Frank Viola, co-author of Pagan Christianity, talks about what he calls “Sunday morning costumes” in chapter six of his book. He starts off dealing with a rite many of us no longer ascribe to, or at least certainly not to the degree we did a decade ago, which is dressing up to go to church. He contends that this presents a false front to the world in that we’re attempting to appear better than we actually are. I think this makes a weak, though arguable point. Long ago, and this is undoubtedly still the case in some churches, congregants did take personal pride in wearing fashionable and costly clothing to church. I think, though, that today most people see it as a gesture of respect to at least wear clothing suitable for presenting oneself at work or at a court proceeding, etc.
Viola argues also that this practice makes poor people feel out of place in the congregation if they’re unable to afford costly clothing. This is a stronger point, though the availability of quality second hand clothing and cheap mass-market duds make it practicable for nearly every American to dress in a manner we would deem respectable to attend church or other semi-formal occasions. That said, I wouldn’t like anyone to feel he or she needed to go shopping before she could show herself in church.
Viola also goes into the matter of clerical and choir robes. These, he points out, are descended from Roman governmental regalia, and serve to separate the clergy from the laymen, thus adding to the caste distinction, giving the illusion that we are not all on equal footing as priests before God. On that point I have no argument, though it’s been many years since I saw a clergyman wearing clerical robes, even to administer communion. As for choir robes, ditto. But that’s my experience–I know they’re still the norm in more formal churches, and some of them are ridiculous, glittery, ostentatious affairs, though many are more somber and circumspect.
Chapter seven is more controversial, dealing with music ministry. I was surprised to learn that, for hundreds of years, music was deemed a clerical function and congregational singing was banned. This was partially the result of a well-intentioned attempt to curb the spreading of heresy through music, and music is certainly a powerful vehicle for the spreading of any idea. Still, it seems a better practice to fix or dump the faulty songs than to ban people from singing at all.
The reformation brought back congregational singing, but failed to bring back full participation for the congregation in spontaneously bringing forth a song for everyone to share, just as it kept the ministries of teaching and preaching for the clergy alone. Viola traces the modern history of church singing through the choir and/or music director to the currently popular rock band style worship team. He agrees that congregants need to be taught how to write a song, lead it, etc., but that this is no reason to restrict music ministry to the few, the talented, the professional musicians.
I was part of a worship team once. Sometimes I was the worship team. It’s hard to worship when you’re in this situation because you’re always worried about whether you sound okay. You’re not truly worshiping–you’re putting on a show. Well, okay, maybe you’re leading worship. And sometimes you do actually worship yourself (oops! did I say that?), but it’s difficult to concentrate on Jesus when people are listening to you and your lovely voice.
I’d love to see worshipers writing their own songs out of their own experiences of Jesus. How much better to do this than to rely on a Christian music industry which doesn’t, now be honest, look all that different from the secular music industry. I’m not discounting that many Christian artists are dedicated followers of Jesus or that their motives are pure, but is this the best way for us to express our worship? To sing a song that came packaged in plastic, and was written by someone we’ll never meet, and sold to us on an $18 album, and that we have to purchase permission to sing in our church? Um . . . .
The next chapter concerns tithing, and believe me–Viola’s views are way different from what you’ve heard up until now. I’ll try to get to it sometime this weekend.
See you then, and God bless,