Einstein v. the Professor

The following ‘historical narrative’ was posted on facebook recently. It was not the first time I had read it, but this time I thought I would capture it for posterity on my own blog. I am unable to verify the actual historical reliability of this account, but the ideas themselves are well worth considering – whatever your take on the origins of life.

Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ?

Student : Yes, sir.

Professor: So, you believe in GOD ?

Student : Absolutely, sir.

Professor : Is GOD good ?

Student : Sure.

Professor: Is GOD all powerful ?

Student : Yes.

Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?

(Student was silent.)

Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good?

Student : Yes.

Professor: Is satan good ?

Student : No.

Professor: Where does satan come from ?

Student : From … GOD …

Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?

Student : Yes.

Professor: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it ? And GOD did make everything. Correct?

Student : Yes.

Professor: So who created evil ?

(Student did not answer.)

Professor: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they?

Student : Yes, sir.

Professor: So, who created them ?

(Student had no answer.)

Professor: Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son, have you ever seen GOD?

Student : No, sir.

Professor: Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD?

Student : No , sir.

Professor: Have you ever felt your GOD, tasted your GOD, smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any sensory perception of GOD for that matter?

Student : No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.

Professor: Yet you still believe in Him?

Student : Yes.

Professor : According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?

Student : Nothing. I only have my faith.

Professor: Yes, faith. And that is the problem Science has.

Student : Professor, is there such a thing as heat?

Professor: Yes.

Student : And is there such a thing as cold?

Professor: Yes.

Student : No, sir. There isn’t.

(The lecture theater became very quiet with this turn of events.)

Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.

(There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.)

Student : What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?

Professor: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?

Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light. But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and its called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, well you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?

Professor: So what is the point you are making, young man ?

Student : Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.

Professor: Flawed ? Can you explain how?

Student : Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good GOD and a bad GOD. You are viewing the concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, Science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.

Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?

Professor: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.

Student : Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?

(The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going.)

Student : Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor. Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?

(The class was in uproar.)

Student : Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?

(The class broke out into laughter. )

Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?

(The room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable.)

Professor: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.

Student : That is it sir … Exactly ! The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving.

P.S.

By the way, that student was EINSTEIN.

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Is Controlled Worship Keeping Churches from Fulfilling the Great Commission?

‘Controlled Worship?’ Surely a contradiction in terms…!!!

Yes, it is. But at the same time, no, it really isn’t. Not in practical terms – i.e. how many worshipping communities organise themselves. This blog post has beaten me to the punch on a subject on which I have some very strong views, and so why not re-post this for others to read? The subject matter could not be more relevant, and the timing more appropriate. While I work on the next post on prayer, this can provide something for all of us to chew on…

Is Controlled Worship Keeping Churches from Fulfilling the Great Commission?.

Process, or product? (theology)

* This post is titled as it is because there will soon be another post under the same conceptual framework – but related to the practical business of music making (etc).

Allow me to to begin this post with an extract from Mark 4:35: “…let us pass over unto the other side.”

There have been many expositions preached and written on the specific contents of this text, and the story in general – a short story (as in, it’s all over by verse 41, and it begins in verse 35!) that on the surface does no justice to the epic events that it narrates. This leads me to the point that sometimes the Bible gives us narrative when we have become used to drama – which is audio-visual by definition. We love a story that is narrated in a way that engages our increasingly flighty post-postmodern ways of thinking and being, so we find the Word pretty dry and boring at times when in fact, if we were only capable of using our own imaginations to flesh out the literal words in a text, we’d find some things to chew on that would definitely get us going.

I’m told that one of the most crucial maxims in television and film media is: show; don’t tell. Mark’s gospel, at 16 chapters, is the shortest and most trenchant of the four. The author is not wasting time by wasting words. His job was to get the essential details down asap, get the word out and let the readers take it from there for themselves with the Spirit of God. So Mark didn’t observe the Hollywood maxim (not that the film industry even existed then!). Neither, however, did he employ the kind of superlative narrative writing employed by writers such as E.M. Forster in telling about the time when the Son of God spoke to a storm and it did as he bid. The result: our heads know that this is an amazing story, but we have been so fuddled and manipulated by a range of TV media that we can’t get the bigness of it into our hearts – especially when he tells us what happened in a few words and then immediately moves on to the next chapter!

