This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bringing our 'Best' before the Lord

This is a sort of continuation of the "style" topic i've been talking about, but related indirectly.

Many churches deem the 'right' style to be the most talent-based/skill-based style. The idea here is that we ought to emphasize and spotlight the highest-level musicianry in our style. Singers with the most musically skilled voices should be given microphones or put up front on display. The 'right' style must include a near professional-level production. Great focus ought to be placed on the artistict and technical elements of the musical style.

i believe there are two basic rationales given for this approach (please speak up if there are more that i've left out).

One goes like this: We should aim to design our worship services to attract and retain more visitors. Therefore, we ought to improve and emphasize elements of the worship service which will be most appealing to them. i do want to respond to this, but i'd prefer to save my response to this for another blog-post altogether.

The second rationale goes something like this: We should always 'bring our best before the Lord.' So if we're going to have music in our worship service, we ought to do it with the utmost skill and talent we can muster. i believe this rationale for justifying finest-quality-musicianry is mistaken for a couple reasons. Here's the first:

This rationale certain seems quite biblical. God instructed that the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, and its various accessories should be built by skilled craftsman (Exo 26), using the finest materials and purest gold and precious metals (Exo 25). God commanded that animals offered for sacrifice were to be without spot or blemish (Lev 3). In fact, Malachi berated Jews for offering God low quality animals as sacrifices (Mal 1:6ff). Even Jewish musical worship was to be performed by skilled musicians (1Chr 15:22; 25:7) who were exhorted to play their music skillfully (Psa 33:3).

Yes, it's true. In the Old Testament, God's instructions made clear that the aesthetic and material elements of the Jewish religion were to be of the finest quality the Jews could muster. And the quality of these elements reflected the level of the nation's reverence for and singular allegiance to God. So doesn't this provide us as Christians with a precedent for how we ought to view the material and aesthetic elements in our worship?

No. No? That's right, no. Why? Because this is a particular point at which the Old and New covenants differ. There is a definite asymetry between the Old and New Testaments on just this sort of matter. Yes, the Old Testament is chalk-full of instructions about how the material and aesthetic elements of its religion were to be of the highest caliber possible, and the quality of these elements served as a measure (but not the only measure) of the Jews' devotion to God.

But it is just this sort of thing that is completely missing from the New Testament. Notice, the New Testament is completely lacking in these kinds of instructions. We aren't told that the Lord's Supper has to be served in the finest gold and silver plates and cups. God didn't teach us that we must use only the finest quality bread and wine for the Lord's Supper. We aren't told to assemble in only the finest quality, most-skillfully built church buildings. The NT doesn't teach us that only the most eloquent and skilled speakers should ever be our teachers and preachers. There is a tremendous lack of mention of material and aesthetic elements in Christianity. This stark contrast between the texts of the OT and NT suggest that this rationale for finest-quality aesthetic/material elements of worship did not carry over from the Old Covenant to the New.

In fact, not only is there a contrast of mention in the NT of such things, but there is a contrast of emphasis on this point between the two covenants. Rather than the quality of our worship and service being measured by the material/aesthetic elements as in Judaism, the emphasis on quality in the NT seems to rest solely on the non-material/non-aesthetic elements. Christians should have the 'finest quality' hearts and lives--attitudes, motives, intentions, and behavior.

Further, consider that disease and deformity were explicitly degraded in the Old Testament, whereas Jesus was a champion of the material and aesthetic have-nots (Luke 4:17-21). A recurring theme in the NT is that the blessings of Christ belong equally to those people who don't appear to be or to have anything 'special' to offer God. The NT gives no indication that God is anymore pleased by Christian emphasis on the material and aesthetic; in fact, it arguably gives us the impression that the era during which God is concerned about such things is over.

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