Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Count me among those who believe that the church has to be in the world and not of it.  Count me among those who believe that Christians have to dance with the now without abandoning what brought them to the dance floor in the first place.  Count me among those who believe that a living church should have one foot firmly planted in the past, and another in the heart of the marketplace of today's ideas.

Having said all of that, let me make an argument for the past.

Here's a stanza of unforgettable lyrics from a famous Lenten hymn:

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

"When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," is something gadzillions of Christians know by heart.  Isaac Watts' words reflect his 19th century poetic style:  sorrow is running from Jesus head and hands and feet, as is love.  He's talking about blood, of course--but he's also talking about love and sorrow.   "Did e'er such love and sorrow meet?" Chew on that line for a while, for a lifetime.  Charles Wesley once said that he'd trade having written every hymn he ever scribbled down for "When I Survey."

The argument some make is that rich hymnody creates the opportunity for thoughtfulness about our faith.  When we only sing lyrics we understand right away, we're not led into any deeper waters.  Ever.  In the last six months I've been in too many churches where what is sung lacks not only complexity but substance, in a well-meant attempt to meet people's needs.  I'm not dissing fast food, but if all you eat is Whoppers and fries, you're missing a healthy diet.

Thomas Bergler's Juvenilization of American Christianity argues that the contemporary church has kept faith vibrant by trying to keep up with the times, by trying to be what people want it to be; but in the process, he says, the church risks something as sometimes childish as the fads it mimics. 

I live juxtaposed between two extraordinary Sioux County fellowships. One is St. Mary's Church, here in Alton, an incredible cathedral so immensely ornate and beautiful that it hushes me everytime I walk in.  In design, both inside and out, it visually defines the faith aspirations of the community who built it and sustain it. 

Just about as far away in another direction stands an ex-used car showroom where Sioux County's most vibrant church meets every Sunday.  It has absolutely nothing of St. Mary's grandeur.  It takes great pride in not being a church. It too represents the aspirations of the community who built it and sustain it.

Those two churches are the two sides of a coin.  St. Mary's has things to learn from Living Water, but Living Water also has things to learn from St. Mary's.

But all of us, methinks, can learn from Isaac Watts.


Anonymous said...

The Gospels tell us where Jesus worshiped and how he ministered. Where did He worship and how? Where did the early Christians, as recorded in the book of Acts, worship and how? Where and how did the early Church change after the Roman god-emperor Constantine, used "christianity" to conquer the then known world for Rome. Where would Jesus sit today in our "incredible cathedral" and our abandoned building?

Anonymous said...

According to Acts Jesus would sit in the homes of new Christians with His disciples who were referred to as "unschooled men". [not seminary trained hired guns] He was not akin to sitting in the proud Pharisee-led temples.

The blending of man-made organizations with the Christ-Head-of the Church organism [better known as the Body of Christ] has caused great harm to the Church. We have temporalized [not a word but should be] most things that should remain spiritual.

"The Lord is in His Holy Temple, let all the earth keep silent before Him." We have reduced our God to a golden calf with all our "incredible cathedrals" know....wood hay, and stubble.

That said, old hymns of the church or simple scripture songs both have their place in worship in the Body of Christ.

Mark Stephenson said...

Hmmm, so by calling incredible cathedrals "a golden calf" are you saying that there is no place for artistic expression of the Christian faith, including architectural art? No place for skilled crafts men and women to use their hands to express their praise and devotion to God?

Anonymous said...

Apparently, the golden calf that that was constructed by skilled craftsmen and women [while Moses was struggling to get the 10 Commandments]was unacceptable to God.

The work of art was worshipped and broke one of the commandments Moses was working so hard at getting. Cathedrals and church buildings have often been constructed to make the "organization" look creditable to the world. People's homes worked just fine for gathering.