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

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is There Such a Thing As A Sacred Style? (part 3)

i think this cultural elitism is rampant in churches, and it is something worth worrying about. If one set of people are allowed to judge all other styles as acceptable or unacceptable to a greater or lesser degree, then acceptance into Christian fellowship requires membership and/or conformity to a certain culture.

Is this how Jesus wants us to do things? Should we only accept one culture? Should we allow only one culture's customs and styles to dominate? This sounds very near the attitude of first century Jewish-Christians, does it not? The early church was struggling deeply over unity between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Many Jews just couldn't fathom the thought that Gentiles could be God's chosen people too. Unless, of course, those Gentiles were thoroughly Judaized--that is, trained to adopt Jewish life and culture. [Consider the "civilizing" of Native American tribes that took place in colonial times.] Paul was quite clear that Gentiles did not need to become Jews either religiously or culturally in order to be pleasing to God.

Paul also berated Gentiles to learn to welcome each other despite socio-economic difference (Rom 12:16; 1Cor 11:17ff). Think for a moment, is it likely that all the lower classes in Corinth or Rome shared the same cultural styles as the upper classes? Very likely not. Rejection of styles was a mark of elitism and sinful division.

Jesus was arguably distraught over the Pharisees' instistence on imposing their own elements of style on their fellow Jews. Certain styles of prayer, clothing, or meal-time rituals were seen as good, and anyone deviating from those style was suspect or worse.

James taught his readers it was wrong for them to favor people based on styles of clothing (James 2:1-4).

i realize these scriptures don't deal directly with musical styles; but i think the principle is the same. What is really behind our judgment against certain musical styles? We associate certain styles with certain people who belong to certain cultures/sub-cultures other than our own; and we look down on or have moral suspicions about those cultures/sub-cultures, thus we have negative feelings about those styles. "Only that kind of people would like that style of song." (Fill in what you like--liberal, conservative, old, young, rebellious, traditional, ethnicity, etc. --these elitist style judgments work for anyone.)

Or people are afraid of where they perceive certain styles will lead. "If we start singing songs like that, we'll be less spiritual." ("less spiritual" can be filled in by anyone too--we'll be more liberal, more conservative, more entertainment-driven, less reverent, less celebratory, etc.)

Arguably, most if not all of these kinds of charges amount to the same thing: cultural elitism. You not only need to be a Christian, but also a member of the dominant culture. A culture that favors certain styles and disdains others. [i believe you see this phenomenon at work in mission fields as well where missionaries take it upon themselves not merely to Christianize, but also to Americanize, yet never really separate the two in their minds.]

Is this the way the Lord's church should run? Should we make culture/sub-culture membership a test of cooperation and approval? Should the dominant culture represented in a church have the monopoly on song styles? Should they look at other members or other congregations with disdain who use different styles? i believe the first century Jew/Gentile controversy alone shows us that any cultural prejudices causing division or disharmony in the church is unacceptable in the eyes of our Lord.

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