Is The Local Association Finished?

A lot of people are asking if there is still a place for the local association in SBC life, and my answer is a firm YES. I am not going to deny the reality that many local associations are virtually lifeless, but I am also not ready to write them all off as obsolete organizations of antiquity. Churches could be greatly benefitted by having a healthy association in their corner.

I pastored a small church in small-town Oklahoma that, when I arrived, was having some very difficult conversations. The goal was to just keep the doors open one week at a time, but when I left, the church was in an entirely different situation. There were several factors that fueled that turnaround, and one of the largest was our local association and director of missions. He believed in me and in our little church. When everyone else thought we were done, he was ready to invest more. He gave us his time and attention. For example, on more than one occasion the association chose to serve our church for their summer mission trip. One summer, groups from the churches came to our facilities and helped us demolish an old parsonage that was becoming a hazard to the community. This was a project that would have cost our church thousands of dollars that we did not have, but the whole thing was done free of charge. Nothing gets a church excited like having heavy machinery on the property. In fact, the local newspaper came out and took pictures of the project and published a story in the paper informing the community about the progress of our church. The community knew that our church was not out for the count, because of the work of the local association.

We need to revive local associations all over the country, because there is no other organization out there that is on the ground serving our churches on such a personal level. Sure there is work to be done, and the system is not perfect, but it will definitely be worth the investment. My story is not unique, and I know there are churches out there who are crying out for help and a dedicated local association might just be the answer they have been looking for. Over the next few weeks I am going to be addressing some issues concerning local associations and my vision for their future. I also want to dedicate these blogs to DuWayne Colvin the director of mission for the North Canadian Baptist Association in Oklahoma.

Hermeneutics?

One the biggest issues I have faced in my short life as a pastor is the widespread practice of bad biblical interpretation. The hermeneutic of even the most conservative churches is lacking to say the least. We say we believe that the Bible is totally inerrant and infallible, yet our practices communicate something far different. I am not innocent when it comes to this issue, and I have made my fair share of borderline heretical interpretations. However, there are simple principles that can and should be taught in local churches to promote a healthy hermeneutic.

  1. Authorial Intent

There has been no other principle that has helped my hermeneutic more than the principle of “authorial intent.” This is the principle that seeks out the intention of the original author before making personal application. Most errant interpretations can be avoided by applying this practice. Here is a simple phrase that helps when looking for the author’s intent, “The author cannot mean what he did not mean to mean.” In other words, the Bible reader does not ask the question, “What does this mean to me?” until he first asks, “What did it mean to the author and his audience?” Applications may change, but the author’s intent remains the same, and as long as application is closely tied to and informed by the authorial intent you can guarantee an accurate interpretation and application.

2. Chronological Bible Storying

Most people are quite familiar with the stories of the Bible. They know about Noah’s ark, Abraham’s obedience, David’s kingdom, the Christmas narrative, Jesus walking on the water, and the resurrection, but do our people know the Story of the Bible? The stories in the Bible and the Story of the Bible are two different animals. There should be knowledge among our churches about God’s story as a whole. There is no reason why they should not all know the events within the story and how they fit together chronologically and theologically to form the greatest narrative in history. Interpretation is greatly aided by understanding where the events in the text fall chronologically within the overarching story. This principle provides clarity to texts Jeremiah 29:11 or Acts chapter 2. Simply recognizing where you are in the Story puts up some safe guards to promote proper interpretation.

3. Literary Background

Literature is a subject that gets people super excited, but when we are talking about the Word of God we are talking about written words collected in a book. Therefore, we must use some literary principles in hermeneutics. One such principle is genre. There are different styles of literature in the Bible, there is poetry, prophecy, and letters to name a few. Understanding genre is greatly beneficial because it can add clarity to some difficult passages. For example you cannot read a letter the same way you read a poem. Letters are situational and they are part of correspondence, and poetry is artistic and expressive. Both communicate truth and both are inspired by God, but they are not one in the same. Interpret the text with knowledge of the genre.

Another literary principle is called immediate context. A proper interpretation can only by found in reference to the surrounding text and the book as a whole. No one reads a book this way, but we do it all the time with the Bible. A verse means what it means because it is part of a larger paragraph, a book as a whole, and the entire story of the Bible. The best corrector to this issue is expository preaching!

4. Historical Background

Knowing the historical background is not as easy to find as the other principles, but it is equally as important. New Testament letters are the easiest example to prove the necessity of historical background. As stated above, a letter must be read like a letter, therefore there is an author and a recipient. The best interpretation of a letter can be found when the reader gains as much information about the historical situation of both the author and his audience. For example, the term “antichrists” in 1 John 2 is far less threatening when you understand the situation the audience finds themselves in. The best part about this example is that the historical information can be found within the text itself. There are those in this particular church that are leaving the fellowship and not only that, but they are promoting a false doctrine trying to take others with them. This knowledge makes it quite clear that they are the antichrists that John is talking about, not some eschatological figure. Historical background information should be gathered to the fullest extent possible, avoiding speculation and not banking on extra-biblical sources, but nonetheless taught in our churches to help promote good hermeneutics.

5.  Context!

Context is king in biblical hermeneutics. All of the other principles flow out of this one. Isolated biblical proof texting has done great harm to the church, because it does not teach people how to read scripture. It promotes selfish hermeneutics wherein, if the reader cannot see what a verse means to him or her, he or she simply skips over it to find another one. Therefore the book of Leviticus becomes completely obsolete in every regard. However, understanding context by finding the authorial intent, recognizing where you are in the story, and researching the literary and historical background can give insight into the interpretation and promote the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

In conclusion, the church may struggle with biblical interpretation, but it is a fixable problem. We MUST teach our people hermeneutics because of what we believe about the Bible. I believe in the 100% inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, I believe that it is the literal Word of God, therefore I commit to practicing and teaching good hermeneutics.

 

 

 

 

4 Necessary Factors of Church Music

After discussing some general thoughts and observations about church music I am now going to provide some practical application.

  1. Our Music Must Be Singable

If the purpose of our music is for congregational singing, than practically speaking the congregation must be able to sing the music. I have noticed a few trends in worship services that actually discourage congregational singing. The first is what is often called the wall of sound. It isn’t necessarily about the volume, although that is a factor, but it is about the amount of energy and sound coming from the front of the room. The guitar riffs are cool and I’m glad we have them in our services, and the drums keep the music from being just unbearable boring, but sometimes the worship band produces so much sound that you can’t hear anything around you. While in some pews that may be a blessing, it defeats the purpose of the music in the first place. The goal is to sing as a congregation and to do so we must be able to hear each other. The wall of sound should be coming from the pew to the front not from the front to the pew.

Another factor that is discouraging congregational singing is the register in which the songs are played. I have been in services that have just completely worn my voice out because the songs are so high, and I am a natural tenor. The people on the stage are up there for a reason, they are highly talented, but not all of us bear those same gifts. I believe congregational singing would greatly increase by just lowering the keys of some of our songs.

The third factor that is discouraging congregational singing is the room itself. We turn off all the house lights, paint the ceilings and walls dark colors, and then put blindingly bright lights pointed toward the stage. We are designing and setting up our worship centers in ways that communicate something entirely different than our message. We are telling everyone to focus on the front of the room rather than congregational singing.

I am not just going to be negative about the singability factor, because I have also seen some great things happening in worship services. I am thrilled to see the return of hymns, not because I’m stuck in the mud and think we need to return to the good ole hymnals, but because hymns are meant to be sung. The hymn does nothing but promote congregational singing. The new hymns being written are going to one day find themselves among the great classics we all know so well.

