Worship the King?
At the General Conference of the Brethren in Christ we were led, part of the time, by a team fronted by Bishop Aner’s family. I like them a lot. But I finally couldn’t sing another rendition of their main theme. While it was a bit painful to come to this realization, I think I am pretty much over songs based on what I would call a triumphalistic mentality, basically taken from a few psalms, songs that are all about power, personal healing, personal faith, personal ecstasy instead of following Jesus.
It was all about being granted the favors of a king. So I looked up “worship the king” on Google and the first entry was for a worship team. They published a video. They had a cool backdrop, a drum screen, a word screen in the back, a lead singer in skinny pants, and even a white-haired woman doing the Pentecostal “jump” in the crowd. Corey Voss was trying to sell his new generic song on iTunes. It was the kind of music used at the conference. And yes, we were encouraged to jump there, too.
I love to worship and can generously use all sorts of music. But I have this terrible feeling that with a lot of songs Christians are using these days, Jesus has been transmuted back into the Psalms rather than the Psalms looking ahead to Him. All this king and kingdom worship makes Jesus an all-powerful emperor, in the image of Constantine (d. 337) or the latest strongman, rather than the suffering servant. You recall that his goal was not to be king of the world, even though people wanted him to be. Jesus is still washing feet through his people.
A book I am reading (and recommending) talks about this inappropriate and unbiblical shift in the way Christians see Jesus. Here is a small summary quote: “The Christendom era has bequeathed a form of Christianity that has marginalized, spiritualized, domesticated and [diminished] Jesus. The teaching of Jesus is watered down, privatized, and explained away. Jesus is worshiped as a remote kingly figure or a romanticized personal savior. In many churches (especially those emerging from the Reformation), Paul’s writings are prioritized over the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. And in many Christian traditions, ethical guidelines derived from the Old Testament or pagan philosophy trump Jesus’ call to discipleship.” – The Naked Anabaptist, p. 55
You can see these things in the worship of millennials like Corey Voss. Maybe we can see the shift represented in the fact that four out of five Evangelicals say they will vote for Donald Trump, despite Hillary Clinton’s much more developed and demonstrated faith. That is not an endorsement, since I can find a lot to doubt about Hillary, but it is an interesting reaction. I think they may want Jesus the ruler rather than Jesus the servant. I think they may want to worship Jesus, not follow him. Perhaps they have come to like God, but they cannot tolerate the suffering, morally demanding, take-up-your-cross-and-follow-me Jesus. It seems to me that their cross is a sign of triumph, empty of Jesus and empty of themselves, a sign of victory over sin, but also over opponents, a cross jauntily held over their shoulder as a weapon like the imperial Jesus on the right above.
The life and teaching of Jesus is central to our faith. Circle of Hope has twenty years of experience in following Jesus as well as worshiping Him. Right now Daily Prayer :: WIND is exploring Jesus in the New Testament. I recommend it as a means to stay conscious in this mind-and-heart-numbing context in which we live.
2 thoughts on “Don’t just worship Jesus, follow Him.”
Thanks Rod for your thoughts, but it seems that you are doing the very thing you are admonishing the rest of us not to do, namely, ‘water-down’ Jesus to only one facet of who He is. You probably don’t mean to do this, but from the reading of this, it appears that you would only want to sing songs about His servanthood or His suffering. Also it’s difficult to understand just what you are critiquing for you gave no lyrical example from Voss, I think that would be helpful to understand what you are alluding to here. Among other things one thing I do is lead worship, and I like to believe that I think critically, theologically, and culturally about the songs we put in the church’s mouths. Praise the King is one we do. It’s a pretty far leap to compare the King described in this song to Constantine. The “victory” in the song pertains to the victory over sin and death, and if we struggle with that, than I guess what we are really saying is we struggle with the doctrine of Christus Victor, for that seems to be what the song is describing. I echo your concerns that church sings mostly songs written by middle-class white westerners, and yes, I would say at times we do shrink this all down to a “personal savior” too much, which reflects our individualistic and narcissistic culture, and I think the church needs a radical shift in it’s musical and cultural expression but not necessarily the theological expression described in this particular song(others yes). Many times in my own experience it can be the ‘right’ song but the ‘wrong’ time, and there’s that nuance of pastoral care in how we choose what we sing and how we sing it. Overall Jesus is still the suffering servant who washed His disciples feet, and yet He is the conquering King over Satan,evil, and sin: both the lion and the lamb.
Thanks for reading Collin. I think you have a point. I am not being very comprehensive and you found a hole in what you suppose to be my argument and I think you corrected it well. I am finding evidence of what Murray is critiquing about Evangelicals, primarily. I agree with him. I think “victory” is often clouded with worldly trappings of power for many people. I suspect they don’t relate to the Bible writers and their music proves it.