I told Alexa to play “oldies” for me while doing some menial work last week, and soon she played a familiar song: “The House Of The Rising Sun.” This was never among my personal favorites, but it did bring back memories of a disruption at a Birmingham church because of it.
One Sunday morning the young music minister strummed his guitar to this melody while singing the lyrics to “Amazing Grace.” As I recall, it fit pretty well. But he was accosted after the service by an angry church member. The man told him gospel should never be sung to the tune of a song about a New Orleans house of ill repute!
For many years it was alleged Martin Luther borrowed a German beer hall melody for “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” but it’s now believed Luther wrote the melody himself. But what if the reformer did borrow a beer hall song, or a young guitarist borrowed a popular song of his day to convey a spiritual message? Would this be so wrong?
I think the church has borrowed a lot of “secular” things and baptized them for God’s work.
Radio and television weren’t invented for the church, but there are many channels devoted to gospel broadcasting now. And Bible teaching podcasts are readily available. We were exhorted years ago that telephone book yellow pages was the best advertising for our churches, but who has a telephone book anymore? Now we’re told people visit our websites for service and ministry information. And certainly we’ve relegated typewriters and spirit-master duplicators to the storage closet while we use the most modern computers and photocopiers for communication. Many church newsletters today aren’t printed but sent through cyberspace to be read on electronic devices. At our church we have a monthly printed newsletter, but we’ve discussed using text messaging in addition to our weekly e-newsletter we provide for members and guests. The younger generation is in a hurry, we’re told, and doesn’t have time to read email.
Who knows what methodologies churches will use 10 or 20 years from now?
The late Oral Roberts was criticized when he moved his tent crusades to Sunday morning television and periodic weeknight “specials.” But he said, “I’ve never married a method. What works best is what I want to use.”
I showed a picture of brothers “Larry, Darryl and Darryl” to a group of high school students lately and they had no clue who these characters from the old “Newhart” show were! I suppose a guitarist could use a tune from the ’60s now as a vehicle for spiritual lyrics and only us seniors would know. But maybe we’d hear God’s truth in a fresh way.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.