What I learned about Ecumenism
So I have a confession to make; I love contemporary praise and worship music and I hate the organ and gregorian chant. I know that saying this makes me sound pretty anti-catholic, but you will not find a stronger defender of the faith. That being said, music is a big part of my spirituality. When I first encountered Christ, it wasn’t through gregorian chant, old school hymns, or organ, but it was through Christian rock music and eventually Christian contemporary music. So despite all my misgivings, when I heard about a concert with Hillsong, Kari Jobe, Jesus Culture, and Elevation worship, I knew I wanted to go. These are my insights about the night and what it means for ecumenism.
1. People crave authentic worship.
During the concert, we watched a video where they interviewed each artist and got their insight on what church means to them. I don’t remember who said it, but one quote that stood out to me was, “I believe God gave us music so that we could have the ability to move and touch the human heart.” I firmly agree with this quote. When it comes to it, sacred music should touch and move the human heart. It doesn’t matter the style or setting. The question you should be asking yourself, does the music at my church/parish move me into a closer encounter with Christ? What makes bands like Hillsong so popular is that you can feel their passion for the Lord in every song. Can the Catholic church ever have this authenticity? I believe so, but it begins by putting away our legalist attitudes about what worship is supposed to sound like and start embracing all forms of music.
2. Music can unify.
The major theme of the Outcry tour is unity. The whole night they talked about how they wanted to focus on worshiping Jesus without focusing on denominational differences. How were they able to do this? They did it through music, which glorified Christ. The didn’t preach or debate or lecture. Instead they just played music and called out to Jesus. They explain how Jesus calls all to be one; how the church is stronger together then divided. If they Catholic Church truly wants all to be one, then the Church needs to support Catholic contemporary artist, who are able to bridge the gap. I remember that the Richmond diocese sponsored a concert with both protestant and Catholic artist and opened it up to the public. I wasn’t Catholic at the time, but I attended as well as my non-Catholic church. I listen to Ike Ndolo sing about the importance of the real presence in the Eucharist. Imagine if some of my protestant friends heard the message and were moved to investigate. Maybe that planted the seed in me. Music unifies in ways that nothing else can.
3. There are points of dialogue that develop when people come together.
One of the best speakers of the night was the representative from World Vision. He was trying to get people to sponsor a child, but what he said was striking. He said that Jesus did a great miracle when he took the bread and wine and transformed the molecules to do something great, and Jesus can take earthly substances and do the impossible. I don’t know about you, but that sounds awfully Catholic to me and dangerously close to transubstantiation. I remember turning my friend and saying, “he is half way Catholic.” Now imagine if I had been able to engage him further or engage my protestant brothers and sisters further, what would happen? Maybe they’d come to see the sacramental outlook isn’t crazy at all, but that it is God choosing to do impossible things with earthly elements.
4. Humor makes the message easier to swallow.
Once again the World vision minister stole the show and his message is still very much in my head. Why? Because he was funny and when you are funny, you are engaging. He made jokes about eating at McDonalds or taking bibles from Hotel rooms, or only wearing a light jacket because he is from Minnesota and should be able to handle a little 60 degree weather. Yet when it came time to be serious, he was serious, and I was moved because I was engaged. When is the last time you heard your Catholic priest crack a joke on Sunday during his homily? I’m not saying that I want my priest to be stand up comedian, but somehow we gotten so lost in the amount of honor and respect due that we forget that we can have joy.
5. Protestants are desperate to hear about the real presence; they just don’t know it.
When listening to the worship songs, one central theme that stood out to me is wanting to be in God’s presence. I recognized it in the song, Show me your Glory by Jesus Culture. The lyrics state, “I long to look on the face of the One that I love. Long to stay in Your presence, it’s where I belong.” Note the longing mentioned in the song. I remember thinking how sad is it that they have lost the doctrine of the Real Presence, and how lucky I am as a Catholic that I have a 24 hour adoration chapel, where I can be in the real presence of Jesus when ever I want. I can look upon his body made manifest in bread and at Mass I can touch the body with my hands. I don’t need to imagine some incomprehensible spiritual reality, but instead God loves me so much that he comes down to meet me by the power of the Holy Spirit and when I consume him, he and I become one.
