Calling it what it is . . .

. . . and what it is, is wrong.

A friend sent me this link last night.  I of course had heard some of what had gone on at Coral Ridge.  It’s hard not to hear about it if you’re in church circles at all.  I had heard rumors that the music director and organist had resigned, but until I read this on the organist’s own blog, it was just that:  a rumor, and I didn’t want to comment or speculate on a rumor.

There are quite a few things that really bother me about this, but this is at the heart of it:

On Wednesday evening, an elder came to announce that choir members, who had signed the original petition calling for the congregational vote, were to be removed from the choir. (This was all done without due process as called for in the PCA Book of Church Order. Signing a petition is a congregation member’s right under the BCO.) Upon the announcement of the removals the choir was immediately ripped to shreds with people protesting, crying – it was awful and unthinkable that this was happening in a church. Some of the members have been in this choir for 40 years. Three elders in the choir stood up to protest this saying that it was not allowable without session action and that none of these people had been charged with any wrongdoing. [Music Director] John Wilson left part way through the announcement, having become too emotional to stay.

The three elders who stood up are 100% correct.  First, those choir members who signed the petition calling for a congregational meeting were simply exercising their right under the Book of Church Order (a part of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church  in America).  Second, simply because they signed a petition calling for a congregational meeting does not mean they were planning to vote to get rid of the pastor:  it simply means they wanted the issues discussed in a public forum rather than whispered behind closed doors.  (Several years ago, the session of the church we attended was trying to pass a controversial action and a petition was circulated for a congregational meeting to discuss it.  Those who signed the petition did not have their minds made up about the action:  they simply wanted the opportunity to hear both sides, to ask questions, and to let their voice be heard.  That is their right.)  Third, even if a majority of those who signed the petition did want the pastor removed, how does this sort of “scorched earth policy” advance the Gospel?  How does this square with “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”?  It has been reported that a “culture of intimidation” has been the order of the day for several months around this church.  These actions toward the choir seem to lend credence to those reports.

There’s something else that disturbs me greatly about this.  Say that, a month from now, the session apologizes, saying that its actions were unconstitutional.  What then?  The damage has been done.  The organist is gone.  The choir is gone.  The choir director is gone.  It’s already been established, in the many reports about the conflict at Coral Ridge, that the new pastor “prefers rock bands to organs and choirs.’ Do we really think there will be a serious effort to re-establish the tradition of choral and organ music that has flourished at Coral Ridge for the past 40 years?  That is all gone.  It will continue, no doubt, at the new church (that had 65 people in the choir on its first Sunday), but at Coral Ridge, it’s gone.  (In related news, the director of the Coral Ridge Concert Series was also fired this week.) Proponents of “contemporary” worship used to complain about their views being shut out by traditional churches.  Now that those proponents are the decided majority in the evangelical world, what are they doing to traditional church music?  Practicing the Golden Rule?  As I have to tell my children almost every day, the Golden Rule is not “do unto others as they have done to you.”

Increasingly over the years, I have seen an arrogant Philistinism creeping over the evangelical landscape.  I’ve had pastors brag to me about their new church buildings that were being built in such a way as to ensure that there could never be a choir or an organ in the sanctuary:  just a rock band.  Pastors with little or no experience in, or appreciation for, music are making artistic judgments and ignoring the advice and the impassioned pleas of the musicians in their midst.  I know precious little about visual art.  I’m one of those people who would buy the painting that matches the couch.  Still, I wouldn’t suggest that a church that was full of Michaelangelo frescoes hire Thomas Kinkade to come in and paint over them in a style that “people today can identify with.”  Why obliterate such a heritage?  But that’s exactly what’s going on with church music around the country.  Sure, let’s do new music.  Let’s discover music of other cultures.  But let’s not chuck our heritage in the process.  There should be plenty of room at the table for everyone.  But then again, we’ve never really gotten the hang of inclusion, have we?

The denomination that Coral Ridge is in, the PCA, has now almost universally rid itself of this heritage of church music.  It is now almost universally opposed to any music that is more than 25 years old.  Ironically, this same denomination is, at the same time, almost universally opposed to any theological formulations that are less than 350 years old!  No one in the PCA would consider for a second the suggestion that they only pay attention to theologians of the 20th and 21st centuries.  Why, then, is it OK to do that very thing to the artists of the church?  There are a lot of smart people in the PCA.  Have none of them thought through the possibility that our heritage of worship might serve to inform our theology?  Has no one wondered if worship that is completely cut off from the past might be at odds with the belief we espouse in “the communion of saints”?  That communion is not only catholic–reaching around the world–it is also timeless, reaching down through the centuries.  It’s not just lex credendi, lex orandi.  It’s also lex orandi, lex credendi.  Not only does our theology inform our worship practice:  our worship practice also shapes our theology.  What are we doing to ourselves by throwing so much of our history, and so much beauty, out the window?