But that’s not the full extent of the problem. What was the desired outcome, or ‘product?’  The answer: to “go to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee].” Seems straightforward enough. What’s the big deal?

Reasonable question for those don’t know the story. Those who DO know it will know that it is all about what happens on their way to the other side! As Bob Gass has put it – it’s about “what happens in between!” That would be the, er, process? Of getting to “the other side?” Hmm.

I know that I am guilty at times of wanting to get to what God has in store for me without really wanting to go through the process! But this is a joke. As a pretty seasoned music educator, I have to deal with people all the time who want great musical results (product) without disciplined hard work and perseverance (process). This seems to be even truer IN the church than outside it!

On a deeper conceptual level, this is one of the fundamental differences between musicology and ethnomusicology…the former prioritises musical products as an object of study – whereas my preferred (well, to a certain extent) discipline of ethnomusicology appraises the processes by which and in which music is made!

We are not like God, who has such creative power He can speak something into immediate existence. Within finite humanity – which is by definition bound by time and space – a product can only exist as a result of a process! So the ongoing journey to greater sanctification is just that- a journey! I have every reason in the world to remember this naturally – and yet still I forget that the process is necessary!

Today, let’s choose to not focus on the fact that we may not yet have achieved the products for which we may be hoping, praying and working for. Let us instead focus on the fact that we are on the journey – and a journey is a process. And do have a look at John 15:5 if you are not familiar with that text already! God bless you.

Put on your armour!

And immediately, the question comes – is that the best way to express the reality? Whose armour is this? If it was ‘ours’ – as in, we had ownership of it – then why would the Apostle call it the armour of God?

By now any Biblically literate readers will have clocked that I am invoking Paul’s injunction in Ephesians Chapter 6. It is usually verses 10-18 that are cited as the famous clarion call to ‘put on the WHOLE armour of God.’ And there have been countless expositions of this passage over the centuries – those which have been canonised, and those which have not. I wonder how many of us ever stop to think that the fact that the Bible is being read in languages and dialects all over the words, and that sermons, Bible studies, essays, books of all levels are being written based on its contents – and while there will be inevitable overlap, how many different angles could there be on one passage that we might never become exposed to in our earthly lifetimes? Let me be clear here – I mean ‘correct’ angles, not incorrect ones – the Lord knows that there are a seemingly infinite number of theological errors about almost every topic that we can think of available to us here on earth!

This morning I have come off my knees to shout out to my fellow Levites that Satan has some unique plans for those who have responsibilities for leading worship. His plan is to undermine your own capacity to actually worship God. He will do this by impersonating the Holy Spirit Himself.

This is not a new strategy. Pastor Ivor Myers preached an astonishing sermon at an Adventist youth congress in 2007 in which he showed from the Word that Satan’s psychological tactics at the time of Jesus’ arrest and trial were of such an incredible magnitude that they extended to an actual attempt to bully the son of God Himself into thinking that He was the Evil One. I am on record as saying that I have not always have agreed with certain of the lines of thought that Pastor Myers has taken in sermons on other topics (not least music) – but anybody who dismisses him because of what they don’t agree with will miss out on his best Spirit-inspired messages. And that could be a crucial lost opportunity for someone!

How does Satan impersonate the Holy Spirit? That surely cannot be possible! How could God even let that happen? I am sure that some readers may be wondering along these lines.

Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, described by C.S. Lewis as “an uneducated believer” who wrote a “book that has astonished the whole world” does describe a passage where Christian, the human hero of the story has to contend with his own mental turmoil due to fact that he is thinking terrible and wrong thoughts about God, and does not realise that these thoughts are not his own. I do not have the book with me where I write this, so I may not quote this perfectly, but Bunyan shows us that it is a lack of (spiritual) ‘”discernment” that means that poor Christian did not know “how to stop his ears” to these thoughts. He didn’t realise that their origin was Satanic.

OK, so we know that Satan encourages us to wrong thoughts. Really, Sherlock? Tell me something I didn’t know already! So here’s my next question: what exactly constitutes ‘wrong thoughts?’

One of the most interesting music emphasis days (aka ‘music days’) that I have experienced on a Sabbath morning happened in my home church. The then music leader (still in post as I write this) decided to enage six speakers of varying ages and backgrounds to cover the six pieces of armour in Ephesians 6. None of them were professional theologians, but they all did theology that morning. And one of them (I remember who, and if she ever reads this, she’ll know who she is) did the helmet of salvation, and gave me my most memorable moment of the sermon sequence.

Now before I go further – I need to make sure it’s on record that I explain that every sermon provides a potentially different ‘most memorable moment/statement/idea/etc’ for every single person who hears it – and for different reasons each time. I hate the loose way that so many Christians tend to assume that if they thought that such-and-such a point was the most important, then everyone else is supposed to think the same, because if not, then they’re misguided. Grrr!

Having made that point – I return to the point. The young lady stated that in her way of understanding that piece of armour, “the helmet of salvation is a mindset…” She later went on to describe how Satan tries (and succeeds) to “play cricket-ball with our minds…”

I immediately begin to draft some new sermons in my head right then, I was so inspired by that. Why? Because I knew she was right. Not only theologically, but also personally. Satan’s biggest weapon against me personally has been a combination cocktail of things that includes getting me to seriously doubt my salvation in ways more subtle that I have time to go into right now.

Evangelist Randy Skeete addressed a congregation of youg people in which I also sat some years back – and said: “Satan is the second most powerful being in existence, and sin has ALL of the power of its author!”

We are fighting an enemy that we do not even understand. Worse yet, our enfeebled minds have accepted the processes and structures of our societies (that has to be plural for obvious reasons) to the point where as Christians many of us can only repeat spiritual truths that we have learnt from others, because many of us cannot think for ourselves, and thus many of us are incapable of doing our own theology. Many of us do not even own enough of our own minds to be aware of what’s going on inside, and the constant bombardment from all forms of media (which, ironically, include the internet) is designed to keep us from ever reaching the point in which we become ‘still and know that God is God’ (Psalm 46:10).

Here’s the joke – if you never become still enough to know that God is God, you will never be able to know who you are. Because the human heart is so astonishingly mangled by the effects of sin (Jeremiah 17:9) that only the Holy Spirit can show us who we are.

So watch this: we cannot know God other than by revelation. Most Bible-believing Christians would attest to that.

But it is also true that we cannot know our own selves other than by revelation! As is, not without God Himself revealing to us who we are!

Satan can’t have that. If we knew how weak, how fragile, how defenceless we really are, then we would not need any motivation to be often on our knees before God in prayer. As some US evangelical devotional thinkers/writers  from the last century used to say – “we would spend less time planning/working and more time praying.”

So his plan is to either get us to believe that we are MORE than we really are – self is pumped up high and placed on a pedestal – or that we are LESS than we really are.

He can impersonate the Holy Spirit in either direction. Sometimes we become so busy doing God’s work we forget to spend time with God Himself. And our frantic drive to execute all our ‘spiritual responsibilities’ can turn into an end rather than a means. This is why people who sacrifice so much to work for God wonder why they feel so dry and burnt out when they are trying so hard!

We are not saved by what we do. We may know this, but Satan is subtler than we realise, and he can be the one who speaks to our minds, urging us to keep going, keep going, keep going! It’s God’s work after all!

And of course, in the other direction, we know that a person who is depressed and broken and who cannot believe that God could love them and they they are not good enough for God could be trying desperately to reach out to God, but be so tormented by their guilt and sin that as they hear a voice telling them that they are a truly bad person, and they know that, and they know that the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us of sin, and so they can hear the voice reciting their sins, but they never hear the voice calling them to just render their sins to the Holy One of Israel, who will heal and forgive.

Some people never get to that point.

This morning, my mind has been clouded with all the things I did not get to do yesterday. I work up and spent 35 minutes lying on my bed doing nothing but quietly planning, plotting, and fretting about how I’m going to get it all done before sunset.