2. Our Music Must Be Sustainable

As I said previously I am optimistic about the trend toward singable songs, and I love to listen to new ones as they come out, but there is something trulls special about singing a song that was sung by the great-grandparents of my grandparents. If our music truly does provide a common heritage as I wrote in a previous post, than the music we sing in church must have some element of sustainability. The song “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” has been song for going on 500 years, yet the song “Into Marvelous Light I’m Running” has disappeared into an oblivion never to be sung again. This factor must be considered when selecting songs for congregational singing. Just because a song is new and popular doesn’t mean you should sing it in your church, we must sing sustainable music, and lots of na na’s and la la’s just aren’t going to cut it.

3. Our Music Must Have Sound Theology

No one can deny the fact that music is memorable and music is a great teacher, that has already been covered. The practical outworking of this is that our music must have sound theology. I think this is one of the factors that not only makes a song sustainable, but even singable. The people can hold on to the words because they are so dear and true. For example, I cannot sing the words, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be. Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above,” without being overcome with reverence and worship for my God. Likewise, the newer song Hallelujah! What a Savior stir me in the same way. Here is a sample from one of the verses,  “O Guilty, vile, and helpless me; Spotless Lamb of God was He; Full atonement! can it be? Hallelujah! What a Savior! Lifted up was He to die; ‘It is finished!’ was His cry; Now in Heaven exalted high Hallelujah! What a Savior!” Our songs MUST have good theology, there is no exception to this rule. Artistry is necessary, but not in place of sound theology. Nothing will improve the congregational singing more than the people singing good theology!

4. Our Music Must Be Excellent

Lastly, and most practically, our music must be done with excellence. We cannot sacrifice quality for style or trends. It would be better to do old music well than new music poorly. There is no point in doing bad music. I’m not saying every church needs to higher professional musicians, but I am saying that if worship is as important as we say it is, than our musicians shouldn’t be out of practice or ill-equipped. A little practice goes a long way, and choosing music that fits your group’s abilities can make it sound so much better.

By the way, the excellent factor has nothing to do with church size. I have seen some bad music in large churches and I have seen some trulls great music in the smallest of churches. The point is not to become more performance based, but to honor the Lord with the best of our abilities. Our congregations will be the better for it. What ever it is that your church does musically, do it well!

 

-Brayden L. Buss

Church Music Part 2

Church music is often called sacred music. It is given the title sacred because it is set apart from all other music. In this second post on church music I am going to discuss a few things that make church music distinct. These are just general observations and are in no way exhaustive, but they show why church music is sacred.

  1. Church Music Provides a Common Heritage

Music changes frequently from year to year, styles come and styles go, but church music has some elements that are quite constant. Sure the expressions of sacred music have changed over the years, and that is needed. However, there is something great about our music that is passed down through the generations. In other words, our music has provided a common heritage for our people. My great-grandparents and I sang some of the very same songs. Of course there are some church songs that come and go, never to be heard again (i.e. Into Marvelous Light I’m Running or God of Earth and Outer Space), but there are songs like A Mighty Fortress is Our God that we have been singing for almost 500 years. There is something to be said for the fact that the young and the old can gather together and sing songs together from memory. There will always be a need for new music, but only the church has music that can be treasured by generations of the past and the generations to come.

2. Church Music is Corporate

One of the key factors that sets our music apart is that it is written to be sung by groups of people. The sound of the coin hitting the bottom of the offering plate is not the sweetest sound to our Lord, but rather I believe that He is greatly pleased by the sound of the unified voices of congregational singing. When the church gathers and sings a song from our common heritage, the sound that follows is unmatched anywhere else. Our music is not just preformed, it is not just well written notes and melodies, it sung. It is all about the voices of the people working together to glorify God.

