“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” Matthew 23:24
When s fellow Christian tells me their church is “progressive” or “non-traditional.” I am cautious and ask what they mean by either of those terms. Usually, that person is excited to tell me more. The reason for that is their church is doing something very different from what they experienced growing up. Their experience of church in childhood could be that of worship that is staid formalism, long and boring sermons, or music they would not have been caught dead listening to outside of the church building. When these persons speak this way, their church is considered neither progressive nor non-traditional. The proper way to describe their church worship time is “contemporary.” Various problems people have with the contemporary worship style centers around the forms of music being used. And there are other issues involved.
Criticism of “traditional” worship centers around how worshipers are expected to dress when attending “church,” what instruments are used such as an organ, harp, piano, etc., how the minister and worship leaders are robed, vested, or otherwise clothed, and lastly what translations of the Scriptures or liturgical prayers (if any) are used.
Celebration of “contemporary” worship often involves the very same issues. What instruments are played, how Scripture, prayer, and song lyrics are conveyed, and whether or not male clergy and worship leaders wear ties are the issues in the minds of too many Christians who want to call themselves progressive and non-traditional. In fact, such people are all too conventional.
The church has become a choice among many in a culture of consumerism. What forms of worship do I want to consume? Is a more important question than who is this God I want to worship? Do I have a relationship with God? Is a more important than is my connection with the Ultimate Other, the Source of All Being. Or worse yet, is my relationship with God in my own image or an adult form of an “imaginary friend?”
The text quoted above applies to the modern (mainline) Protestant and evangelical churches on these issues. We are prone to look at trivial matters as more important than issues that actually matter. Are we too busy learning a newly released song to keep worship exciting (meaning really more attendees and fundraising)? This is modern tithe of mint, dill, and cummin. Or are we looking for what God, as the Source of All Good Things, considers under the heading weightier matters of instruction – “justice, mercy, and faith.” Does our reflection on this matters make us more just, merciful, and faithful?
I point our that the words progressive and non-traditional are not true values any more than conservative, orthodox, or traditional are. Once the church rejects justice, mercy, and faithfulness in order to celebrate gnats, what camels do we swallow? What corruption are we willing to tolerate and hide in order to be acceptable to those who we know would judge us harshly? Why do we fool ourselves that doing so is for good? My meaning is this. Do we hide corruption and evil for the “good of the church?” Are we willing to cast aside any person from a marginalized group because to do so harm’s our reputation for those who are wanting to condemn the church anyway? Are we protecting our power over an institution? These are indeed the questions Jesus, Paul, and James asked us to consider two thousand years ago. The truth is all that has been accomplished over this amount of time is to know we are not providing the answers they are asking us to give. So, we defend the indefensible. We make God in our image. The Jesus we choose to follow has nothing to do with history or Scripture and becomes neither Lord nor Savior but an imaginary friend. And we celebrate the gnats and believe our own lies.