The Super Bowl or What the Church Can Learn from a Football Spectacle

114.4 million. That’s how many viewers watched Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday. At one point more than 120 million people participated in the holiday of all holidays in American culture. More than 78% of the televisions that were on were tuned to the Super Bowl. There’s something inspiring about that and a little scary… In a country where only a shade more than a third of eligible voters think its important enough to vote for its representatives in Congress and for state and local leaders, it’s at least nice to know something will bring us together. Even if it is a football game. Of course, it’s about more than a football game. It’s about the $4.5 million commercials (which were at least refreshingly family-focused – if somewhat misguided at times), it’s about Katy Perry, Missy Elliott, Lenny Kravitz, it’s about the spectacle. For those that didn’t watch all the glitz, fireworks, and play-calling, they certainly couldn’t escape the talk about it yesterday and today.

For the most part we are pretty divided nation – maybe more than any time since the Civil War. Race relations have not been this bad since the 1960s. Political discord today rivals that of the Federalist/Anti-federalist days at the birth of our nation. But the importance of a football game… oh yeah!

Unfortunately, the discord that flows through the veins of our national identity has translated into strife in the Church. I have been SHOCKED at how the worship wars have kicked back up lately as I have seen more than a few blog posts (like this one or this one) erroneously belittling worship styles and lauding others without much in the way of theological evidence, ecclesiastical weight, or contextual understanding. (As an aside, I truly love most worship environments and see positives and negatives in them all). I read jokes about the technologically-savvy pastor who uses an iPad to preach from (something I do), and I’ve heard jokes cracked about the old preacher who is computer illiterate and behind the times. Denominations and congregations splinter over the political implications of social issues. And Christians disagree on why the “young people” are leaving the church. It seems in the last few years the Church (at least the Church of the North American variety) has become more and more fractured… over seemingly inconsequential things.

I’m not making a case for denying the importance of theological integrity or the supremacy of Scripture or engaging in thoughtful worship or not taking a stand on social issues, but aren’t we just the least bit embarrassed that we, people who claim to follow one Lord Jesus Christ, divide over trivial things when a polarized nation can unite over something as silly as a football game?

We have the greatest reason to be united. We have Jesus. The author of our faith. The giver of life. The beginning. The end. The savior. The Lord. The sacrifice. The redeemer. The resurrected one. The great and holy. The matchless. The majestic. The humbled one. The exalted one.

We were all dead – now we are alive. Not because we have the right worship style. Not because we have our theology worked out perfectly. Not because we utilize technology or don’t. Not because we have all the ministry answers out there. We were dead, and Jesus made us alive.

Sometimes I think Christians like the division. Sometimes I think we like the arguments. It’s a nice diversion from doing the real work. It means we don’t have to talk to people with which we disagree and maybe work together to tell others about Jesus and help bring other dead people to life. It means we can be stuck in our pride and forget that we follow someone who carried a cross.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. – Philippians 2:1-2 (ESV)

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  1. But how the church worships corporately is not at all a trivial thing. I cant speak for the other bloggers you so easily dismissed, but I don’t want to every church to worship as I see fit, but I do want us all to be honest with each other that our choices do matter.

    It’s interesting that you should say such disagreements are distracting us from the real work. At one point in the church’s not so distant past, corporate worship was supposed to be the work of the people. We’ve got to remember that the real work starts in the gathering of God’s covenant people, when we gather together to proclaim our story once again.

    Peace.

