Saturday, August 30, 2008


Near the close of his great argument for unity in the Roman church, Paul prays thus: “Now may the God of perseverance and encouragement grant to you the same mind among one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord (desire or purpose), you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5, 6).

The Roman Christians were divided – by ethnicity, religious background, tradition. Some (myself included) think that Paul’s main purpose in writing this letter was to bring about a unity in this church. This unity, he seemed to think, would express itself in worship. Perhaps he even hoped that unity would be aided by worship.

How sad that that which was intended to be an expression of unity in the church has become a cause of division, as my previous two posts and the comments on them reveal.

Now I realize that sometimes there are reasons for division or separation, reasons for leaving a church: false or shoddy doctrine; immorality. But it seems like many hop from church to church because of the particular style of worship. And some hold to their stylistic preference stronger than they do to their theology.

I had a friend who retired from preaching the gospel due to illness. He then had a hard time finding a new church home – not because of the teaching of the various churches he attended, but because their music had become too modern. He settled for a time in a church that taught baptismal regeneration. He knew he disagreed with their doctrine, but they sang the old hymns he was used to.

It seems we have forgotten the purpose of worship: to glorify God! We seem to feel that the purpose of worship is our own entertainment. And unfortunately, sometimes those in charge seem to feel that way too. We (and I include my generation) have been entertained almost to death: hours of television, radio, etc., have made us feel that we are entitled to be constantly amused. And we bring that feeling of entitlement to church with us when we worship.

But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be! The purpose of worship is not to entertain me, but to glorify God!

The following lines are attributed to the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) in 1846:

“In regard to things spiritual, the foolishness of many is this, that they in the secular sense look upon the speaker as an actor, and the listeners as theatergoers who are to pass judgment upon the artist. But the speaker is not the actor – not in the remotest sense. No, the speaker is the prompter. There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart.

. . . In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker is then the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener, if I may say so, is the actor, who in all truth acts before God.

. . . God’s presence is the decisive thing that changes all.”

It’s not about me – it’s about Him!

While I as the preacher, or Mike as music director, have other purposes – to teach, to exhort, to comfort, to encourage – our primary purpose is to glorify God, “the critical theatergoer.” And in a real sense, we have not accomplished our primary purpose until we have brought our congregation(s) to fulfill that purpose.

More later.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Re: Comments on my previous post.

XLT: I agree that “As many young people complain as much or more as older people . . .” However, I have to speak as one of the old geezers. I feel more free to criticize my own “kind.” Besides, I just spent two weeks in my home town visiting with old friends and relatives. They’re not all gripers. :^)

I also think that we older, supposedly more mature Christians should be able to distinguish which matters are essential, and which are peripheral. I find that many of us seem stuck in a time warp, not only as regards matters of taste, but also as regards our own growth. It’s very easy to do. We are like the readers of the Book of Hebrews. We “have become dull of hearing” (5:11). We need to be “. . . the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (5:14).

Sandy: I appreciate your question “ . . . what does this say about churches who try to target a certain demographic with their music, location, programs, etc.? Is there a correlation to focusing on the perimeter of the circle?” I confess I hadn’t given this much (if any) thought while I was writing the previous post. I believe that these goals can be seen as comparable to Paul’s desire to “Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).

Most people are outside the circle. It is our task to bring them in. We need to engage our culture without compromising truth. If peripheral issues are too rigidly held, we may prevent those outside from ever seeing the center, which is Christ. Again, Paul’s philosophy “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partner of it” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Notice that Paul did not compromise truth. He became “as” others. He did not put himself under law, nor become “without law.” Though he didn’t modify his message, he did modify his presentation to fit his “target demographic.”

So, when I think about it, I realize that being perimeter focused not only prevents real fellowship in the church, it can also become a hindrance to evangelism, which I believe is our primary task.

Mike: I appreciate your comments on judgmentalism. When we concentrate on how others fail to live up to our peripherals, we are not only not acting in love, we are hindering ourselves from growth in Christ-likeness.

And please forgive me for sounding judgmental. I don’t want to be. I actually grieve for my contemporaries who’ve lost sight of the center.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


When I spend time with some of my Christian friends who are somewhere around my age, I find they have many concerns about their churches, which they feel are moving in the wrong direction. Many of them have changed churches because of their dissatisfaction.

What are they concerned about?

The music! What do they find wrong with it? It’s too much like rock-and-roll! And, of course, for some, rock-and-roll is an evil in itself!

The dress! People attending worship in jeans or shorts. Of course, for some of my contemporaries anything other than a coat and tie (pantyhose for women) is disrespectful to the Lord.

Hair and beards! They complain that people with beards look like terrorists! (True story: Once when I was pastoring, I showed up in church after a week’s back-packing vacation, wearing a well-trimmed beard. I was confronted after the service by an indignant member asking “What next? Are you going to be selling drugs in the parking lot?” He left the church.)

Now I believe we should have concerns (see CORPORATE CONFESSION) about our churches and the directions they’re going. And I know that old people aren’t the only ones who complain. But I believe we are overly concerned about peripheral issues.

Somewhere I read (I can’t remember where) that the Christian life can be thought of as a circle, with a clear center. The perimeter is not always as clear to all. We can be either center-focused or perimeter-focused Christians.

Those who are perimeter focused concentrate on what makes us different from everyone else. They look at the boundaries that distinguish us and try to keep them clear: styles of music, dress, entertainment, diet. It’s easy to see extreme groups, those who wear nothing but black, or those who ban musical instruments, but it’s also easy to find ourselves keeping some rigid code by which we feel we are distinguished from “the world.”

Those who are center-focused concentrate on the One who is rightfully at the center: Jesus Christ. When we concentrate on Him, on building a life in conformity to His, I believe the boundaries will take care of themselves. Our lives will be distinguished, not by some rigid code, but by a Christ-likeness. Yes, we’ll have preferences. But we won’t be near as concerned about some of these issues. And we won’t be concerned about whether others live up to our preferences.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).

Bill Ball