In the Present Tense

August 11, 2010


A young friend asks about drums, specifically a drum set in church or for worship.  I suppose we’ve made progress. No one seems to object to the guitar anymore. The short answer is that there will never be an end to people attempting to make lists of good and bad instruments, foods, books, ideas– what have you. It saves everyone the trouble of thinking about things, about making judgment calls. Just adhere to the lists, and you will be OK.

Of course, one big problem is that the lists change over time. At one point, the organ was considered taboo, since it had been associated with gladiatorial combat. Come to think of it, I’ve known quite a few churches where “Who gets to play the organ” battles were somewhat reminiscent of gladiatorial combat. But I digress.

Of course, all this,in Adventism, is predicated on one reference–although repeated in several places– to “shouting, with drums, music, and dancing,” that took place in Indiana in the Holy Flesh movement of the early 20th century.

It’s always interesting how these passages get parsed out. For example, rather than taking what happened as a whole, critics like to single out drums and dancing. It seems to me that shouting is a staple of certain types of preaching which is deemed quite acceptable. Nor have I seen any serious attempts to ban all music.

But why should that be? If all these things, “shouting, with drums, music, and dancing” were bad, why should some be banned and others accepted? I just don’t buy it.  I’ve posted this video before, but I think it bears repeating.

Does anyone seriously contend that this Nigerian carol is inappropriate? It is not the type of music I grew up with, but I cannot listen to it without being profoundly moved.

If Christ can cast demons out of human beings who were once their willing hosts, cannot inanimate objects be employed for His glory as well? Things are just things. What we do with them is what makes them a blessing or a curse.

Shouting, drums, music, and dance can be used to deaden the moral faculties and lead us into sin; or they can be used to the glory of God.

Legalism, on the other hand, is always deadly. At the GC session this summer, Pastor Paul Frederick from India addressed gathering with these words :”One of the most serious problems facing the Christian church today is legalism. It wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer. Nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull, and listless profession. Legalism is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for obtaining salvation. But when we are living by grace, we realize that everything we need in our Christian experience is a gift from God.”

There followed a performance of an Indian song praising God, accompanied by hand drums.

To this ear, it sounded both uniquely Indian and uniquely Adventist in the same way that “Mas Alla del Sol” sounds both uniquely Adventist and uniquely Mexican. And the drums added to that effect.

June 21, 2010

Elijah’s Razor on Father’s Day

Filed under: Culture and the Bible, Present Truth, The End, Women in the Bible, Worship — edoutlook @ 2:57 am

I’ve been contemplating this for some time. I’ve hesitated, because I am generally suspicious of manifestos and ultimata. I’ve wondered whether I should go out on this particular limb. As this Father’s Day comes to a close, I feel compelled to finally declare myself.

This blog is titled “In the Present Tense” because I am a Seventh-day Adventist, and I believe the uniquely Adventist contribution is the one of “Present Truth.”

As George Knight has documented, “Present Truth” was not a single doctrinal position, but rather a dynamic concept of bringing God’s Word to bear on the most important issues of a particular time and place. In 1843 it was the Second Coming. In the summer of 1844 it was the “Tenth day of the seventh month.” In November 1844 it was the Heavenly Sanctuary. In 1859 it was the 7th day Sabbath. And so on.

Some other place and some other time I will explore this concept in greater detail, but today I want to focus on what I believe is Present Truth today, right now. What I think is the most important thing to realize here and now.

Frankly, I expect that this will result in a good deal of criticism, even ridicule. That’s one reason I have put it off until now. But, on this Father’s day, I feel impelled to declare my mind.

I believe that the most important thing for today is found in Malachi 4: 5, 6.

“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

From our earliest days, Adventists have considered themselves the Elijah movement, those who act as forerunners of the King, as we proclaim the Second Coming. But for some reason we have been hesitant to proclaim what the Bible clearly designates as the Elijah message: Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children.

One consequence, I believe, is that we are hemorrhaging young adults at lethal rate. And few seem to either note it or even care. Another symptom of this failure to emphasize this crucial truth is that we are engaged in essentially trivial controversies.

Gay marriage, women’s ordination, worship wars, music –these are but a few of the highly controversial issues that generate so much heat and produce so little light among us today. And I believe that focusing on turning the hearts of the fathers to the children either resolves these disputes or puts them into perspective which makes them manageable.