I could have used that 35 minutes much better. But God is good and raised me up and into prayer, and now here I am sharing this with you guys. And as I write to you, I write to me too. Of course! That’s how this sort of ministry works!

I know that I was not – and am not – the only Christian who Satan has been trying to bully this morning. So I have prayed for you as well as me, whoever and wherever you may be.

Let’s agree that as soon as we wake up, we go before God, thank Him for life, and ask Him to clothe us with His armour – and then move from there in faith.

So, after all this – whose armour is it?

You know, I have no fixed answer to that. And I don’t think there is one. That is a matter of language. It is God’s armour in the sense that it is divine armour plating – but we each have our own body, mind, character and personality. I would say that that means that we have our own individual belts/girdles, shoes, breastplates, shields, and helmets – and while the word is the Word – we each have our own individual Bibles (as in the physical object). So my reason for choosing to say ‘put on your armour’ is because it is a personal matter for each one of us and God.

But you can say that it ought to be ‘God’s armour’ and I will not argue or fight with you.

Either way – Ephesians 6:10-18. Please, I beg you, my fellow Levites, ministry practitioners, and believers in general – do not let a morning pass without quality time in the presence of God – during which you will “put on the whole armour of God.” Then and only then will you equipped to undertakes the tasks and duties of the day.

A difficult text for evangelising Christians…part 1

Good morning!

Well, it’s morning here, and I felt like being specific. But good whatever-it-is whenever you are reading this.

The book of Numbers is not the kind of book which even the most serious Bible-believing Christians tend to have great familiarity with in general. There are some big, obvious stories, but I’ll try to run those of you who don’t know Numbers at all super-rapidly through it. For those with both time and motivation, check out the Wiki link (which will tell you the real actual meaning of the name of the book that we know in English today as ‘Numbers’:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Numbers

In Numbers, we see God working to bring order and coherence out of chaos. The military-style census in chapter 1 is a telescopic lens to the rest of the book (and the rest of the Bible, for that matter).  In chapter 3 we see God creating working and societal infrastructure for the Levites, who served the Temple – something of great relevance to us contemporary ‘Levites!’ Chapter 6 features both the ‘law of the Nazarite’  – that is what Samson was – as well as one of the most popular and enduring Biblical benedictions (verses 24-26). In chapter 8 the Levites are consecrated. Silver trumpets appear in chapter 10, and the infamous quails appear (given because the Israelites were unhappy with God’s manna provision and desired a more carnivorous approach to mealtimes) in chapter 11.

Miriam’s and Aaron’s jealousy and sedition (which resulted in Miriam’s leprosy) is the story of chapter 12, just before the spies are sent in chapter 13. We learn in chapter 14 that the people did not respond well to the report, and God nearly eviscerated them, but in one of the most astonishing exchanges between God and man in all Scripture, Moses interceded for his people. If you read nothing else this week, read Numbers 14!

The infamous rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram is in chapter 16. God continues to stabilise and organise through to chapter 20, where we say goodbye to both Miriam and Aaron – who is succeeded as High Priest by his son Eleazar. More complaining against God on a large scale follows in chapter 21, with God sending vicious serpents into the camp, but healing taking place through the beholding of a bronze serpent on a pole (v.9). The next Hollywood star to surface on the screen is the prophet Balaam (chapters 22-24)! What a tale that is – followed the the account of wide-scale apostasy by the Israelites and the subsequent death of 24, 000 people in chapter 25.

Joshua is appointed as Moses’ successor in chapter 26; Balaam dies in chapter 31; the order for the complete destruction of the Canaanites follows in chapter 33; we learn about the 6 ‘cities of refuge’ in chapter 35, and one chapter later Numbers has ended!

~

Let’s go back to Numbers 1 – verse 51. I’m interested in the very last section of the text, which in the KJV reads: “…and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be out to death.”

Hopefully this now puts the title of this post into context. The text itself also needs to be put into context – the stranger that comes near to WHAT exactly shall be put to death? If we go back to verse 50 and take the whole of verse 51, we see that the Levites have been given charge of the tabernacle – they and they alone are to bear responsibility for everything to do with it, including setting it up and taking it down as they continued their nomadic existence. And so the instruction – any stranger who comes near the tabernacle is to be put to death.

Do not all Bible-believing Christians believe that God is relational? Does God not want to be known? What about the text in Exodus 25:8? How is it coherent to talk about Jesus being a ‘friend’ to seekers after God when the OT has a text like that which seems to be saying that a stranger could not approach God’s tabernacle – and death would be the penalty for disobeying? How does that square with the notion of a God who wants to be known?

This question has massive and formidable implications for worship and mission. In part 2 of this post, I will endeavour to explain how this works.

Until then, God be with you all.

‘A Life of Praise’

The title of this post comes from Lesson 9 of the Sabbath School lesson quarterly for the 4th Quarter 2007, written by Gavin Anthony, but also ably expounded upon by David Asscherick in the audio commentary he recorded for Pan De Vida Productions.

These days, there are times when it seems to be more ‘correct’ to speak of having a ‘praise-and-worship-session’ instead of a ‘gospel concert.’ We also have the phenomenon of so-called ‘praise teams’ or, alternatively, ‘worship teams.’ I want to take a closer look at this whole notion.

Theologian James White, in the book Introduction to Christian Worship (3rd ed) writes:

“A widely used term in recent years is the word celebration (sic). It is frequently used in secular contexts and seems to have developed a vagueness that makes it rather meaningless unless used with a specific object so that one knows what is being celebrated… Since the whole community celebrates worship, the leader should be referred to as presider (sic) not as celebrant” (p. 30).

That last sentence made me think. Indeed, at this time the word ‘celebration’ is used right across the Christian world to describe various liturgical activities, from high-church Eucharist to ‘charismatic’ evangelical services. However, Seventh-Day Adventists have often tended to avoid such a word vis-a-vis corporate worship. Nonetheless, this whole notion of every worshipping member of a given congregation being a ‘celebrant’ as opposed to just the person leading out has interesting ramifications for the conspicuous use of the phrase ‘praise and worship’ in liturgy.

How is it coherent to speak of a ‘praise team’ or a ‘worship team’ when both activities are not and cannot be the exclusive provenance of a group? Why have so many church communities become so accepting of a rubric that has opened up multiple Pandora’s boxes of contention? On one hand, we have the idea that while everyone is supposed to be part of the ‘worship,’ some people are better qualified to lead worship than others. That could in fact be the truth, but who arbits these things? And what criteria do they use?

On another hand, it could also be said that a ‘worship team’ is there to worship God on behalf of the congregation – so if a given church member – or even a visitor to the church – is not personally connected with God, if they place themselves somewhere where other people ARE in fact connected to God, then maybe it will rub off on them…

For this reason, I personally have preferred to say ‘praise team’ but I’m not wonderfully happy with that either. For my money, it was easier when we just had a ‘choir’ or some kind of ‘group.’ Simple nouns. The whole notion behind ‘praise teams’ is well-intentioned, but as we have seen, the term creates more problems than would be ideal.

We read in Psalm 51:17, 18 these words: “For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (KJV).

Hope that’s clear, even if you read a different version. The liturgy matters – the form and order of service and quality of music and sermon preparation all matter. But nothing matters more than being in a place of total humility before God. A lot of the time our praise teams are spiritually in contempt. Why are they tolerated? Because they usually reflect the worshipping communities that permit them to continue in existence without growing spiritually. And here is the thing – you can’t grow musically beyond a certain point unless you grow spiritually! Feel free to contest that if you disagree, but I absolutely stand by that and will be very happy to explain why some other time.

If our praise teams modelled a life of praise in their everyday lives, they would be a powerful force for good.

Some are trying to do just that. God bless them.

Others have a long way to go.

But in the end, forget the praise teams. Can each believer be a ‘praiser’ and a ‘worshipper?’ What does that look like in real life? How do you praise when there’s no music? How do you worship when you’re not in church?

More thoughts will follow on all these points at some point in the future! But meanwhile, may God be with each one of you, and thanks again for stopping by.

Worship Consumption, 21st-century-style

This post comes hot off the heels of something I read on another blog. And I had to come on here and say something about the same issue. I’d love to hear some comments on this one.

We seem to have a huge number of different worship styles and concomitant services out there. Family services; seeker services; youth services; praise and worship services; miracles-and-healing services; outreach services (and maybe we also have ‘inreach’ as well…); high-church services; low church services – and all with their own music protocols, dress codes and vernaculars.

I’m not knocking variety. But today’s question goes something like this: while of course the world is made up of difference – period – at what point do we stop being positively different – culturally and linguistically etc – under the banner of Christ – and become veritable capitalist consumers of worship?

In the book Selling Worship, Pete Ward makes the point that ‘evangelicals have been engaged in ‘selling worship.’ Now he does go on to make the point that ‘selling’ in this instance is not inherently negative, but can be understood as a ‘means of communication and exchange.’

I’m still considering my theoretical response to that, but there is a level on which I do take his point. Nonetheless, we can use that concept as a jumping-off point for other journeys of thought. One of the crucial ways in which many churches seem to try and ‘attract’ new members is by investing time and money into ‘worship’ which often means into the music. Now, at least two authors that I have read have made the point – in different ways – that the only thing that matters in a worship service is the presence of God. And my own drum on this matter beats to this tune: it is theologically and spiritually corrupt to sing songs and make statements declaring the presence of God in a sanctuary when He may in fact not be there ministering to the congregation at large. If the speaker is unconsecrated and unsanctified in the sight of God, how can the Holy Spirit work through that person? If the praise team members are indulging in sexual proclivities and not confessing it before God, however well they sing, how on earth is a HOLY God supposed to minister through them? Or, flip that round – if the worship team have actually prepared to lead the congregation into an actual worship experience, but the overwhelming majority of congregants only want to have a jolly sing-song – that’s a tug’o’war right there in the sanctuary. How does the Spirit function on those occasions?

I’ve been talking about praise teams – which clearly represents the more ‘contemporary’ end of the bandwagon. Let’s switch to the traditional. Some churches regard the organist as a ‘minister of music’ – but how many organists who are in fact good enough to be paid to play at church services are fully-confessional Christians? And since when does singing hymns instead of so-called ‘worship songs’ indicate greater piety or spirituality by definition? Does God only favour the high-European cultural tradition? There are a whole heap of people who are in serious confusion on this point – but the issue of the only thing mattering being that of the presence of God in a liturgical gathering still remains paramount. God is not in any way more guaranteed to show up if you sing 300-year-old hymns and do away with drums. The praise teams frequently commit what I call ‘spiritual perjury’ – but the hymn-singers are also frequently condemned by the very theology espoused by those anointed hymn-writers of yore.

We really could not be more fragmented within our worshipping communities. Capitalism has fuelled the ideology of self-interest and naked materialism, and the result is impending economic meltdown on a global scale. And yet, so many people would rather do anything other than give up their rights as consumers. This type of thinking has spread to the ways in which Christians decide where they worship from week to week. To my mind, every service should be family-friendly – but the perceived need to put bums on seats has turned the sacred business of soul-winning into a business enterprise (yes, I’m aware of that Weberian argument about the Protestant roots of capitalism – but this isn’t the time for that). Pete Ward again: “In the present day church growth models draw quite openly from business-management theories.” So, if churches cater for a wide range of markets – sorry, I meant ‘needs’ – then in a stats-conscious society, as the numbers go up, the better the ‘church is doing.’ As such, it becomes about offering a ‘choice’ – and churchgoers are increasingly growing up on a diet of expectations of ‘experiences’ that are supposed to fill the God-shaped hole in all of us.

Worship may be a noun, but it will always also be a verb. And it requires a little more than simply turning up to a place where others claim worship will take place. One can experience ‘something’ but experiencing the presence of God is not a ‘run-of-the-mill experience.’ It is literally life-changing. The quest for a ‘worship experience’ is not always going to lead to a discovery of God. And if the believers are busy consuming worship styles based on their worship aesthetics – what kind of message is being sent out to those who do  not know God for themselves, and for whom the lives of the self-proclaimed Christians is the ‘only Bible they’ll ever read?’