It doesn’t take much time for folks to know that a fundamental part of who I am is maintaining “necessary tensions.” My life is full of them. “Jesus Christ,” in fact, is the epitome of tensions: Jesus the Human co-mingled (without change, confusion, division or change [as one of the old creeds put it])… co-mingled with the Divine Christ. Sorry, getting a little carried away here…
Gary Thomas’ Authentic Faith and his chapter on the essential place of mourning in our lives and spiritual formation had me reading about a fundamental flaw in a whole lot, if not all, of the Contemporary Worship cultures/venues I have encountered and worked with:
…the modern nondenominational Protestant church all to often keeps every service deliberately upbeat and positive. Even though somber issues may be addressed, pastors often feel obligated to wrap everything up at the end so that the service ends up in an uplifting way. This lightheartedness is not an accurate reflection of life… (p.151)
Well might he have said the same thing about the Protestant Contemporary services I have attended–and not just in nondenominational settings: there is a premium in such settings on feeding a consumeristic crowd with what they want and need to hear… and that is most often “feeling good.” A balance must be struck where heart and emotion are wed to mind and some sense of somberness before the Holy (and our fallenness). The Ancient Faith begs to be heard and to assert itself at points beyond praising God and helping us to feel good.
Of course, there is a tension here. Just as the adolescent** Contemporary spirit needs to be bridled to see a more serious and demanding world and faith, the seated (and more crusty?***) Traditional crowd needs to remember and affirm that the Faith is living and dynamic–like an organism. It can not and should not (and really, will not) be contained in narrow expressions or channels. Wesley, whom Traditionists most cling to in a Methodist setting, was an innovator and “contemporary” in his time: moving worship beyond the sanctuary to the mouth of cold mines, empolying contemporary tunes in the articulation of an ancient faith and theology,…
“Oh to join the two so long divided: knowledge and vital piety”: so wrote Wesley. For our immediate purposes in worship, well might we say: “oh, to join the two so long divided: adolescent enthusiasm and innovation… and a sensitivity to and reverance for the enduring and timeless [even if it does not always feel good… or serve my needs].
Yes, there are too many “Traditionals” who need to remember that Wesley was Contemporary… and too many “Contemporaries” who need to remember there was a Wesley.
***Mind you, words like adolescent and “crusty” (and other such connotations in this post) only refer to personalities and positions at the edge and extremes. There are plenty of Contemporaries and Traditionals “in the middle” who see the value of the other side… and strive strive to hold it all together (in creative tension). There are enough, though, at the extremes for me to still advance these words to the general “encampments.”