Music is not worship

Today, Michael Spencer called out EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking (and writing about) for a couple years.

Does anyone- I mean, really, seriously- have any idea what is actually happening within the worship culture of evangelicals?

Worship has now become a musical term. Praise and worship means music. Let’s worship means the band will play. We need to give more time to worship doesn’t mean silent prayer or public scripture reading or any kind of participatory liturgy. It means music.

My early (and very amateur) study of the Greek and Hebrew showed that of the 100+ times that worship appears in the Bible, it nearly always means “bowing down” and virtually never music by any stretch.

Don’t get me wrong, I love music. But music is not worship. And music you are only listening to (not participating in) is even less so. That listening to tunes is often the centerpiece of our corporate gatherings has contributed greatly to the self-destruction of the evangelical church.

Taking a break

I’m going to take a break from blogging for a while to refocus on some priorities.

Expect infrequent posts for at least several weeks.

Thanks to the handful of you that follow some of the things I cram in this scrapbook.

A new way to classify mankind

There are two kinds of people in this world…

You can follow that statement by a lot of phrases. We love to classify things.

Here in the conclusion of his anthropological Christian apologetic, Chesterton doesn’t divide the earth into Christians and non-Christians directly, but in light of the preceding discussion, from a curious angle:

The religion of the world, in its right proportions, is not divided into fine shades of mysticism or more or less rational forms of mythology. It is divided by the line between the men who are bringing that message [the gospe of Jesus] and the men who have not yet heard it, or cannot yet believe it.

And later on:

Mohammed did not, like the Magi, find a new star; he saw through his own particular window a glimpse of the great grey field of the ancient starlight. So when we say that the country contains so many Confucians or Buddhists, we mean it contains so many pagans whose prophets have given them another and rather vaguer version of the invisible power; making it not only invisible but almost impersonal.

When we say that they also have temples and idols and priests and periodical festivals, we simply mean that this sort of heathen is enough of a human being to admit the popular element of pomp and pictures and feasts and fairy-tales. We only mean that Pagans have more sense than Puritans. But what the gods are supposed to be, what the priests are commissioned to say, is not a sensational secret like what those running messengers of the Gospel had to say. Nobody else except those messengers has any Gospel; nobody else has any good news; for the simple reason that nobody else has any news.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p.309 (Conclusion)

Well that’s it for The Everlasting Man. The copy I retrieved from the library now smells like campfire smoke from my family’s trip to the woods this past weekend. I hope they don’t mind too much.

Photo credit

Calvinist vinegar

The local Calvinists in our town are generally very fond of Chesterton. This is a good thing! They aren’t as boring as R.C. Sproul and can typically take a joke a lot better than John MacArthur (as if that were very difficult). I’m not sure if they WERE this way, so they naturally liked what they found in Chesterton, or they BECAME a bit this way from reading him. A bit of both I’m sure. Maybe they got that way from reading too much Wodehouse or listening to too much blues. Who knows.

Chesterton himself though often takes pot shots at the TULIP folk. Yes, he always includes them in the body of Christ and as necessary for the balance of Orthodoxy to exist, but words like “vinegar” often crop up. It seems likely to me he had met several of the intolerable Scottish variety.

And we only say once more to-day as has been said many times by our fathers: `Long years and centuries ago our fathers or the founders of our people drank, as they dreamed, of the blood of God. Long years and centuries have passed since the strength of that giant vintage has been anything but a legend of the age of giants. Centuries ago already is the dark time of the second fermentation, when the wine of Catholicism turned into the vinegar of Calvinism. Long since that bitter drink has been itself diluted; rinsed out and washed away by the waters of oblivion and the wave of the world. Never did we think to taste again even that bitter tang of sincerity and the spirit, still less the richer and the sweeter strength of the purple vineyards in our dreams of the age of gold. Day by day and year by year we have lowered our hopes and lessened our convictions; we have grown more and more used to seeing those vats and vineyards overwhelmed in the waterfloods and the last savour and suggestion of that special element fading like a stain of purple upon a sea of grey. We have grown used to dilution, to dissolution, to a watering down that went on for ever. But ‘Thou hast kept the good wine until now.’

