Sunday, April 01, 2007

But Can We Boo in Church?

It is on the front page of The Tennessean, so it must be important to know that Christians, having solved all of the important problems, are engaged in disputes over whether one should clap one's hands in a worship service. Actually, the author of the piece, religion writer Anita Wadhwani, correctly describes this as a part of a larger dispute over worship styles. The nature of that disagreement is important for what it says about the current state of evangelicalism.

The entire debate in churches is over style of worship, and it is sad that few take up the more significant issue of the substance of Christian worship, which is poor in many traditional churches and arguably worse in contemporary ones. Much of contemporary worship -- if the term "worship" can be used to describe what takes place -- involves the mindless but enthusiastic repetition of catchy phrases. However, it can hardly be thought much worse than supposedly traditional hymns like the old favorite, "In the Garden," which is perhaps the prototypical "God is my boyfriend" type of song:

"And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.
And the joys we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."

Ugh.

Even those defending bad worship practices instinctively realize that worship should be centered on the one being worshipped, and so defenders of clapping make an effort to explain that the applause is being directed to God. Really? The skeptic might wonder why congregations are more likely to applaud God when the singer nails a high note at the end, regardless of the content of what has been sung.

A legalistic ban on clapping would be silly, but the prevalence of clapping in some places reinforces the notion that much of what is called worship merely involves working up the crowd. One wishes that Christian congregations would worry less over whether organs are more spiritual than guitars and drums and instead concern themselves with whether their worship is God or man centered.

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