Sunday, July 24, 2011

If I Had Some Do-Overs

        Things I Would Do Different

I wish we could play life like Bill Clinton used to play golf – lots of mulligans. But, there are not many do-overs in life. Here are a few things that experience and reflection have led me to think I would do different if I had the chance.

Preaching. I have always had a high view of preaching, and my number one way of thinking about my identity is “preacher.” I use preacher, not in the way we often use it in the South to refer to a pastor or minister, but rather in its more narrow sense of one who declares or proclaims the Word of God. This I would not change.

One thing I would change is that I would make virtually all my preaching “consecutive” preaching. To the chagrin of some of my friends, no doub, I would not give up “seasonal” preaching, preaching in connection with the “Evangelical Feast Days" (Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost)  that survived the Reformation’s surgery on the liturgical calendar. Nor would I give up  “occasional” preaching, such as a special sermon after 9-11.

But I would commit myself more to working through books or sections of books in Scripture. I would do much less “free-texting” as we preachers call it - choosing various texts from different places in Scripture from week to week. I am thankful that one of the emphases in Reformed worship that has gained more attention since I began in ministry is that lectio continuo approach to preaching. The reason is that I am convinced that it is the best way to feed a congregation and to give structure and balance to the minister’s preaching work. I could have increased both my own understanding and that of the people I have served.

Means of Grace. I have always happily said that the faith set forth in our Confession and Catechisms is my own faith. But, that does not mean I have always had the same level of understanding of them, especially with regard to one very  practical question.

That is the question, “How does God’s grace come into our lives?” Or, “How do people become Christians, grow as Christians, and persevere as Christians?” Or, “How is the church expanded and strengthened?” I now see clearly that the answer is the ordinary public means of grace. These are the Word, read and preached, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and corporate prayers.

If I started over, I would have a high view, not only of preaching, but also of the sacraments and the prayers of the church. I would have more confidence in them and thus put more emphasis on them. That in turn means I would put less emphasis on some other things - that is, “programs” and “other ministries.” I know I would put more emphasis on worship and less on small groups and counseling.

Liturgy. I have never done much “experimenting” with worship; I have pretty much been a “stick in the mud” traditionalist. But I would stick closer to the historic worship of the church. I would have had a greater appreciation of the wisdom of the ages.

I would not have played around with liturgy, trying to put my mark on it. I would not, as I too often did, try to construct thematic services revolving around the sermon. I would never try to improvise or personalize things like weddings and funerals. I do not mean there would be no variations, but the structure of the service would be the same for everyone. I would never mess around with the wedding vows to make them more modern and relevant but would receive and administer them as they come to us through the Book of Common Prayer and Book of Common Worship.

I would see more clearly, and thus reject more firmly, the changes that revivalism brought into Presbyterian worship. I would have done less asking covenant children and professors of faith to consider whether they “really” are Christians by asking in sermons what they have experienced and felt. When I was young, I had the idea that a great many professing Christians (and I mean professing as in affirming with understanding the questions for church membership) were likely not Christians. I was influenced first by revivalists (crusade evangelism) and then by some of the “experimental” Calvinists.

I would spend more time teaching the faith (objective content) and strengthening faith (subjective reception). The Christian life is a trip “through many dangers, toils, and snares” and Christians need all the encouragement and hope they can get. I do not mean, for a moment, I would be indifferent to whether those who professed faith continued in their professions in belief and life. I strongly believe that church membership means keeping the membership vows.

Music. What vexing matter music has become! I know that language and music change, and that we cannot be indifferent to that. But I also know that the content of what we sing is critical; and I am pretty sure that not every musical form can serve as a vehicle for the words we sing to God to glorify him, and to ourselves and other believers to edify.

Of course, I believe God gives his people new songs to sing in every age, but I am highly doubtful that songs that were birthed in the charismatic movement are compatible, not only with Reformed worship, but with Biblical piety (the Christian life). What I came to see later is the connection between the “gospel songs” of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the “praise and worship songs” of the latter part of the 20th century. Both tend to be shallow, subjective, and sentimental. Both reflect Christian belief and practice that are different from historic Christianity. Neither seems to give adequate praise to a great God or adequate foundation for a strong Christian.

I am not sure I would be all that open to some of the “new music” being written for old hymns. To me these tunes sound too much alike and are too hard to sing. Most of them cry out to be sung with a twang. And these tunes sometimes seem at odds with the words. For instance they do not serve well words that express the glory, majesty, and victory of God. They are too folksy, too pop, too easy-listening. And, while see still sing tunes from the 16th and 17th centuries, I cannot believe we will still be singing these

I surely would have given greater place to the singing of Psalms and substantial hymns honoring to God and edifying to souls. I would like to see congregations sing songs to live by and die by.

I could go on, but I am sure this is enough to confirm myself as a curmudgeon. But, however stuck in the mud and cranky I may be, I believe that the things I would do different come from some sincere desire that God would be more pleased with and we would be more edified by our worship.


Anonymous said...

Found this reading affirming of many of the worship practices at FPC Jackson. Thank you!

Susan Morgan

Mike said...

Is there a certain edition of "The Book of Common Worship" that you prefer? I've learned that there are several editions: 1906, 1932, 1946, and 1993.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

I have always used the 1946 which is what we used in seminary.