    • Jonathan – thank you for your comment – and I did not intend to easily dismiss any of the authors. I am sure that you, as well as the others, are simply trying to be faithful to your calling in Christ. And my point is not that worship is trivial, but that the arguments over style are. Why? Because the styles over which we argue are by no means as ancient or as sacred as the gospel itself. The traditional modes of worship held by the Church were at one point modernizations of styles that had come before them. Contextually, the styles of worship in Asia and Africa and South America are different than those of most North American churches. The styles are by no means as important as calling people to faith in the Jesus we worship. The biblical support for favoring one style over the other is also lacking – I say this as veteran modern worship leader and traditional liturgist. There is value in them in so far as, in the power of the Holy Spirit, they point people to the God of all Creation and bear witness to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. I believe in all things done “decently and in order” but, I do believe an over zealous commitment to style runs the risk of creating an idol out of the act of worship – something both traditionalists and modernists can fall victim… And then we miss the point of being the Church – which is to direct people – all people – to the saving grace of Jesus Christ and teach those people how to live as ones who have been redeemed. A vital part of that activity IS done in the corporate gathering of believers for regular worship – but worship, by the individual followers of Jesus, goes beyond the gathering.

  2. FYI, my article which you link to above is not about worship style, but content 😉

    • Thank you for your comment, Dan, and I think I understand what you’re saying… but the way I read your post it seems to be a polemic against the songwriting of contemporary worship music and an advocacy of the hymnody style of writing… I see what you’re saying: that your piece is focused on lyrical content rather than melodic or rhythmic structures, but it is still a matter of style. I agree with your idea of being intentional about the music we select based on content, but just because something is a few hundred years old doesn’t make it more true than if it was written yesterday. And simple, truth presented in music or liturgy has as much merit as complex theological statements. I submit Psalm 118 & 136 – a mixture of repetitive truth and deep redemptive historical context together. An over-reliance on either makes for an unbalanced worship life. At times we need to dive into the richness of our theological heritage and be challenged in our minds to worship the vastness of God. At others we need to remember the simple, child-like principles that the Spirit used to excite us to faith in the first place.

      Overall, though what I am trying to say in the post here is not that being intentional in how we worship is unimportant – but rather than Christians, and indeed entire congregations, make that the primary focus and take their eyes of the unifying idea that we have a wonderful Savior who has brought us from death to life… who has taken us from darkness to light… and we become distracted from that central mission and goal – to communicate that good news to other blind and dead people.

      • I absolutely agree! I would include modern songs such as “In Christ Alone” in the category of hymns, as well as songs like Dustin Kenstrue’s “Grace Alone,” which is jam packed with Scripture. My piece was mainly birthed out of disillusionment with the sheet vastness of what is published as “worship music” which is nothing more than sappy love songs with the name Jesus substituting for “girl.” If there is nothing unique about the attributes of God in what we sing, we are quite prone to fall prey to simple sentimentality instead of genuine worship. Regarding the matter of repetition, you’re not the first to challenge me on that point. But what the Holy Spirit inspired in the Psalms is just that; inspired—God breathed. When a contemporary songwriter utilizes repetition (even if his intentions are good), it is rarely if ever done to the same effect as it is in Scripture. I mean to say that we shouldn’t take the liberty of utilizing repetition unless we are literally singing the Scriptires verbatim. Now, I readily acknowledge that this is simply my opinion. But here is how I’ve arrived at this conclusion: even when intentions are good, repetition (much of the time) leads to some level of zoning out (I.e., altered state of consiousness), disengaging the mind and allowing raw emotions to lead the day. I am arguing for content in our worship that is so rich and biblical that we respond with great and overflowing emotion. But style is neither here nor there. I’d be happy singing with the saints in a rock setting, or bluegrass, or a cappella, or whatever. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

      • Dan – I appreciate your humility, and while I agree from a preference stand point – I, too have long loathed the “sappy love songs to my boyfriend, Jesus…” there are times though when the Spirit can use even those to communicate his grace and mercy. For me, and it is of course my opinion, a balance is what is necessary as long as it points to the gospel, whether implicitly or explicitly.

  3. Zac,

    I just signed up for your website, your dad sent it to me and I have truly enjoyed it very much. I am really impressed that you have grown so much with your walk with Jesus. I am so proud of you… Love, Your uncle, David

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