6. Commercialize Christianity is alive and thriving and it sickens me.
Come on people, wake up! The whole concert was a walking advertisement for Christianity and we ate it up. I know that hosting concerts is not a cheap affair, and for that reason I will gladly pay a ticket price. However, what sickens me is that they then try to sell t-shirts, hats, books, and whatever merchandise. I would like to know where the money and the merchandise goes. Does any of the money go to charitable organizations or does it go to pay the so called Christian entertainers? If they really wanted to preach the gospel, why not play for free and take a love offering. Invite the homeless and give them the left over hoodies and jackets. This leads me to my next point.
7. Hillsong senior pastor, Brian Houston, has become arrogant.
While I hate to talk bad about someone I don’t know, I know that first impressions mean a lot. So right off the bat, I walk into the place and they are passing out free books, written by Brian Houston. Secondly, the first 5 minutes of Hillsong’s introduction is spent talking about their movie set to come out this year (oh goodie). Finally after playing merely two songs, Brian comes out to preach. He decides to do a word study sermon, focusing on the word, “unusual” as it appears in the bible. He first focuses on unusual miracles as found in some translations of Acts 19:11. This would be alright, except for the fact that he spent the first 5 minutes talking about how his church is an unusual miracle. He brags about how his church was not afraid to pursue contemporary music instead of hymns and how they were the only church to have a movie made about them. He even bragged that they reinvented the podium to make room for the worship band. The next 10 minutes were a little better. He talked about Hebrews 11:23, which in some translations, describes Moses as an unusual child. He then brags about how his niece is an unusual child and proves it by showing her dancing (while this is cute and funny, I’m not sure how it is relevant other than giving him another opportunity to brag). Lastly, he talks about how unusual children should be fostered, because God has place a calling on them to do great things and God needs more people to paint outside of the lines. I must admit that this was my favorite part of his whole sermon. He offers to pray for those that feel unusual so that they may discover their God given calling (this spoke to me specifically).
Next came the altar call and this is where I really began questioning Brian Houston’s motives. I generally hate altar calls, and no it isn’t just because I’m Catholic. I see that if they are not done correctly, they can make grace and salvation cheap. An altar call is where one pledges their life to Jesus. By committing their life to Jesus, one is told that they are now saved, their sins are forgiven and they are now a new creation. When done correctly, it can be a powerful experience. Everyone needs to have that conversion experience, where they come to know the Lord personally. The Catholic church recognizes this especially in programs like discovering Christ. The major and important difference is that the Catholic church rightly recognizes that this is not the end; that the journey is not over and one conversion experience is not enough to save you or to keep you from sin.
Anyway back to Brian, so he goes through the standard altar call procedure. He asks those, who haven’t made a personal commitment to Jesus, to raise their hand. Now normally, the people, who raised the hand, would be either be invited down to the front or to a booth, where there are people waiting to mentor them; to help them in their walk and usually give them a free bible. None of that happened. Instead, Brian tells the people that they should: 1.tell someone about their commitment so that they can be held accountable, 2. get a bible, and 3. become a member of the local church. So you mean to tell me that one of the largest and richest churches in the world cannot even be bothered to have a booth with a prayer team, or give out free bibles, or connect people to local churches? Instead the money was spent passing out free copies of his book, Live, Love, Lead. Why? Does Brian Houston really think that his book will have a greater impact than the bible? I hope not, but that my friends is the impression that I’m left with.
I don’t mean to end on a negative note. I also believe a lot more could be said especially about the false dichotomies between body movement and the class room of silence as well as between welcoming the sinner and holiness. However, I did learn the in order to have true ecumenism, we Catholics must put aside our legalism and worship wars and recognized that ultimately what is important is encountering Christ, whether that be in the extraordinary form Mass, nous ordo Mass, gregorian chant, organ, piano, guitar, drums, violins, Choir, or praise singers. We can learn from our protestant brothers and sisters and they can learn from us. In the end, we all give praise and honor to Jesus, who is king.