Archive for January, 2011

Misunderstood Before the Conversation Begins

January 25, 2011

Several months ago, Kevin Bauder wrote, “how do you speak to people who are already convinced that they know what you think, and who have already rejected your conclusions because they do not accept arguments that you never intended to use anyway?”

This question articulates the experience of someone who has philosophies and practices that resemble those of others, but not for the same reasons. It is a case of being lumped together with people that you superficially resemble, while being poles apart in terms of the reasons behind your actions. Here and there, I will share some practice or attitude with a Fundamentalist Muslim. But our reasons behind such practices or attitudes will be completely different.

For a conservative Christian in our day, this is an unfortunate position to be in. I would like other Christians to consider some of our views for their validity. However, some of our practices are held by loonies, religious nuts and other kooks. I like to think that my reasons for those practices are not looney, nutty or kooky, but people typically judge on appearances, and not upon careful enquiry.

For example, in some respects, my church’s Sunday corporate worship resembles a mixture of various streams of very conservative Baptists. We don’t have a praise band, or a worship team. We don’t have lead and bass guitars and a drumset. We have a piano, and occasionally some violin and trumpet. Our hymns are very traditional anthems like “Holy, Holy, Holy”, with an occasional song or hymn written by a contemporary writer like Paul Jones or Stuart Townend.

It’s not hard to read our worship from appearances and gather the conclusion we have reached: we reject the use of praise bands and the music of most popular culture in our corporate worship.

We try to explain the reasons for this conclusion to those who want to hear. Unfortunately, many of those who encounter us reject that conclusion based on arguments they assume we hold, such as ‘drums are evil’, ‘contemporary music is worldly’, ‘syncopated rhythm is sensual’, ‘we don’t want a 2/4 beat in worship’, ‘hymns older than 100 years are safe and good’, ‘we don’t want to be associated with Hillsong churches’, ‘good Fundamental churches sing these hymns’. These are not the arguments we use, but they are the arguments those who reject our conclusions assume we make, so as to dismiss our position before they have heard it. And certainly, were those the arguments we make, I would not fault anyone for dismissing our conclusion.

But that’s just it: those are not the arguments we make, but who will take the time to ask? We’re nothing special, and there isn’t a reason for busy pastors to break into their days to interview us on our philosophy of worship. But failing that, they’ll just assume we hold one of the ridiculous views above.

The problem we face is just this: how do you defend and propagate a conservative approach to worship, ministry and Christian living, when that position has been vandalised and smeared by people who were protecting their ministry positions or upholding tribal loyalties? How do you explain that conservatives try to conserve, when the people mostly identified with that term simply guarded their group’s distinctives, rather than preserving what is true, and good and beautiful? How do you get people to listen to your defence of your position, when they have decided that such a position is indefensible?

There is no real answer to these questions. It’s simply the situation we find ourselves in. Those who hold to conservative principles for reasons other than tribal loyalties had better be prepared to be associated with such tribes. The best we can do is try to patiently explain, and exhort all to answer a matter only once they have heard it (Prov 18:13).