If you ever get the chance to attend chapel at Southeastern Seminary you should definitely take advantage of that. I quickly found that the preachers are exceptional, including some of the greatest preachers in the nation. However, it was the music that really set the chapel experience apart. It isn’t the quality on the stage that will stand out to you, but the voices of the seminarians that will really let you know you are in a special place. Obviously the crowd is primarily men, who for the most part are the gender of silence when it comes to congregational singing, but this is not true in chapel. These young preacher boys, talented or not, sing loud for the Lord. The whole crowd sings, and there is truly nothing like it. I wish everyone could hear the sound of hundreds of preachers and theologians singing loud the words, “Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise.” That sound is proof that our music is sacred, and that is the sound heard every time the church gathers.

3. Church Music Praises God

The most obvious distinction about church music is the worship factor. Our music is written to bring praise to God — we sing with purpose. Just look at the lyrics from a few of our sacred songs, Lord I lift your name on high, Oh praise the name of the Lord our God, bless the Lord oh my soul, how great thou art, holy, holy, holy, Jesus Lamb of God worthy is your name, etc. The words of our songs are very intentionally written to praise the Lord. However it is not just the words themselves that are worshipful, but the music itself. In Psalm 33 the psalmists declares that the Lord is to be praised with singing and with various instruments. The Lord is worthy to be praised, and it should be done with in as many different expressions as possible. Our music is sacred because it praises God.

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

-Psalm 33:1-3

 

Church Music

Music has always been and will always be a major component of the Christian faith. The styles of that music, and even the way it is used has changed dramatically over the years, but nevertheless there has always been music. When Jesus and his disciples left the upper room after the Last Supper they sang a hymn together; Paul charges the Ephesian church to sing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs; and even in the Old Testament we have the vast collection of Psalms, some of which were written for the choirmaster. The Jewish religious system had an entire office devoted to music. Our modern churches do the same thing, the second hire every church makes after the pastor is a minister of music, song director, worship pastor, or whatever you want to call it. The point is, that music is VERY important!

Over the next several weeks I am going to be writing on the issue of church music. I am going to cover the practice of church music and the theology/philosophy that is behind it. First, I want to just point out some of the reasons why music is so important to the faith.

  1. Music teaches the theology

The first reason music is so important to our faith is that it teaches theology. I am an analytical person, which at times makes me a little less than artistic, so this first point comes from that perspective. Most people think of music in strictly artistic or even emotional terms, but we cannot limit it to just those realities. Music speaks to multiple aspects of our persons. Music is artistic, but it is also didactic.

I am not naive, I know that most people don’t learn their theology from my sermons, they learn it from the songs we sing. The lyrics, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, ” forever shape our doctrine of grace. It teaches us that our salvation comes to us not because we deserve it, but because we are wretched without His grace. Also reflect on the lyrics of this classic children’s song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.” That song has been used for many years to teach children the story in Luke 19, and you may think it is cheesy, but I come back to it every time I read teach that section of scripture. Whoever is picking the songs, must recognize that he or she is actually informing the theology of the church, whether he knows it or not.

2. Music stirs emotions

Teaching and preaching are my passion, but music does something words cannot do–it stirs emotions. A song, with or without words, can make you stop whatever it is your doing and just think, reflect, or even cry. I know it isn’t manly to talk about such things, but it is true. Only a song can take you back to “that moment” whatever it may be, only a song can make your mind be silent to hear your heart think. Think about just how different it would be to watch Rocky run up those stairs without the music in the background, or how boring Star Wars would be to watch with out the genius work of John Williams. As a communicator I am almost envious of the power that can be communicated with even the most simple song.

For this reason, music is of the upmost importance. We are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and music helps us do that. Even the most intellectual, heady type person needs music to help him or her relate to God. If not, we are leaving out a vital part of our worship, and neglecting a large part of God’s design for humanity. We are emotional beings, and there are some things that can only be communicated through song.

3. Music is memorable

Thirdly, music is memorable. Think about all the songs we can quote word for word, even the ones that we haven’t heard for many years. For some reason, the lyrics to songs just stick with us forever. I can flawlessly quote almost all the worship songs from the 90’s and early 2000’s because that is the music we sang week after week in the church a grew up in. I know the words of almost all the hymns because those are the songs we sang at the first church I pastored. I will always be able to know those songs, and know them well. Church music is important because when the people leave, they may forget the words to the sermon, but they cannot forget the words to the songs. They may be able to quote the pastor on Sunday afternoon for their twitter accounts, but people can sing the songs for the rest of their lives. If we can remember the songs so well, we must be more intentional about the music of the church.

My Kind of People

I love God’s church, but sometimes I get really frustrated with “church people.” Of course I love the church and I would gladly give my life for her, but can we be honest with one anther? Some of the things we get all worked up about are just plane annoying. Like the Christmas cups at Starbucks. They took of very non-chrsitain symbols of the holiday season and everyone freaked out. Another example is this past elections season. People supporting both major candidates thought they were with God’s candidate, and even those who chose to vote third party were saying they were God’s people. With all these difference voices sometimes I just wonder which ones are my kind of people? From all the different points of view in the media and all different people claiming to be part of God’s people. How can we know which ones are God’s kind of people? Luke 4:16-21 gives insight into who are God’s kind of people.
Here in this passage Jesus begins his public ministry. He has just left the wilderness overcoming the temptation of satan, and then he goes in all the region preaching in the synagogues. He has created a name for himself and his preaching and teaching are widely accepted by the people. He is becoming quite the famous preacher, all is going well until he enters Nazareth.His home town. There is no doubt that the people in the congregation know him and his family. They watched him grow up, and now he is there as this well know preacher. He begins to preach a sermon from the book of Isaiah, but the invitation is cut short when the people reject both Jesus and his message.
Who is the preacher?
 
Obviously we know that Jesus was the preacher, but did they know that in that synagogue the day he preached it? Yes, they knew that Jesus was the one reading the text that day, but did they know that the one reading the scroll that day was the some preacher mentioned in the book of Isaiah that he was reading? Jesus starts out reading this school form Isaiah 61. He reads, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.” That kind of language would be recognized by any Jew to be language about the messiah. The word anointing was not used lightly and here in this passage it says that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him and then he says it again almost redundant that he has anointed him. The mind of the Jew in the audience would have gone immediately to the messiah.
The Jews were expecting this great hero to come and set them free from captivity. The Romans came in and conquered the people, they had to answer to a foreign government with whom they did not agree. The Romans did not understand the customs, culture, or religion of the Jews, and they were not sensitive to those disagreements. It was not a comfortable time. Therefore, the Jews were waiting patiently on the anointed one of God to come and set them free from Rome. It was the bedtime story for their children, it was the conversation around the water cooler at at the office, it was at the forefront of their minds. Therefore, there is no way that would miss a reference like this. What they did miss however was that this promised messiah was the one standing right in front of them.
When Jesus finished his sermon, he sat down and said, “today this scripture has been fulfilled din your hearing.” He is saying that he is in fact this anointed one of Isaiah 61 and he is this long awaited messiah. They however do not take this claim the way we would expect. But rather they proceed to not only kick him out of town, but they try to throw him off a cliff. It is a very sad event, Jesus was there with his kind of people, the ones from his hometown, but they totally missed it.
Who is the audience?
 
The people in the room obviously don’t get it, so the question remains, “who are Jesus kind of people?” Jesus mentions, the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. That sounds like a group of people that you want to use to build a mighty kingdom. Please pardon the sarcasm, but in all honesty if we were to go and pick the kind of people that we were going to use to continue the kingdom work, I highly doubt we would gather up a group of blind impoverished prisoners to do it, but that is exactly the method Jesus used.
Look at the ministry of Jesus. There is the story of the woman at the well, the call of the tax collector disciple, the blind man in John 9, the parable of the lost sheep, coin, and prodigal son, Mary Magdalene, etc… The message of Jesus is carried on the backs of my kind of people, outcasted, “least of these” folks who do not matter all that much to the world. Christ however openly says, “these are my kind of people.”
 
What is the message?
 
Now let’s answer the last question, What is the message? The message is; good news, liberty, recovery of sight, freedom, and the year of the Lord’s favor. There is great hope for “my kind of people” because the message of God is good news. The kingdom of God is our world turned upside down. The poor are rich and the rich are poor, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It is a completel reversal of our system of value and this is good news. We call this news the Gospel. Jesus came and preached this great news to this kind of people and that means there is good news for you and there is good news for me. The good news is not that we will become rich if we are poor, it is not about early rewards, but it is about eternity.
If you were to go back and read Isaiah 61 you would find that Jesus left out a part of the text. It reads in Isaiah 61, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.” The day of vengeance did not need to be declared in that day, because the day of vengeance was the day of the crucifixion when the Lord took God’s judgment for my kind of people. Therefore, today I also proclaim good news of salvation to everyone no matter what kind of people you think you are. You are God’s kind of people.
-Brayden L. Buss

The Moral Majority and The Evangelistic Minority

I heard someone say recently that America has been in moral decline since the end of WWII. I have heard similar statements many times from preachers who probably mean well, but they just do not realize what they are saying by making such comments. First of all there was state sponsored racism in the 1950’s and 1960’s and for the most part we have made dramatic progress since the end of the second world war in eliminating such evil practices. To claim that there has been a great moral decline since those days is to claim that it would be better for us to recreate those days. I’m sure the black community would strongly disagree with that notion. The point I’m making is that the good old days never really existed and America, nor any other nation for that mater, has a time in history when there was a “moral” society. Sure things are different now than then, and it may very well be worse today, but if we are being honest we have just rotated the sin of the day. We have traded racism for sexual promiscuity. Churches must be very careful in pointing to a time in history that we are to mimic.

THE MORAL MAJORITY

The whole idea of a moral majority is a myth. There was not a day and probably will not be a day when we live in a moral society. We should not even expect such things, the Bible is quite clear that the world is stained with sin and in need of a savior. Their savior is not a more moral America, but a moral God. Think about the words of John in 1 John 4:5-6,  “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” To John there is a clear distinction that needs to be made between those of the world and those of God. I just cannot understand why we freak out every time the wold acts like the world.

Just recently there has been outrage at the release of the new Beauty and the Beast movie from Disney. The Christian community is outraged because they heard there was a scene that depicted homosexual affection. I saw the movie, and as always, my beloved brothers and sisters over-exagrated the issue. Why should we expect Disney to do anything other than promote the sin of the day? That’s a better question. It is time for Christians to stop expecting the wold to act like the Church. If we would just devote half of the energy to evangelism that we have given to making America moral again we might actually make a difference in this country.

THE EVANGELISTIC MINORITY

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13,  “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church  whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” Corinth had major moral troubles both inside and outside of the church, but Paul sees the bigger problem as internal not external. We are not the judge of those outside the church but rather those who are inside. You often hear people says, “Who am I to judge that person’s salvation, only God can know.” That is simply not a Biblical principle in the slightest. The entire book of 1 John is about testing those inside to see if they are genuine because there is assurance for those who are in Christ. It is most certainly our job to judge those inside. We must worry much more about the moral standing of those inside our churches than those outside.

I am calling this the evangelistic minority. There must be a change of direction for the church in America. Rather than calling out Disney for sins, and threading boycott. On a side note, this is not the first time baptists have boycotted Disney, and we saw how well that worked out last time. Our efforts need to be readdressed, we should not remove ourselves from Disney but rather we should “remove the person from among us.” Our efforts of preserve a moral society should be inward, and at the same time our outward efforts should be evangelistic and just as strong as our inward efforts.

When the apostles reputation was going around as men who “turned the world upside down,” they did not receive that reputation by political efforts. All they did was faithfully proclaim the Gospel. Imagine that, they did exactly what Jesus told them to do and it worked. We need to learn this lesson and stoping trowing the name of God into our political arguments for our personal gain. The church needs to be the church.