A Symphony with New Life
By Brian Nixon
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) — New Life Symphony Orchestra Southwest is unique among American symphonies. For one, the symphony consists predominately of professional Christian musicians. Secondly, the orchestra doesn’t charge for their concerts.
According to musical director, Michael Bowen, the distinctive vision of the symphony transcends the standard-fair operation of most American symphonic groups…(article continues HERE)
Classical music defended as having made and even now MAKING a profound contribution to Christian mission, depth, thought, and worship; imagine that….
Reading this article brought to mind what happened last Sunday, when we worshiped in a Lutheran congregation, far away from home.
We knew nothing about the church, only that it was close to our motel and that it was listed as being part of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) Since the definition of “Synod” is “walking together”, we anticipate even when away, a recognizable common confession, though the format may be unique to a particular congregation. Something in Common was not what we found.
The folks were friendly. Beyond casual, they were actually “dressed down”, in t-shirts and jeans; except for the pastor – who wore a Hawaiian shirt. But ultimately it’s all about Christ, no matter what we’re wearing, right?
But it was not. All the songs, were accompanied by the “praise band” members who performed up front and to the right, in the sanctuary. Simple, perhaps even lazy music, three chord stuff …been there, done that. The beat was loud, the rhythm predictable, yet somehow not. One song was recognizable – “How Great Thou Art”, but we couldn’t sing along, since the timing had word phrases strung together in a rapid-fire manner, only to be separated by techno-mood-music pauses. During that song, my mind started racing – What have we gotten ourselves into? Will this service aim no higher than the loins, musically? Worship hymnody for two thousand years has consistently aimed to elevate, yet once again, folks seemed determined to aim for the lowest common denominator – a hybrid pop-rock high school-pep-assembly meme.
At one point, the only words on the screens were: “Oh!, Oh!, Oh!, Oh!”, causing me to wonder, “Where are we, what is happening to who, what are we DOING, and why are we talking like that?” The screen was our sole access point to the words being sung, since of course there were no hymnals… no surprise there. Heaven help these folks should the power ever go out, not so much because they won’t be able to use the screen, but because they won’t be able to recall words or tunes minus the obligatory “back beat”, microphones, and electric guitars. Throw away words attached to throw away music….the criteria being “Make it rhyme most of the time!” Reminded me of friends from college who would sometimes say “God gave me this song today” before they’d then sing it. Heaven forbid I should discourage creativity, and I’m no great musician, but often, having heard the “gift” I would be tempted to respond “God must have been having a very bad day”. This music was like that.
My criticism seems harsh? What happened in the end, was the reason for my indictment. After the pastor gave his talk filled with spiritual suggestions – lacking Law or Gospel, he prayed. In the course of the prayer, he mentioned that we sin and that God forgives. Then he turned, spoke the Words of Institution, gave Communion to two men and two women who had come forward; and then departed to sit behind the altar, against the wall while they distributed the host.
For us? No Confessions – not of the faith via Creed, nor one of our sins. At all.
The way the bread and wine was being handed out reminded me of how candy is randomly thrown along a parade route…
At one point, during the “meet and greet” (“just say hello” not even suggesting “sharing of the Peace”) time before Communion, my sister had asked a woman behind us “Is this Missouri?” Her response – “It doesn’t matter.” That was the lone confession of faith we heard during the entire worship.
After the service, the pastor approached us. I was polite, even a bit apologetic, but then decided to address the issue (we were sitting towards the front, and since by now he knew after having met him, that my husband was a pastor…. and we had declined participation in their Communion)… I told him that the reason I’d not been able to go up for communion was because there was no Confession. His response “Well I mentioned sin in my prayer”.
“I heard you, but that was YOU, not us”. He looked down. I figured that making one point was enough. He said “Well I am a classically trained musician” (Thought but not said: “You are KIDDING me!.. you HIDE it well”) and then his “This is a young church, only twenty years old. We figured that since others were offering ‘classical’ worship, we’d go with something more contemporary”. “Classical”, that’s new….makes it sound more “unreachable for the common folk”. Yet I wouldn’t call what we’d witness as being “of the people” either. Rather, as my 20 yr. old son later stated, it was patronizing, especially considering all that had been left out. So their “young” status forever dooms them to be stuck in the shallows? But it wasn’t even shallow, it was just bad.
But the conversation went on: he looked with a smirk at my husband who had determined he was not going to cast any more pearls, and said “And how many parishioners do YOU have?” (I wanted to say – “My husband could preach you under the table and out the door, pal!)
But instead came the simple answer, “150 parishioners”. I was taken aback; instead of engaging in a discussion of any type of theology, he was now going to pull a numbers routine? Yes, HE had numbers to report, and was not finished doing so.
“Well, let me see, we have over… I think, 900 now” with a smile. Impressive, no question. But we’d seen the substance, or rather the lack of it, so we just listened. That’s kind of where it ended before we left. The only visitors they were willing and able to offend? Lutherans. And we didn’t go in there looking for a fight; we just wanted the Good News of Christ and His forgiveness. Just worship. That’s it. Instead we were subjected to a performance of sorts, kids playing church. What must their funerals be like? What is the depth and substance that this congregation is passing on to the next generation? How long can a Hybrid Christianity coast before it crashes? How can a congregation claim to be Lutheran when the only person there who knows what should be taught is the pastor and he’s concealing what he knows? These folks were not wandering sheep lacking a shepherd, they were a flock being mislead by their shepherd. No youngster, this guy graduated from the seminary in 1976.
Talk of numbers reminds me of a girl I knew in high school who used to boast about how MANY popular guys she’d slept with. She got a lot of attention for a while. Where is she now? Where are they now? The mutual interest, even excitement, that briefly united her with those guys, was not what would keep them together; in fact, that it even happened finally drove them apart out of shame and embarrassment. Forever.
It is possible for our Christian Church to experience growth legitimately, doing what we do best, solid teaching while engaging in Word and Sacrament Ministry; but there is always an ever present temptation and a danger that we may aim to grow by prostituting ourselves just to appeal to the masses.
Dumbing-down draws crowds. Circuses draw crowds. Where in Scripture did they ever do that? We could draw a crowd, even here, if we had topless ushers, Hooters Sundays, or church picnics with Wet T-Shirt Contests, all for the love of Jesus. But what ultimately happens to the content of our message when what is presented deliberately sacrifices, even mocks valuable and thorough Biblical teaching and sound historical practice?