You may have heard of Occam’s Razor, which basically states that the simplest explanation that takes all facts into account is likely to be correct. Well, this is my razor–call it “Elijah’s Razor.” From now on, if one side of an issue can be shown to aid in turning the hearts of the fathers to their children, then Elijah’s razor says that is the preferred position. If it  detracts from that cause, Elijah’s razor condemns it. If it has no effect either way, then Elijah’s Razor declares it irrelevant.

That’s it. That’s my declaration. I don’t want to pick any fights or start any controversies. But if someone asks me about any issue, from gay marriage to government health care to women’s ordination to worship and beyond, I’ll apply Elijah’s Razor. And there’s no better time to declare this focus than Father’s Day.

January 5, 2010

Worship or Praise?

Filed under: Bible study, Culture and the Bible, Present Truth, Worship — edoutlook @ 3:34 am

I recently received a question from a young adult church member ( I treasure all these questions, by the way!)

how are praise and worship  different, if at all?  The question came up because of what I see in  my church services (in most, if not all of the churches I’ve been a  member of).  The short version of my thought is that praise is David  dancing before the Lord with his bathrobe not-quite-done-up (and  saying he’d be even MORE undignified praising God), and worship is  “the Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence.”

In  my mind, I would praise God however I feel impressed to praise Him (a la Psalm 150, or the idea behind thank offerings), whereas worship is  how God wants us to worship Him (like the ancient sanctuary services).

They’re obviously not mutually exclusive, but to me, they seem
distinct.  (This is why I describe myself as being a “liberal” when it
comes to praise and a “conservative” when it comes to worship.)  But I  also know that if, say, you were planning a church program, there’d be  questions around how to mix the two, or join the two to complete the  intention of a church service.  It also leads to the question of what  exactly God wants from us in worship (specifically corporately, since  individually, it seems a more simple answer, revolving our individual  humility and respect, like Moses at the burning bush, or Elijah with  the still, small voice, or Job in the tornado).

It  seems like an important issue to me, since so many traditions around  how we do church hang on its answer.  (It’s closely tied to how we understand “reverence,” which is a word that I’ve heard for as long as I can remember.)

What a fabulous question! So I had a go at it.

As far as praise and worship go, my simple answer would be that praise is one component of worship.  Worship consists of more than praise. The best definition I know of worship is proclaiming “who God is, and what He does.” Necessarily, some of this will be praise.

Reverence is the internal attitude of awe that results from recognizing with Whom we have to do. In my book, “Torn,” I describe this sense of reverence immediately after Jacob sees the tower we call “Jacob’s Ladder.”

“Shivering now, not from cold but from awareness, he looked around him,
remembering the tower, the ramp, the shimmering messengers. This is a
fearsome place,
he thought. What else can this be but the house of Elohim, the very doorway and path to the heavens?”

Although the initial reaction may well be silence, the realization of God’s
great grace may then be followed rapidly by ecstatic praise.  That’s why
worship in the Bible often includes shouting, clapping, and dancing.
Although we may be uncomfortable with those things today, our early pioneers practiced all these and more.

I think we spend too much time wondering about what is ‘appropriate’
worship, and not nearly enough time concentrating on how to make God and His works real. Our lack of demonstrativeness — and I say this as a pretty stolid white guy (see the postcript, below) — says more about our lack of realization of “who God is and what He does,” than it does about reverence.

Having said that, the alternate temptation can be just as destructive, that
is, too gin up a congregation emotionally in order to produce the sort of
demonstration that results in clapping, shouting, and dancing.

In the Bible, sometimes God is in the fire from heaven, and sometimes He is in the still, small voice. Our worship must focus on the Person and Works of God–the expression of that worship will take care of itself.

I think the greatest temptation for those conducting worship service is
after one of those services where the hair rises on the back of your neck
because you recognize the Presence of something you could not have planned, to think, “let’s do that again!” But God must be sought, He will not be summoned; He acts, He will not be acted upon.

The best we can do, I think, is try to create an opportunity for worshipers
to open themselves to the Divine. Every attempt to induce or force that
openness produces the opposite reaction. And the more successful we are at simulating worship, the greater our sense of pride, and the more distant
real worship becomes.

P.S. I don’t dance. Not because I object to it. Scripture actually commands it, and I have seen beautiful worship dance. I don’t dance because when I do, others object. Let’s just say my gyrations are to dance what “making a joyful noise” is to singing.

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