Now, there is a place called heaven but we should not be dying to go there so quickly that we miss the greater gospel message of love for others, offering the gospel, being stewards of the earth, and caring about changing the world in which we live. Escapism is killing the institutional church due to a lack of desire to change a world that will no longer exist. This concept ignores John’s statement of a New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. (Revelation 21). It ignores the call of God to care for the earth and to share the message of Grace. It amazes me how “we can be so heavenly minded we are no earthly good.” (Johnny Cash) We have to learn to move beyond some of the ideas we have learned and developed in order to change the world not to be a “woe is me Christian” who thinks the secular culture will overcome the church; it has not and it will not.
The second bad theology is calling people to come to the church. This one is the cause of so much misunderstanding of church. We can invite people to be a part of the church, to come to an institutional church, or to be church, but we cannot invite people to come to church. As the hymn “We are the Church” tells us, “The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people.” We cannot go to church but we can be church. The church is the body of Christ alive, moving, and serving in the hearts and lives of believers. But we often confuse the sanctuary (a place of worship) with the church. This lets too many people off the hook. They say the church should do something about it. Well, yes, the church should, so get busy and do it because you are the church. Hymns such as “The Church in the Wildwood” ask us to come to the church in the wildwood, not to worship in the wild wood. It is teaching us that the church is one organized body – responsible as a group – that provides cover for what we do not want to do. It is sad there are people who feel this way and have not accepted the responsibility, the authority, or the blessing to and of being the church.
Now the old hymns aren’t the only music that has bad theology. As with all things, bad theology is scattered all over the place so there are contemporary praise songs that are just as bad. We just need to be aware of what we are singing and thankfully our UM hymnal is more balanced than some. It does not contain as many of the escapist songs, but many of us have sung them or heard then in other places we have worshipped and have been influenced by them.
The point is this: just because hymns are old does not make them better, they can still teach us bad theology. Likewise, just because praise songs are new, that does not make them better. John Wesley would tell us to use what draws people to come to worship and to go into the world and find out what that something is that draws them. We are going to be a part of heaven someday (whatever it looks like and wherever it is) if we have given our hearts to Christ, so we should not be in a hurry to get there. We also need to learn to be the church in the world until that time comes. We are called to be disciples, followers who learn and serve. It’s all about being who Christ calls us to be and offering our lives to Him each day in obedience to his call to be salt and light to the world.
I love serving here with you and look forward to the future as we venture out into the world with a message that changes hearts and lives and changes the world.