism.

How did I get onto that?

We sang a Graham Kendrick song.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Graham Kendrick's music... some of his songs are really good and were present at watershed moments in my life. My problem isn't with Kendrick or his material at all. You see, my problem is with people who use Kendrick's songs merely to plug a gap.

Staunch traditionalists, when pressed to incorporate modern worship into their services; cling to Kendrick's songs in a bid to look hip.

Actually it's ONE Kendrick song.... almost always the same one...

"Shine Jesus Shine".

Have you ever seen the film The Princess Bride? It's a personal favourite of mine. One of the villain's in the film keeps using the word "Inconceivable" as a response to the efforts of one man who is intent on thwarting his plan:

He uses it to the point of cliche. The word no longer means what it is meant to mean.

I think people's overuse of the same songs, the same liturgy or litany can have the same effect if we are not careful. Please note, don't misinterpret this as a swipe against prayers or songs that are written in a liturgical format. That's not my issue...I cannot fault the words or theology of those prayers. What I fault is the over-reliance on them. The fact that it's easy just to say or sing things parrot fashion, without contemplating what they actually mean.

I felt convicted this morning.

As soon as I saw we were singing "Shine Jesus Shine", my heart sank. It was then that I felt challenged by God: "Look at the words Nick. It doesn't matter why the song was picked... you can still make sure it means something to you."

As always, God was right... and it struck me that the third verse may be sung a lot more lightly by people, than it should be:

As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story
Shine on me, shine on me

Pay particular attention to the line I highlighted. How easy is it to sing that line without thinking of the consequences? Are we really prepared to live the life of Jesus... no matter the cost?

As it turned out, the selection of song was appropriate. We were looking at the martyrdom of Stephen this morning... and the passage talks about his face radiating like an angel while they threw insults at him for what he spoke of.

Furthermore, it occurred to me that Stephen's life really did mirror Christ's.

Why do I say that? Well as soon as Stephen was arrested (for doing nothing more than performing miracles and engaging in debate), some of the trumped up charges he was prosecuted on, were the same ones Jesus faced. The Sanhedrin charged him with speaking out against the temple and the law. They were obsessed with stone, ink, paper, silver and gold. Stephen was accused of threatening to destroy the temple... but he was not speaking against the Law... he was speaking up for grace. The Sanhedrin must have been suffering a terrible bout of deja vu because no sooner had the kangaroo court heard mention of the name Jesus, they flew into a fury and stoned Stephen to death.

Stephen in his final moments really did mirror Christ; his life and death really did tell Christ's story.

But have we learned anything since that time? Are we like the wind, which blows and you cannot tell where it comes from, or where it goes? Or are we set in stone and obsessed with orderly worship?

Worship should have some form of structure... but it should only bet there to support it. Structure must not become an idol in itself.

Or will God have to send another Stephen into our churches?

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