The Church at Clarendon is a 104-year-old Baptist congregation in the Washington, D.C. area. In 1959, the congregation had a membership of 1660; in 2002 its membership stood at 477 and it had no pastoral staff. The next year, the church added a contemporary worship service.
Last Sunday, they tried something even newer: this service was led by a "disc jockey." DJ Hans Solo is an active leader in Andy Stanley's Northpoint Church and a musician and producer in the Atlanta area. He led what Clarendon called "Church Remixed," as his technology replaced the church's usual eight-piece band and singers. The one-time event made the Washington Post.
Reaction was mixed. According to the Post, many of the church's members are under 30 and "seemed excited by seeing something new." A 23-year-old who teaches preschool at the church said, "It was much more upbeat" and called the service "awesome." An 81-year-old member said she's not comfortable with clapping after songs, since it felt too much like a performance. But she did tell the reporter, "I like the music more than I did last year."
Richard Niebuhr's classic Christ and Culture describes five ways Christians relate to society:
- "Christ against culture" (no engagement with each other)
- "Christ of culture" (the church adopts what the culture embraces)
- "Christ above culture" (following Jesus on Sunday and cultural norms on Monday)
- "Christ and culture in paradox" (using culture to advance the church)
- "Christ transforming culture" (leading culture to adopt holistic biblical values).
The last is consistent with Jesus' assertion that Christians are the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (Matthew 5:13-16) — both seek to change what they contact. So we must engage the culture to transform the culture. But how much is too much?
Did the Church at Clarendon remove distractions to worship or create them? Does contemporary music and technology enable people to encounter God, or does it draw them from him? Can traditional worship with its choirs, solos and instrumental music elevate performance over personal worship as well? How do we make sure God is the "audience of One" for worship while using resources that help people encounter him most effectively? Please share your thoughts in our comments section.
And consider this advice from John Wesley: "Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven."
Did you have "an eye to God" last Sunday? Will you today?
Jim Denison, Ph.D., is a subject matter expert on cultural and contemporary issues. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, a nonsectarian "think tank" designed to engage contemporary issues with biblical truth in 2009 and is the author of seven books, including Radical Islam: What You Need to Know. For more information on the Denison Forum, visit www.denisonforum.org. To connect with Dr. Denison in social media, visit www.twitter.com/jimdenison or www.facebook.com/denisonforum.
Publication date: August 14, 2013