Coral Ridge is not only about to jettison 40 years of church music heritage at that location.  They are about to jettison centuries of Christian wisdom and beauty embodied in that heritage.  And it’s not just music of the past that has been assigned to the dustbin.  Coral Ridge has been instrumental in introducing the music of many present-day church musicians to the world, through its TV presence as well as through its Church Music Explosion conferences.  Cindy Berry, Craig Courtney, Allen Pote, and my good friend K. Lee Scott have all had their music performed extensively by the Coral Ridge choir.  The same is true for hundreds of other composers living and writing today:  composers who are truly contemporary although not writing in a pop style.  Their gifts have been treasured and utilized by Coral Ridge.  I seriously doubt that they will be utilized, much less treasured, any longer.

I know that there were bad attitudes on the other side too.  I don’t believe it was right for people at Coral Ridge to be bad-mouthing the new pastor.  However, I also wonder why someone would go to a church only to dismantle its entire culture.  If I interviewed at a church that was 180 degrees away from my convictions regarding worship and ministry, I would not go there.  I would not be the right person for that church.  That is not a slam against that church or against me.  It’s just not a match.  Perhaps the PNC did not represent Coral Ridge or its desires for the future accurately to the candidates.  Perhaps the candidate did not represent his intentions accurately.  Perhaps it was a little of both.  No matter how it happened, now it just is what it is.

And what it is, is a terrible, terrible shame.

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About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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9 Responses to Calling it what it is . . .

  1. RevJATB says:

    And one more thing (that didn’t fit the overall point of the article):

    The press is spinning this as a bunch of people who miss all the right-wing politics in the pulpit. I hope no one who reads this will think that’s what I would like: it’s not. But I seriously doubt that is the case with the choir members. I suspect they were unhappy with the drastic change in the worship service that was going on. If the new pastor had come in, respected the worship culture of the church, and removed the politics from the pulpit, I would have seen that as a very positive move.

    The press is spinning this as “style over substance,” but that’s never the case. We are talking about the content of worship. How that content is “packaged” inevitably conditions, even changes, how it is received and understood. Again, lex orandi, lex credendi.

  2. cap'n says:

    The people who hated Music Appreciation class in college rule the world.

    (More comments later, I’d like to read what others chime in with first.)

  3. Ed Eubanks says:

    Good points, John Allen– and it is a shame if those members of the choir are forced to step down in that manner.

    Regarding your comments on worship practice shaping our theology: I’ve said a number of times to my congregation (and I’m quoting someone, but I don’t remember who): “We’ll sing ourselves into heresy long before it comes from the pulpit.”

  4. cap'n says:

    We could beat the dead horse of blaming a lack of early music education for some of the issues that swirl around all this, but sometimes that just makes things worse. (The you-ruined-my-childhood-with-those-piano-lessons-and-by-making-me-sing-in-the-choir sentiment reverberates through some people’s adulthood.)

    It’s puzzling, however, that people were, perhaps, a more tolerant and cooperative audience for the art music of the Church just 35 years ago, 55 years ago (extrapolation, I ain’t that old). Tolerance, at the very least, is the key.

    There has been an intellectual shift, also. Over the years, for example, I have found the articles on music in the Phi Kappa Phi Journal to be rather irksome. They tend to come from some useless, outwith-the-field perspective extolling such anti-elitism or populism as Garth Brooks being more meaningful than Beethoven (I remember that one from around 1990–the year of dizzying heights for low places).

    If memory serves, somebody had enough and wrote an opinion letter to the Journal to the effect that he was tired of music being the scapegoat of anti-elitism when his colleagues would not accept the equivalent in their fields (and that they were so ignorant as not to know how silly they sounded to trained musicians).

    Anyhoo, none of this excuses lack of wisdom (meaning blatant stupidity–there, I said it) and lack of stewardship in regard to a thriving music ministry dedicated to artistic excellence.

    Guess you know what Mohler did to Southern Seminary’s music program. I’m glad that SU’s AW is musically inclined!

  5. RevJATB says:

    Whoa, there’s a JOURNAL?

    I got the pin, the car decal, and the gold cords that I wore with my graduation robe. There’s a JOURNAL?

  6. cap'n says:

    Called “National Forum.”

    I know it’s so–Wikipedia mentions it under the society’s entry. And I get it quarterly. (Have you remained “active,” also getting the junk insurance and credit card mail?)

    (I’ve never heard of the “Chord e-zine” that WikiWacky mentions, so call me ignorant!)

    BTW, Pi Kappa Lambda never bothers one, so that’s good!

  7. PaulB says:

    As someone who has a lot of family (by marriage) in that church I would say that the decision regarding the choir was a poor one and a knee jerk reaction at that.

    However, to read it primarily as a commentary on worship style and music is incorrect and misinformed. That’s all I say in public forum.

  8. cap'n says:

    One would think that a new minister is more disposable than half the choir, but that’s where the devil sits (when he’s not on the drummer’s throne in the praise rock band), of course. 🙂

  9. MoDrig3 says:

    In addition to the political unrest, it seems that both sides (if, indeed there are only two) might be engaging in a musical iconoclasm as well. I’m no church historian (and I did attempt a brief research before writing this), but something in my memory of undergrad and graduate studies recalls hearing of reformers going overboard a few hundred years ago and destroying statuary and other imagery along with organs.

    There’s a baby in that bathwater, people … and both sides are in the process of throwing it out!

    There’s a world in need of Christ watching; and when they see followers of Christ in turmoil and infighting, it drives them away rather than beckons them near.

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