Monday, July 10, 2017

From The "Unintentional Irony" Files

The ballet or whatever it was at Redeemer Church that I mentioned yesterday is getting a ton of notice and response, some good and some....well not so good. One rather bizarre if predictable response was linked to by Tim Challies, titled Stage Fright, from a Wes Bredenhof. Wes is apparently a minister of a Reformed church in Tasmania, which is kind of fun. Wes has a beef with the video, not the obvious stuff but rather a more specific complaint. I will let him explain:
There’s a lot that can be said about it, a lot that should be said, and a lot that has been said. However, I want to briefly mention something I haven’t read anyone else say. 
This performance would only be possible in a church building with a stage. Your traditional Reformed church building with a large pulpit occupying the center of attention would never accommodate a ballet trio. However, these days it has become virtually a given that any new church building must have a stage.
So Reformed churches have a big old pulpit as the center of attention and of course that is correct because it is what Reformed folk do. One of the most irritating aspects of the Reformed subculture is the tendency to say "The Reformed do this...." or "The Reformed don't do that..." for any issue as if that is self-explanatory. Newsflash, there are a lot of things that the Reformed do and have done that is not correct or at least not self-evident as the bestest and onliest way to do something.

Wes goes on to give a history of some random lady that he blames for the presence of stages in church buildings which may or may not be true. Then he makes a pretty random and inexplicable charge:
The Reformation recovered the preaching of the Word — and with it a church architecture which made the means of grace central, especially preaching. The heirs (and heiresses) of Anabaptism adopted a church architecture which sidelined the Word.
Huh? What does Anabaptism have to do with his post? Nothing. He doesn't mention it at all until he accuses the "heirs" of Anabaptism with "sidelining" the Word. What about the woman he accuses of starting the "stage in the church", Aimee Semple Macpherson? Was she an Anabaptist of some sort? Well no, she grew up a Methodist and became a Pentecostal later in life and as far as I can tell she had zero connection to any Anabaptists. It just seems to be a random drive-by slander that hearkens back to my days listening to the fellas at the White Horse Inn who seemed unhappy with a show unless they accused the Anabaptists of being responsible for every ill in evangelicalism (and of course saying "word and sacrament" at least three times). For the Anabaptists I know, the sermon is very central to the gathering. The pulpit is smack in the middle of the front in a place of prominence and the sanctuary is usually free of the frilly and kitschy adornments of a lot of evangelical churches.  The hymns are theologically rich and the worship is completely lacking any worldly entertainment. I wonder if Wes has ever been to an actual Anabaptist church gathering. I kind of doubt it. It was a clumsy and slanderous throwaway line that makes the one writing it seem fairly ignorant.

Back to the stage.

I agree that the tendency toward elevated platforms of any sort reinforces the general passivity of the church but that is true whatever you call the platform. I would rather listen to a decent sermon, or even a cruddy sermon, instead of watching prancing dudes any day of the week but let's not kid ourselves. Virtually all Reformed churches require a seminary degree to be a pastor and virtually all of those degrees include courses on homiletics, preparing and presenting a sermon. Many Reformed pastors humble-brag about how many hours a week they spend in sermon prep. They prepare and practice, they dress up in a culturally appropriate costume, they stand on a raised platform behind a pulpit designed to both give them a place to put their notes and to transmit a sense of authority. They stand up front and do their thing and they have an audience that sits quietly and listens. If you don't recognize that there is an huge aspect of performance in the delivery of a sermon, you really aren't being honest with yourself.

Stuff like this is sort of like sermons on "tithing". They are invariably self-serving. Just as someone who relies on the offering plate for his living can't help but have that in mind when talking about giving, so too someone who spends all week preparing a sermon can't help but give off a sense of "pay attention to me!" when it comes to pulpit versus stage. Talking about the importance of the prominence of preaching when you are the one doing the preaching is understandable. When I prepared sermons I spent a lot of time and effort doing so and I would have been (and sometimes was) irritated if it seemed like people didn't appreciate it or weren't paying attention. For all of the chatter about making the Word central, it often seems like what is really central is the pastor. I am not at all saying that is always a bad thing but it does demand a bit of self-awareness because the tendency to make yourself the focal point is ever-present, even when it is completely unintentional.

A pulpit is just a piece of furniture, it is who stands behind it that concerns Wes. The issue with what was going on at Redeemer was not about whether or not the pulpit was front and center. Let's keep our focus on what the real issue is, not on our own need to be the center of attention.

No comments: