Monday, January 28, 2008

The Orthodoxy of "Jesus is my boyfriend"

My least favorite epithet in the "worship wars" debate is often spouted by my brothers who are fellow traditionalists. To my dismay, they will mutter that a certain song is "Jesus is my boyfriend music." It may be unintentional, but there is a double implication in this statement. First, the speaker points out the "teenie-bopper" stylistic theme of a song that may mimic popular culture a little too closely. Second, the speaker suggests that the song is sensual in nature and that the ramifications of the lyrics are crypto-homosexual when sung by male Christians. Most of the time, this epithet is spoken by men who are put off by the lovey-dovey song. To many, "Jesus is my boyfriend music" simply means unequivocally inappropriate.

How can I be so sure of this analysis? I get it directly from the horses mouth. The users of this epithet have explained it to me this way when I call them on it. When the answers to my questions for clarification reveal this second implication, their own words reveal the judgemental nature of the phrase. It sounds clever when it is said, but close-minded when explained. This is what makes it an epithet.

I will digress for a moment to point out that some may say that many heterodox congregations and liberal Christians have embraced the phrase. I have seen my share of "Jesus is my boyfriend" T-Shirts. I oppose it as a positive gimmick as fervently as I oppose it as a negative epithet. It is hard for me to say who coined the phrase first for Christian usage for modern Christianity.

...but I know where I first heard it:

Jesus is my boyfriend
Jesus is my boyfriend
You can't have him
Because Jesus is my boyfriend

"The Telephone" by Marylin Manson and The Spooky Kids
1990 Demo CD: The Beaver Meat Cleaver Beat

That's the only part of that song that I can even print here. If you know who Marylin Manson is, you know why I did not post the song in its entirety. With what I have provided you can see the phrase and you get enough of the sense to understand the implied meaning behind it. Phrases have meaning. Most of the time it is not the meaning intended by the speaker but the meaning that is interpreted by the hearer. Hearers interpret meaning though their own personal context. To the world, the phrase is a statement of mocking ridicule directed against Christ and His church. Knowing this early and popular usage, why would any Christian use it?

To get back on point, I would like to approach the source of this epithet among Christian men. I have yet to hear a woman use it in a negative way. This is an important question: Why do Christian men despise music that is delivered in intimate language... what is the problem with the idea of "Jesus is my boyfriend?" They do not just hate the phrase. They dismiss anything that sounds like a romantic love song to Jesus without a care for pesky things discernment or context.

Is it homophobia? Is it a desire to preserve gender roles? Is it centered in the male confusion between romance and intimacy? Is it a flat out rejection of pop music converted with hollowly Christian lyrics?

Perhaps all of these possibilities apply to some. I can see how each would be valid and justified in certain cases. I think that there is a deeper explanation that applies to men in general. The resistance to the idea of "Jesus is my boyfriend" music comes from our confusion over gender roles in this over-stimulated and over-sexed culture of ours. Modern society does not make the clear distinctions that Holy Scripture does:

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." [Eph 5:22-28]

This connection between male and female as it relates to Christ and the Church is subtle, but vitally important. In verse 32 of Ephesians chapter five, Paul calls this connection between Christ and the church a "profound mystery". In this whole passage Christ is masculine as a husband is masculine. The church (even its male members) are feminine as a wife is feminine. Christ, as a Husband, is the Head of the Church. The Church, as a wife, is obedient and purified by her Husband. But there is something much deeper still:

"Then the man said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." [Gen 2:23]

Just as Woman was taken out of Man's flesh and given life, so the life of the Church is taken out of Christ's Body in the Sacrament. We intimately abide in Christ when we partake in the Lord's Supper. We are adopted as God's children in the waters of baptism. There is nothing more intimate than mankind's Sacramental connection with God. When it comes to Justification, the Bible speaks of all mankind as feminine: passive and submissive.

This passive obedience and total dependence of a bride with respect to her Husband points directly to the doctrine of Sola Fide. The bride does not purify herself. She does not help the Husband purify her. She is sanctified. She is cleansed. She is purified. She is presented as holy and blameless. The bride is totally submissive. She is the receiver of the action and not the doer of the action. The one who performs all of these wonderous things is the Husband: Christ. Reception is a feminine trait. When it comes to Justification, both genders of humanity are feminine in that they receive Faith as a gift from God. This "Bridegroom and bride" language is echoed elsewhere in Holy Scripture:

"Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called." [Isa 54:4-5]

Read the Parable of the Ten Virgins [Matt 25:1-13].

"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal." [Rev 21:9-11]

Our Early Church Fathers understood the gravity and depth of this concept with impressive insight. Even our Lutheran Fathers understood it. In all of their writings, you will find a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, put forth as the archetype of the Church: pure, chaste, submissive, humble, receptive, and obedient. In this way, as much as I wish not to use the exact syntax of the phrase "Jesus is my boyfriend", the truth as it has always been understood by the Church is both apostolic and orthodox.

Modern views of romantic relationships have contaminated this orthodox understanding and debased it. As gender roles blur and sexual boundaries are crossed, the ancient truths that draw distinctions between men and women are lost. I think that this is why Christian men oppose this kind of language on sexual grounds. They are not brides. They are not wives. They accept the metaphor in a very simplistic and narrow way, but stand against its overuse -- especially in worship. It makes them uncomfortable.

Why? In their hearts, men privately answer, "Well, I am not 'involved' with Jesus that way. Men and women kiss and have sex. Jesus and I are not like that. To imply such is disgusting." Without knowing it, they have adopted Marylin Manson's sinful interpretation. The distinction between male and female breaks down to nothing more than anatomy and carnal lust. For some, their bad example as husbands color their view of this truth. Their private issues with sin git in the way of everything. The arguement boils down to snickers about biology. How seventh grade!

I stand by my credibility as a masculine man. I am a guy's guy. I am driven and disciplined. If anyone should grimace at the idea of being a bride, this Soldier from Texas should be the one. I do not. I am happy to be the bride. I eagerly embrace my submissive, feminine role in my Justification and Sanctification. I understand that relationships are not about sex, they are about intimacy and individual roles... both of which belong in a Christian's relationship with Christ.

With my wife, I am the husband. I am the head of the household. As a wonderful Christian woman, my wife submits to my authority. The gender roles do not end there. With my Savior, I am the wife. I submit to Christ's authority. I am dependent on Him. Such submition requires timidity, humility, and deference. It is impossible to do those things in a masculine way.

Why is this important? I think that far to many male Christians try to deal with Christ "Man to man" instead of "Bridegroom to bride." They take their masculinity to the Cross and want to deal and bargain with God. They do not become totally humble and do not fully submit. They want to be second man instead of obedient bride. They want to negotiate with Christ instead of bow before Him. Men often approach their life in Christ as a partnership instead of a marriage (in which they are the wife). They want to help God out like a buddy instead of obey Him as Mary did. This distinction is important.

...of course this is all just one bride's opinion.

Here's some of that terrible "Jesus is my Boyfriend" music. Do yourself a favor: shut your mouth and open your eyes. Look at how Biblical and beautiful some of this stuff is.

"Love Song" by Third Day
1996 Album: Third Day

I've heard it said that a man would climb a mountain
Just to be with the one he loves
How many times has he broken that promise
It has never been done.
I've never climbed the highest mountain
But I walked the hill of calvary

Just to be with you, I'd do anything
There's no price I would not pay
Just to be with you, I'd give anything
I would give My life away.

I've heard it said that a man would swim the ocean
Just to be with the one he loves
How may times has he broken that promise
It can never be done
I've never swam the deepest ocean
But I walked upon the raging sea

(Repeat Chorus)

I know that you don't understand
The fullness of My love How I died upon the cross for your sins
And I know that you don't realize
How much that I gave you
But I promise, I would do it all again.

Just to be with you, I've done everything
There's no price I did not pay
Just to be with you, I gave everything
Yes, I gave My life away.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Grisly Reminder

This week, I had an opportunity to talk to a Soldier who is a good friend of mine. In 2003, members from his unit volunteered to assist aide workers, Iraqi families, and the UN war crimes investigators as they dug up the mass graves left by the previous regime. The tortured and mutilated bodies of thousands of innocent men, women, and children had to be recovered in the months and years after the Iraq Invasion.

Many mass graves have been located all throughout Iraq. The al-Mahawil site, 50 miles south of Baghdad, held thousands of bodies. In fact, the al-Mahawil mass grave alone held more bodies in it than the total American death toll in Iraq from the start in 2003 to the present day.

Who did they find piled up in these pits? Women. Children under the age of 5. Athletes. Farmers. Shopkeepers. Businessmen. Politicians. Families.

Because of the graphic nature of this topic, I will not post any pictures of what they found. I leave it up to each American citizen to investigate it on their own. Here is a good place to start.

These Soldiers--my friends--still weep when they talk about their work at some of the grave sites. It has been nearly five years since these brothers and sisters were last there and it still shakes them to their very cores. My heart goes out to these selfless people who left a part of themselves at those sites. They volunteered to serve their country during war and, while they were there, they compassionately volunteered for the spiritually taxing mission of exhuming and investigating the tens of thousands of victims who did not live to see hope or justice.

The investigators are forever changed.

Pray for these men and women and for their families... and pray that there will always be men and women who are willing to do what is necessary to halt atrocities like this.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Myth Alert! Silly Pro-CCM Arguements

Let's turn the tables for a minute and dispose of a few myths on the other side. Pro-Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) fanatics have their own share of half-truths, stereotypes, and down-right lies. As a former praise and worship leader, I know what I am talking about. I bought into all of these at one point or another.

Myth 1: Modern Christians, especially youth, universally prefer praise music to hymnody.

Fact: There are studies that show that a significant majority (I think that it is close 75%) of church-going Christians under the age of 25 believe that modern praise music has no place in church. The majority gets even higher (8 to 9 out of 10 respondents) when dealing with youth from conservative congregations and denominations. Most demographic evidence (including what has been done by many megachurches within the Praise and Worship movement) points to the fact that this style of music does not attract young people. It exclusively targets baby-boomers.

Myth 2: Hymnody, as a genre, does not sound as good as modern praise music. To do a hymn, it must be jazzed up to appeal to modern audiences.

Fact: The majority of people that I have talked to who believe this do not sing hymns properly in church. First, few congregations sing hymns the way that they are written: in SATB (four part harmony.) Not only is this an absolute tragedy, it does not present hymnody in its proper light. The CCM equivalent would be singing praise and worship music with only a piano (one part) or with just a guitar and a vocalist. While this works, it is far from impressive. The drums, guitar, bass, brass, etc are all a part of the CCM music. When you are missing part of that, people notice. Alto, Tenor, and Bass parts are the same way for hymnody. When hymnody is sung as it is written, it becomes complex, beautiful, and engaging. Rather than giving up on something, supporters of this argument should take the effort to perform the hymns correctly before they are abandoned or altered. Second, many congregations who complain about hymns perform a hatchet job on the verses. If you have an eight verse hymn and you only sing the first and seventh verses; do not be surprised if the seventh verse seems out of place. Third, most congregations do not play hymns at their proper tempo. They drone on at a painful pace. In summary, poorly executed music is bad no matter what the genre is. If your hymnody is dull, dusty, and boring, you should take the time to teach and sing it correctly: the way the author intended.

Myth 3: Early service, our hymn service, has only 70 people. Late service, our Praise and Worship service, has 300 people. Clearly our congregation prefers Praise and Worship to hymns.

Fact: This is the worst example of non sequitur logic and I hear it all too often. Even in churches that perform identical services, you will often find that the late service has more people. Since the music is constant, there is clearly another variable at work here: time. Young people typically go to later services. Older people tend to get up for earlier services. More people usually go to the later service as a rule. They go--not so much for the music style--but because they can sleep in. The causality between musical style and attendance is dubious at best. There are too many variables to make that kind of "evidence" scientific.

Myth 4: Worshipers are more actively engaged in Praise and Worship music.

Fact: I bought into this one for a long time. As a musician I saw how people reacted to the music and I was encouraged by the positive response. That is just a matter of perspective from a performer... not the congregation. Much later, I stood in the congregation and was surprised at how many mind-numbed robots I had overlooked. People space out in praise and worship music as well and I had never seen it. The truth is that people get distracted because of their short attention spans. The music has little to do with it.

Myth 5: Praise and Worship gets to the heart of Scripture.

Fact: While many Praise and Worship songs are taken directly out of Scripture, they do not hold a monopoly on Scriptural music. Hymns have a wealth of Scriptural references in themselves, but remember that the hymn is only part of the liturgy. The Introit, Gradual, Responaries, and Psalter are all direct passages of Scripture. In terms of Scriptural content, they usually outstrip even the most dedicated CCM service.

Myth 6: Hymns are too long.

Fact: The average four verse hymn runs about 3 to 4 minutes. After repeating choruses, verses, bridges, key changes, and tag lines, the average Praise and Worship song runs at least 3 minutes. If they are under that, they are usually combined with several others songs in a medley of... you guessed it 3 to 4 minutes. Most performances of "Heart of Worship" by Sonicflood are 3 to 4 minutes long. A good version of "He Is Here" runs close to 5 minutes. As a musician, I personally clocked our version of "Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down" at 6 minutes. With all of that in mind, remember that many Praise and Worship sessions are done in a medley format that blends seamlessly from song to song over the course of 10 to 30 minutes. In terms of length, the styles are comparable in length if not turned the other way around where hymns are often the shorter songs that offer the congregation more frequent (and longer) breaks from singing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Myth Alert! A Popular (and Incorrect) Anti-CCM Argument

Myth: (A) The CCLI posts the top 25 most popular Praise and Worship songs. (B) The CCLI top 25 most popular songs are always worthless songs. (C) Therefore, they are the top 25 songs that are performed during services in church.

Fact: This argument uses non sequitur logic [A+B ≠ C]. This kind of point proves ignorance about how CCLI information is reported and gathered. As a person who has dealt with CCLI, I will present many of the mitigating circumnstances that make this assersion invalid:

1. CCLI gathers the Top 25 list using the following method. On their website they say, "For each survey period, we calculate which songs are the top 25 songs reported as being reproduced in that survey, for the Church Copyright License. The Top 25 Songs lists are updated after each royalty payout, paid on February 15 and August 15 every year." That means that it does not take into account churches who do not use CCLI or do not properly report to CCLI (which is more than you might think).

2. CCLI payouts include all non-worship oriented uses of the contemporary music including things like youth events, commercials, slide-show presentations, etc. Just because something is reported to CCLI does not mean that it was used in a worship service.

3. You do not have to report to CCLI if you have direct permission from the copyright holder through another provider. This means that if you perform an original piece written by a congregation member who grants permission, it will not be posted to CCLI. It means that if you have permission to perform the song from the artist, you do not have to post to CCLI. It means that if you do an original arrangement of a song in public domain, you do not have to post to CCLI. It means that if you report through your hymnal software (like the LSB Service Builder) you do not have to report to CCLI. With many CCM churches, that can reduce the CCLI requirement to less than half of the songs in any given service. At the very least, it points out that hymnal songs and all public domain pieces are not represented by the Top 25 (which is why Amazing Grace is never on the Top 25 even though almost everyone in the United States can hum the tune from memory.)

4. The Top 25 is based on number of reproductions and payouts, not per-capata usage. It is most popular by dollars and incidents of use not percentage of users or popularity of song.

5. There is no doctrinal test to get CCLI membership. A large percentage of the CCLI membership is made up of Oneness Pentacostals (who aren't even trinitarian) and other various heretical sects. These heterodox organizations skew the numbers in favor of their belief systems and artificially inflate the popularity of bad songs.

In Defense of CCM: Decent Doctrinal Lyrics from Canada

I do not condone all of the songs from The Kry. It should be noted that this album unfortunately has a song (the title track, btw) that is obviously intended to be a revivalistic altar call. If memory serves, this band is Reformed. I am merely using them to dispell the myth that Contemporary Christian Music is devoid of doctrinal content. Here are some decent Sola Gratia lyrics from a Christian band based out of Quebec:

Down at the Cross
Written and Performed by: The Kry
Jer 9:23-24 Phil 3:7-8, Rom 5:6-8, Gal 6:14
Album: What about Now?

What can I boast about
When the life that I live has been given me
What can I be proud of
But of Jesus who died to set me free
Set me free

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom
Let not the strong man boast in his strength
Let not the rich man boast in his riches
For all men are equal down at the cross

Jesus still reaches out
No matter how far or how weak we are
His love has no bounds
And He reaches the ones down on their knees...On their knees

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom
Let not the strong man boast in his strength
Let not the rich man boast in his riches
For all men are equal down at the cross

Down at the cross come and leave your pride
Lay everything at His feet
For all of us He was willing to die
Even when we were weak
When we were still without strength
When we were set in our ways
When we were filled with hatred for Him
Still He was willing to die for you and I
Down at the cross

In Defense of CCM: ...Another Example

While writing the previous post, I remembered another example of what I am talking about from when I was a child. Here is one of those dated hair band Christian songs by the band, Petra (of Fort Wayne, IN fame). Since I was raised as a noncreedal baptist, this is the first form of the Apostles Creed that I ever heard:

Words and music by Bob Hartman
Written and Performed by Petra
Album: Beyond Belief (c 1990)

I believe in God the Father - maker of heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ His only Son
I believe in the virgin birth
I believe in the Man of Sorrows bruised for iniquities
I believe in the Lamb who was crucified and hung between two thieves

I believe in the resurrection on the third and glorious day
And I believe in the empty tomb and the stone that the angel rolled away
He descended and set the captives free
And now He sits at God's right hand and prepares a place for me

This is my creed - the witness I have heard
The faith that has endured
This truth is assured
Through the darkest ages past
Though persecuted, it will last
And I will hold steadfast to this creed

I believe He sent His Spirit to comfort and to reveal
To lead us into the truth and light, to baptize and to seal
I believe that He will come back the way He went away
And receive us all unto Himself, but no man knows the day


I believe He is the Judge of all men, small and great
The resurrected souls of men receive from Him their fate
Some to death and some to life, some to their reward
Some to sing eternal praise forever to our Lord!


You can watch this song on YouTube right here.

...and for those of you who are fans of recalling writtings of the Church Fathers:

St Augustine's Pears
Words and music by Bob Hartman
Based on Romans 7:19 and Confessions by St. Augustine
Performed by Petra
Album: God Fixation (c 1998)

Late one night I heard a knock at the door
The boys were really painting the town
I was just another bored teenage boy
Kickin' up and actin' the clown... Yeah

One dare led to another dare
Then things were getting out of control
We hopped the fence and we stole the pears
And I threw away a part of my soul
Yes, I threw away a part of my soul (now it's)

Haunting me how I stole those pears
'Cause I loved the wrong
Even though I knew a better way
Not for hunger or poverty
It was more than pears that I ended up
throwin' away... Yeah

Time goes by - now I'm old and grey
Those pears are just a memory
I would gladly pay all I have today
But that's just not the problem you see... ('cause it's)


Why do we love all the things that are wrong
Forbidden fruit has a strange siren song
Why do we do what we don't want to do
When we live with regrets our whole life through... ('cuase it's)


And I don't even like pears that well...

For the record, this Petra fan read a copy of Confessions by St Augustine because it was cited as the source of this song in the official album lyrics in the CD jacket.

More of That Horrible Cotton Candy Music!

You crazy young people and your "jazz music" and your "Lindy hop" dancing! I have returned to this new-fangled contraption the kids are calling "the Internet" to impress my conservative friends with some close-minded venting. Here is just another example of how all songs that fall into the arbitrary category of "Contemporary Christian Music" (CCM) are empty and shallow. What's worse, they never talk about Jesus, Atonement, or the Cross:

By His Wounds (Isaiah 53:5)
Written by: Mac Powell and David Nasser
Performed by: Mac Powell, Mark Hall, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Brian Littrell
"Glory Revealed - The Worship of God in Worship" CD (Track #2)

He was pierced for our transgressions
He was crushed for our sins
The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him
And by His wounds, by His wounds we are healed

He was pierced for our transgressions
He was crushed for our sins
The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him
And by His wounds, by His wounds we are healed

We are healed by Your sacrifice
And the life that You gave
We are healed for You paid the price
By Your grace we are saved
We are saved

He was pierced for our transgressions
And crushed for our sins
The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him
And by His wounds, by His wounds we are healed

We are healed by Your sacrifice
And the life that You gave
We are healed for You paid the price
By Your grace we are saved
We are saved

He was pierced for our transgressions
He was crushed for our sins
The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him
And by His wounds, by His wounds we are healed
And by His wounds, by His wounds

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus

You can see a live performance of this horrible, vapid song here.

...wait... that isn't the song I meant to use. I meant to cherry pick a bad example to use as a strawman to support my argument for hymnody. Ignore this one! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain... booo boooo hymnody good... boooo... all CCM bad... booo... do not evaluate each song on its individual merit... booo... jump to conclusions and buy into the overly simplistic views of others... booo!

In case you did not get my obvious sarcasm, I am using this wonderful modern song to illustrate that not every work that is "contemporary" in style is inherently bad and devoid of all doctrinal content. Is it true that the most common and popular songs are garbage? Perhaps (the same is true in every generic musical genre... including the genre that is called "hymnody" which includes all hymnody which has its share of dribble and doctrinal error.) Does that mean that the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater? Absolutely not.

Saying that this particular song is or is not appropriate for the liturgy is a totally different discussion. We can talk about that like rational adults if you like, but it is important not to slander good, holy music (most of which is nothing but the versification of Holy Scripture) by lumping it in with all of the silly garbage. It is important to not take the worst examples to win an argument. I would never judge Lutheran Hymnody by using "In the Garden" as an example of what all hymnody is like. The same is true of Contemporary Christian Music.

It is this line of intellectual honesty that separates the patient protection of the Divine Service that is our duty as Christians from the blind, judgemental half-truths of self-rigtheousness that is division and sin.

...and lest someone say that this song is the exception and is not widely used, I would point out that it was performed live at the 2007 Dove Awards. Being on a Christian Music award show means that it is at least a little popular among those who listen to CCM. There are few artists as huge and widely recognized as Mac Powell and Steven Curtis Chapman.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Cold is Relative

As Americans huddle in their heated buildings and complain about the cold snap that is gripping most of the country, let us not forget our Soldiers who are currently at work in the snow-covered mountains of Afghanistan. They make daily sacrifices for their beloved country so that we don't have to. spending the Christmas holiday out on patrol where they are exposed to, not only the prospect of deadly enemy fire, but also the winter cold from the turret of a freezing armored vehicle instead of staying safe and warm back in the States watching college football.