On church culture and the different things we disagree about

This is more an observation than anything.  It’s based on Stephen Kneale’s latest post  on whether you should wear a suit/shirt and tie in the pulpit 

I’m not going to debate that specific point but what fascinates me is this.  I’m  fairly certain that Stephen is a few years younger than me, yet here he finds himself involved in a debate that I can’t remember being a serious issue for over 20 years in conversations that I’ve had.  So, unless you prove me wrong with  deluge of emails and tweets then I suspect it isn’t a major bone of contention in the Christian cultural circles I move in.

I’m making this observation because this is something that struck me about 3 years ago at the Keswick Convention. I sat in the tent and listened to talk after talk, there was great exposition, it was a real encouragement but a key focal point of the application seemed to be to do with how you kept churches together when people disagreed about singing old hymns or new songs.  Now, we have our fair share of challenges in our church, we don’t agree on everything and a few of our older people (and some younger ones too) prefer older hymns to newer songs but they don’t insist that we exclusively sing old hymns -and nor do those who prefer contemporary songs refuse to sing the hymns.  My dad who probably would prefer I wear a shirt and tie and is maybe just relieved I’ve not gone the whole hog and taken to wearing Bermuda shorts when preaching, loves the old hymns but enjoys learning new ones too – particularly if written by Townend and Getty. So people have their preferences – but they seem to recognise them as just that – preferences.

However, it is clear from Steve’s post that for some people that these things are still contentious in some circles -and yet I can happily go along fairly oblivious to the issues and challenges in one part of Christ’s family. Worse still, I could look at the debates others are having and begin to look down on them.  However, then I remember that there are other areas that we have to take time to discuss, explain and work out that other churches may consider “long sorted,” For example:

  1. For many of us, the concept of sequential expository preaching is obvious.  But there have been times when I’ve had to present the case for this.
  2. There are differences of opinion among us about when is the best time for children to move from Sunday Club to participating in the main teaching time, is it 11, 14, 16, 18.  I know others who would consider that decision something dealt with long ago.
  3. 7 years ago, I would have treated “Prosperity” teaching as pretty much done and dusted – obviously wrong. Yet this is an issue I have to take more time than ever to respond to in our context now.

Now, those two points should guard against the risk that I start to look down on brothers and sisters because whilst I may be confused about why they are having one debate I thought was settled, they can equally look down on us -and say why are you still having those debates – don’t you know these things were settled a long time ago?

Additionally, there may be some issues which we don’t even realise are a source of contention yet because we’ve never really thought about them. We’ve just kept going along with out tradition unaware that out there are other views.

Now, some further linked comments:

  1. I’ve used the example before of how when our older people expressed a preference for older hymns they meant Sankey/Wesleyan rather than Hymns Ancient and Modern. This also means that when we discover some of the more “Reformed” tradition type hymns that have been given a fresh lease of life by people like  Sovereign Grace Music and Colin Webster then they are as new to our 80 year olds as they are to our younger people.
  2. I’ve seen examples of people visit churches including our own with a view to joining or in one case going as a pastor to a church and on the surface, they share the same reformed theology, they are generally contemporary in their attitude to things like PowerPoint etc. However, something doesn’t seem to quite click. They share the same theology but their church cultures are more different than they realise.

I’m not quite sure what to do with those observations at the moment except to say four things

  1. If we think that cultural diversity is a good thing generally -then it should be a good thing between churches.
  2. Being aware of those differences does not need to be a point of division but can encourage us to pray for each other
  3. Being aware of those differences can help us to communicate better by limiting those occasions when we talk past each other.
  4. I shouldn’t minimise how serious an issue is for someone else just because it is a non-issue for me. Nor, should we make secondary issues bigger than they are and allow them to overtake our essential unity in the gospel.