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p.299

Keeping the good wine until now. Christianity has been diluted or made bitter. I was surprised to find this language here. This exact sentiment was often expressed during the rise of Pentacostalism in the past 100 years. Perhaps this language is appropriate to every age where the Lord renews and reforms the church.

Theology can be exciting

Really, it can? I’m changing my mind about this.

It is that enthusiasm for theological studies that marked the most doctrinal ages; it is the divine science. An old Don with D. D. after his name may have become the typical figure of a bore; but that was because he was himself bored with his theology, not because he was excited about it. It was precisely because he was admittedly more interested in the Latin of Plautus than in the Latin of Augustine, in the Greek of Xenophon than in the Greek of Chrysostom. It was precisely because he was more interested in a dead tradition than in a decidedly living tradition. In short, it was precisely because he was himself a type of the time in which Christian faith was weak. It was not because men would not hail, if they could, the wonderful and almost wild vision of a Doctor of Divinity.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p.297

The Five Deaths of the Faith

Since I’ve found church history quite a bit more interesting lately, Chesterton’s final chapter (The Five Deaths of the Faith) was one of the better ones. His observations about how Christianity seems to die every few hundred years and then blossom with fresh life is a very hopeful sentiment indeed. One can see the hand of God sustaining us, instead of we of little faith tossed on the seas of heathen sociology and politics.

The whole chapter is good, so a bit difficult to quote from.

At least five times, therefore, with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died…

Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave. But the first extraordinary fact which marks this history is this: that Europe has been turned upside down over and over again; and that at the end of each of these revolutions the same religion has again been found on top. The Faith is always converting the age, not as an old religion but as a new religion.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p.288

It ends with a word of advice to critics. Oh every few years some celebrity critics crop up. Richard Dawkins. Bart Ehrman. Whoever. Some of them need to keep this in mind:

If our social relations and records retain their continuity, if men really learn to apply reason to the accumulating facts of so crushing a story, it would seem that sooner or later even its enemies will learn from their incessant and interminable disappointments not to look for anything so simple as its death. They may continue to war with it, but it will be as they war with nature; as they war with the landscape, as they war with the skies. ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.’ They will watch for it to stumble; they will watch for it to err; they will no longer watch for it to end.

Combining faith and reason

Is Christianity a philosophy, full of reasoning, trying to logically answer all the big questions, with most activity centered around the literary criticism of a collection of old Hebrew and Greek writings?

Is Christianity a mystic faith, trusting in invisible, immortal things and reaching out beyond the imagination to a transcendent creator, savior, and source of life?

You know, before Christianity, these things were like oil and water. Unbelievers today are very much post-Christian in the sense that they will often combine these two things, philosophy and mysticism, and go on their merry way. But these only kissed in A.D. 33 with the resurrection of the Son of God and subsequent founding of his church.

They became orthodoxy. Like long-lost brothers, they found each other when their father reunited them as part of his redemption of mankind. When they still seem to oppose to each other today, it is like close siblings fighting over the Tonka truck in the sandbox, not as bitter enemies defending the borders of their nation.

The substance of all such paganism may be summarised thus. It is an attempt to reach the divine reality through the imagination alone; in its own field reason does not restrain it at all. It is vital to view of all history that reason is something separate from religion even in the most rational of these civilisations. It is only as an afterthought, when such cults are decadent or on the defensive, that a few Neo-Platonists or a few Brahmins are found trying to rationalise them, and even then only by trying to allegorise them.

This is to say that there was no systematic theology of Zeus. The pagans did not try to rationalize the gods. In fact, it was important not to.

But in reality the rivers of mythology and philosophy run parallel and do not mingle till they meet in the sea of Christendom. Simple secularists still talk as if the Church had introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion. The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever tried to combine reason and religion. There had never before been any such union of the priests and the philosophers.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p.123

Christians really did mean to burn down Rome

I was pleased to find Chesterton here beating the same drum as Peter Leithart in regards to the necessary public nature of Christianity. It is not a private faith that aims to only coexist with the heathen. It aims to subvert philosophy, art, economics, literature, politics, absolutely everything. Christians didn’t burn down Rome (as Nero alleged), but they were lighting fires of another sort behind every door and in every institution.

We have already noted that this paradox appeared also in the treatment of the early Church. It was important while it was still insignificant, and certainly while it was still impotent. It was important solely because it was intolerable; and in that sense it is true to say that it was intolerable because it was intolerant. It was resented, because, in its own still and almost secret way, it had declared war. It had risen out of the ground to wreck the heaven and earth of heathenism. It did not try to destroy all that creation of gold and marble; but it contemplated a world without it. It dared to look right through it as though the gold and marble had been glass.

Those who charged the Christians with burning down Rome with firebrands were slanderers; but they were at least far nearer to the nature of Christianity than those among the moderns who tell us that the Christians were a sort of ethical society, being martyred in a languid fashion for telling men they had a duty to their neighbors, and only mildly disliked because they were meek and mild.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p.207

Dying of broadmindedness

Throw Christianity in the boiling pot of goo with all other faiths. It has it’s value of course. Let it be combined with everything else of value, eh? Where have we heard this before?

The same thing was proposed to Paul on Mars Hill. And not just there and not just to him in that age.

The Theosophists build a pantheon; but it is only a pantheon for pantheists. They call a Parliament of Religions as a reunion of all the peoples; but it is only a reunion of all the prigs. Yet exactly such a pantheon had been set up two thousand years before by the shores of the Mediterranean; and Christians were invited to set up the image of Jesus side by side with the image of Jupiter, of Mithras, of Osiris, of Atys, or of Ammon.

It was the refusal of the Christians that was the turning-point of history. If the Christians had accepted, they and the whole world would have certainly, in a grotesque but exact metaphor, gone to pot. They would all have been boiled down to one lukewarm liquid in that great pot of cosmopolitan corruption in which all the other myths and mysteries were already melting. It was an awful and an appalling escape. Nobody understands the nature of the Church, or the ringing note of the creed descending from antiquity, who does not realize that the whole world once very nearly died of broadmindedness and the brotherhood of all religions.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p.202

Fanatical for and against everything

Here, we see some of the same ideas that appear in his (more interesting) work, Orthodoxy. Chesterton loves to revel in the extreme things of Christianity. How can it be against everything and for everything? It is furious in both direction. He loves this stuff and is always bringing it up.

Those who would suggest that the faith was a fanaticism are doomed to an eternal perplexity. In their account it is bound to appear as fanatical for nothing, and fanatical against everything. It is ascetical and at war with ascetics, Roman and in revolt against Rome, monotheistic and fighting furiously against monotheism; harsh in its condemnation of harshness; a riddle not to be explained even as unreason. And what sort of unreason is it that seems reasonable to millions of educated Europeans through all the revolutions of some sixteen hundred years? People are not amused with a puzzle or a paradox or a mere muddle in the mind for all that time. I know of no explanation except that such a thing is not unreason but reason; that if it is fanatical it is fanatical for reason and fanatical against all the unreasonable things.

That is the only explanation I can find of a thing from the first so detached and so confident, condemning things that looked so like itself, refusing help from powers that seemed so essential to its existence, sharing on its human side all the passions of the age, yet always at the supreme moment suddenly rising superior to them, never saying exactly what it was expected to say and never needing to unsay what it had said; I can find no explanation except that, like Pallas from the brain of Jove, it had indeed come forth out of the mind of God, mature and mighty and armed for judgement and for war.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p.265

He even throws out some specific examples in this case:

How would Francis the Troubadour have fared among the Calvinists, or for that matter among the Utilitarians of the Manchester School? Yet men like Bossuet and Pascal could be as stern and logical as any Calvinist or Utilitarian. How would St. Joan of Arc, a woman waving on men to war with the sword, have fared among the Quakers or the Doukhabors or the Tolstoyan sect of pacifists? Yet any number of Catholic saints have spent their lives in preaching peace and preventing wars. It is the same with all the modern attempts at Syncretism. They are never able to make something larger than the Creed without leaving something out. I do not mean leaving out something divine but something human…


At the end he reiterates that when someone introduces a heresy, it is more likely to make God less humanlike. It doesn’t add new ideas about God, but rather it takes away the human side of Christ. It separates the divide between the image of the creator and the creator himself. Beware of making God too ethereal. He has told us again and again we are more like him than we know.