Category Archives: Fundamentalism

A rabbit trail on kissing

Yesterday morning at Huron Baptist Church, Pastor Steve Thomas concluded his series of sermons on 1 Peter. Our text was the final three verses of the book:

12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

Verse 14 always seems to illicit some laughs, doesn’t it? But why is that?

The standard explanation is that the kiss was the cultural greeting of that day; we have simply replaced it with our standard cultural greeting, the handshake. And this is doubtlessly true. Some cultures today still commonly practice a kiss as a greeting; I recall that during the summer that I traveled to Europe on a mission team from Bob Jones University, most guys on the team were at least a bit antsy at the prospect of being kissed full on the lips by a Russian brother.

I’m going to make my point here brief: the reality is that while both the kiss of greeting and the handshake are cultural expressions that have very similar functions, they are not identical in meaning. I would also suspect that our substitution of the arm’s-length handshake for the kiss is related to one of the most unchristian characteristics of our society: a radical individualism that considers the deep one-anotherness of Christian community invasive and uncomfortable.

The reality is that cultural forms carry meaning in themselves. And whether such meaning is associative or intrinsic is irrelevant to this point: if the form carries meaning, we must evaluate its meaning. The handshake is a contextualization of the kiss of greeting, but we must acknowledge at least some level of difference in meaning. And the same would be true if we tried to substitute other greeting rituals. What about a high five? A chest bump? Punching a buddy in the shoulder? These may all be acceptable forms of cultural greeting, but do they accomplish (within the setting of the corporate gathering of the church, where the kiss of greeting would have occurred) the same thing as the kiss of greeting?

Could a culturally acceptable expression of greeting actually be anti-Christian?

Note well: this post is not expressing any settled conclusions on my part regarding a re-institution of the kiss of greeting. I think we have something worth thinking about here, but those who know me needn’t avoid me at public gatherings out of fear of being kissed.

For what it’s worth, I think that this post is quite relevant to our ongoing discussion about musical diversity in the church.


Posted by on August 31, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Theology, Worship


The argument for musical diversity, part 2

In the last post, we set forth the main points of the argument for diversity in worship (ADW). In this post, and perhaps in one or two more, I will point out what I think are significant weak points in ADW.

I note, first, that the two stated benefits of ADW are, in practice, inversely proportional to one another. By way of review, advocates of diverse worship tell us that it will do two things for us: it (1) allows us to worship in an authentic way, and (2) gives us opportunity to defer to other believers. But these two benefits will not exist for the same person at the same time. Think about this carefully: to the degree that I am worshiping “in my language,” I have no need to defer to others in the congregation. To the degree that I am deferring, I am not worshiping “in my language.”

Now, please understand that I don’t think that this observation is some sort of defeater for ADW; I note this simply because the advocates of ADW have created a “heads I win, tails you lose” scenario for their position. If we approve of a song, they can tell us that it’s great that we can worship in a idiom native to us. If we are uncomfortable with another song, they tell us that it’s great that we have opportunity to submit to other believers.

To clarify, I don’t believe that anyone intended to give ADW this sort of failproof justification; I’m not suggesting any sort of conspiracy here. I am, however, claiming that the no-lose situation created by ADW is a bit artificial and circular.

We could create a parallel argument for using non-diverse worship (and this can work for non-diverse progressive worship just as well as it would for non-diverse conservative worship): if you like what we’re doing, you’re worshiping in your native idiom, and if you don’t, it gives you an opportunity to learn to submit to spiritual authority in your life. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t expect this sort of argument to gain much traction, only because Americans have an nearly inbred antagonism to hierarchical authority. The point is, authentic worship and submission to spiritual authorities are both counted as goods in Scripture; the fact that non-diverse worship can appeal to either (depending on a person’s response) doesn’t make non-diverse worship right.

Thus, the benefits that are said to accrue from diverse worship, I contend, are not sufficient to justify the practice. Again, I am not saying at this point that diversity in worship is wrong; in this post, I am only saying that the admirable goals of ADW do not justify it. In my next post, I will begin to address Kauflin’s arguments in support of diverse worship, which are, in my opinion, more compelling.


Posted by on August 28, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship


The argument for musical diversity, part 1

I’ve now encountered several times (most recently, in this sermon discussing Calvary Lansdale’s philosophy of music) an argument something like this: corporate worship must be diverse; that is, the styles and genres of music used by the church should reflect the wide-ranging tastes and backgrounds of those who have gathered to worship their Lord together. Such diversity, the argument continues, accomplishes at least two things (these are articulated in the sermon mentioned above).

First, a diversity of styles allows all people to worship authentically, because each person (in the course of a service, or perhaps over several services) will be presented with the opportunity to worship musically by means of a style that expresses his true voice.

Second, believers can learn to defer to one another, “in humility count[ing] others more significant than [them]selves” (Phil 2:3). The older believers, while not enjoying the music of the younger folks, can join with them in worship and thereby exercise humility; likewise, the younger can cheerfully demonstrate their love for their elders by joining with them in music that is not to their taste. In such a way, the whole body learns to “[submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).

I think we could all agree that both of these are laudable goals. Worship ought to be authentic, an expression of one’s redeemed heart, soul, and mind. Attempting to worship in a foreign idiom is like David battling Goliath in Saul’s armor.

Furthermore, I will certainly confess my need for greater humility and deference to others; having an opportunity to learn and express gracious love is a good thing.

It is my understanding that this argument from diversity was at least popularized by, if it did not originate with, Bob Kauflin. In Worship Matters, he offers several arguments in support of his contention that “music should display variety” (104–106).

The first is that using different styles is appropriate to “[reflect] God’s various attributes.” Kauflin asks us, rhetorically, “How can anyone think that a single kind of music could adequately express the fullness of God’s glory?”

The second is that differing styles “[enable] us to hear the same words with different effect.” He mentions here that most of our older hymns were written first and only later paired with tunes. Choosing different tunes and styles allows us to see the truths expressed in these texts different ways.

His third argument is that the use of different styles demonstrates that we “[recognize] God’s heart for all people.” He says, “Musical variety communicates God’s heart for all generations, cultures, and races. We don’t use different music because we want to keep everyone happy or because we’re aiming for a ‘blended’ service. It’s the gospel that blends us together, not music.”

He continues:

But in our rapidly shrinking world it’s even more important that we at least teach on the importance of this diversity. Christ’s command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth should inform and shape our theology of musical worship. It’s unwise and unbiblical to think that churches is Bolivia, Indonesia, Uganda, and elsewhere must conform to an American’s definition of ‘appropriate’ worship music.

To tip my hand a bit, I’m inclined to think that this third support is the one driving the diversity argument. However, my goal for today’s post is merely to introduce this argument, and to do so accurately. In my next few posts, I will offer some critical interaction with these ideas.


Posted by on August 27, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship


On Piper, from the previous

As a brief aside in the current discussion, I’m going to repost a couple of articles that I have written about John Piper and fundamentalism.

The first post was written in reply to a couple of letters that were published in FrontLine magazine regarding my 2005 position paper written for the FBF.

The second is an open letter to Piper, in reply to his blog post, Praise God for Fundamentalists.

I’m not particularly interested in rehashing either conversation right (although the comments section is left open); I’m just posting these for archival reasons.

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Posted by on July 31, 2009 in Blog, Fundamentalism