Monday, January 04, 2010

Jesus - the afterthought

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) This is a common complaint heard every year about our ever-secularising Christmas. But what if it has also become a subtle creeping trend within churches as well, and particularly in the words of the more modern music that many sing these days?

The US-based website Christless Christianity contains some very interesting material examining the subject. Here in Northern Ireland, the Christmas editions of two local magazines also touched on the issue, specifically within the context of music and worship. In ReachOut magazine, former Presbyterian Moderator Revd Dr Donald Patton's article Awake, as in Days Gone By includes this observation:

“Christianity in its final and ultimate analysis is the acceptance of the Person, not the teaching, of Christ. He came not so much to teach as to redeem, and redemption involves His Person... (following the 1859 Revival) as hymns were introduced as regular features of praise the focus was on the completed ministry of Christ - His compassion, His exemplary earthly life, His teaching, His death and what it achieved, His resurrection and what it meant, His ascension to the seat of power and authority overcoming all enemies, His coming again... These praise songs keep Christ at the centre and present reliable teaching. They engage the mind and the heart, renewing our worship, corporate and personal, as we hum and sing the words and tunes to ourselves. As the church sings it draws attention to the joy and hope which Jesus gives that others may believe..."

Going further on the issue, the excellent article in ABCInsight Magazine by Pastor Alan Wilson of Portstewart Baptist Church (here's his blog) entitled The Gospel and Worship said:

"...I have sat through portions of corporate worship where the gospel has hardly even been hinted at. It’s as though the cross has become peripheral. Might that mean that our worship is not Christian enough?..."

A central point of both articles is that the message of the Gospel - of Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice for sin - is being lost, downplayed, among a range of other messages about God, creation, personal transformation or just about being nice happy people. Of the three aspects of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the Son is to be our focus. Even in heaven, the scene painted in Revelation 5 is of countless millions who are singing and praising Jesus - "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain". God the Father is not the whole point - because if He was the whole point, then there is/was no need for Jesus.

I remember a kindly old man telling me when I was a wee boy, starting to read the Bible for myself, that I should "look for Christ on every page" - not just in the four Gospels, but everywhere. Aspects of Jesus can be found in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Samson - the whole Bible. Because the message of the Gospel is not about believing in God. It is about trusting in Christ.

"...It is easy to become distracted from Christ as the only hope for sinners. Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God’s holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive. If we are good people who have lost our way but with the proper instructions and motivation can become a better person, we need only a life coach, not a redeemer..." - from chapter one of Christless Christianity

This is the gospel that the Reformers recovered, that John Knox took to a hostile queen, that revived the early Ulster-Scots in 1625, which shook Ulster in 1859 - and which can still be just as powerful today. Alan Wilson's article ends with a quote from Gordon Fee: "Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology.". Perhaps that's a litmus test you can use next Sunday. Here are a few videos: