I was driving to Portland the other day, which is about an hour drive from my place in Salem. I decided to switch my Sirius-XM radio from channel 49, Soul Town, to channel 63, The Message – Contemporary Christian Music. I have to admit that I’m not a great fan of contemporary Christian because it kind of all sounds the same. But, I was in the mood to connect with Jesus a bit so I thought a little background music wouldn’t hurt.
As I drove a listened, there were songs to sing to – yeah, I do that in the car. But as I listened a pattern started to develop that made me a little uneasy. I had my meeting and got back in the car and almost turned back to my soul music! But, I stayed with The Message. About 20 minutes into my drive home the pattern was undeniable.
I had listened to about 20 songs and 18 of them focused entirely on God’s love. In and of itself that’s not a bad thing of course. But it got me thinking about our current generation of Christians; the difference in theology taught by these contemporary songs versus traditionally hymns; and the direction the church is heading in our current culture. I want to share my thoughts on all this and I apologize in advance if I ramble a bit.
The problem I have with the “love” message is that it is partial gospel. The way love is defined and described in these songs and thus by the generation of Christians who grew up on them is that God’s love covers all. And by extrapolation, all is permissible because God loves you so much it doesn’t matter. That is not what God’s love is all about.
Our church celebrated Maundy Thursday last night and I write this blog on Good Friday. Certainly God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….In that verse, we focus on God’s love not the words “He gave.” I believe the “He gave” part is vital to understanding just what God’s love is.
Jesus voluntarily went to the cross because He loves us. But He had to go to the cross for an entirely different reason! Jesus was crucified because of our sin; every one of us nailed Him to that cross by our rebellion against God! Certainly God loves us, but He also demands justice, holiness, righteousness, and truth. God’s love embodies those four attributes but you’d never know it listening to the songs on the radio and the ones we all sing in service.
It seems to me that we have a generation that embraces God’s love at the expense of God’s holiness. This was brought home to me the other day while I was on campus where I’m an adjunct professor.
I was walking through the main part of campus heading to meet a student I mentor. On the steps of the main building were about 12 students – some of whom I know and have taught – holding rainbow flags and LGBT signs. Once sign read: Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner with the words Sin and Sinner crossed out. Now mind you, this is not on the campus of my alma mater University of Oregon – the last bastion of hippydom on the planet. No, this is on the campus of a conservative Christian university which has a statement of faith affirming traditional marriage and God’s word!
One student told me during class the next day that when he asked the group if they thought about the consequences of their rally should a prospective student and their parents see it, he was told that if those people were so hateful and bigoted we didn’t need them on campus.
Love is Love and Love Conquers All. Right?
In a sense, I don’t blame the kids I blame our pastors and religious leaders who have not loved their congregations enough to teach the truth of scripture and believe it is more loving to affirm a lie and keep the peace than love someone enough to tell them God’s truth even if it means conflict.
On a side note, yes, I did send an email to the university president and have been in an ongoing conversation with him. I have this sneaking suspicion my contract will not be renewed for next year!
Let me share a thought I wrote to the president. When we decide that God is wrong about sin, that what God calls sin actually is not sin for us, then we are saying we don’t need Jesus in that part of our lives. Do you see how that works? If it’s not sin, we don’t need saving from it and we don’t need a savior for it. This is how Satan works! He convinces us that we God is wrong and that we don’t need Jesus in our lives. That is a VERY slippery slope that leads you to Matthew 7:21 where Jesus says He never knew you. I am very concerned that is where our contemporary music generation falls because it teaches the love message without the holiness message, without the righteousness message, without the obedience message, without the sacrifice message, without the justice message of God’s need for propitiation. Simply put, we’re raising theologically illiterate generations.
If your church is anything like mine, there’s a battle between generations regarding music. I marvel at how “Christians” can get so wrapped up by style of music, but then again I studied music in college so I like most types. I do get the older generation’s objections to the shallowness of contemporary music which I’ve discussed above. But music style obviously shouldn’t be such a point of contention so long as we understand what we’re doing when we sing: We are worshiping Jesus!! That should be our only focus!
I have to admit that I like the traditional hymns because they are so theologically rich that they actually teach Christian doctrine. Their obvious drawback is they were written between 200-400 years ago which makes them a little dull to the younger generation. But the words – the words! We sang a couple last night about Jesus and the cross that almost brought me to tears! You just don’t get that from today’s contemporary Christian music.
And because we’ve raised our younger generation is separate services from the traditional music, we’ve deprived them of all that theological education! Most denominations don’t do catechism so hymns would be where you would get your weekly doctrinal training beyond the sermon!
Now, I don’t want to blame contemporary Christian music for all that is wrong in the church when it comes to holding to sound doctrine. I actually like a number of contemporary songs and groups. But I will say that we’re not really going deep with our congregants when it comes to theology and doctrine and instead of providing “feel-good” messages of encouragement and hope at nearly every turn. I think this, again, is partial gospel and partial gospel is no gospel at all.
State of the Church
The gates of hell cannot stand against the Church of Jesus Christ. But, the church of Jesus Christ is not all the churches in America and every Christian denomination. The church of Jesus Christ, according to scripture, are those people who do God’s will and love Jesus enough to obey His commands.
Even today we see churches which have lost their first love; embrace false prophets and teachers; engage with Jezebel; whose deeds are incomplete; and are neither hot nor cold (Revelations 2-3).
I was teaching my class just yesterday about Collective Identities (Political Science concept) where people group up behind various ideas into collective groups who identify themselves by their belief. One of the main points I made is that once you engage in a collective identity it becomes an adversarial system. Once you believe something there is always another collective identity group who will oppose you!
As Christians, we have a collective identity! And, we are told plainly that we are set apart from the world (sanctification) and that Satan is the prince of this world and we are to hate the world (adversarial system). So, when Christians embrace the culture of man instead of the truths of God you’ve got a problem because you then are no longer part of the identified collective identity.
That unfortunately is where I believe the American church is and it’s just going to get worse. Instead of holding firm to sound doctrine as commanded, the American church is going apostate in an attempt to please man not God by defining love by man’s terms not God’s. It’s just sad to watch.
Jesus said He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. So, what is truth as Pontius Pilate would ask?
Truth is love!
The most loving thing you can do is tell someone the truth no matter how painful they find it and no matter what it cost you to do it. If you truly love another person you tell them the truth!
That is why I think the partial gospel of love that is being pushed is so dangerous. There is absolutely nothing loving about claiming to love somebody and withholding God’s truth from them. Why? Because by withholding God’s truth from them you are sentencing them to an eternity in hell. I can’t be more blunt than that. What could be more unloving than keeping someone from recognizing their need for a savior and then accepting the gift of eternal life from Jesus? I just can’t imagine anything more cruel.
I guess that means I’m going to be part of the very vocal minority of Christians that hold to sound doctrine and am considered a conservative, evangelical, Jesus freak nut job. I’m okay with that. Here’s why: At the end of the day I’ll be meeting Jesus and I get to tell Him that I did everything I could to love Him by doing as He commanded. I’m good with that even if it means I pay a price for it in this short time I’m on this earth.
Blessings to you this Good Friday – the day our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ endured beatings, scourging, being spit on, a crown of thorns thrust into his scalp, the torture of carrying the crossbeam of His own cross, and nails driven between the bones of His arms and into the heel nerves of His feet all because of our sin and His love for us to endure the most gruesome torture and death to pay the price demanded by God the Father to reconcile God and man.
Truth in Love. This is who Jesus is. I stand with you Tom.