The Christian Bubble

2 Timothy 4:3 ESV

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions

Matthew 6:33 ESV

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Corinthians 11:18-19

For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and I partly believe it.   For there must also be heresies among you, that the approved ones may be revealed among you

I want to address an issue which I believe is quite a common occurrence amongst young Christians. I have been at university for seven years now and this post comes from observance over the seven years, but particularly I have felt the need to write this in the last few months.

We love to be around people who are like us; young, idealistic, fun and above all Christian. After all, in that environment we don’t have to address any issues such as drinking alcohol (there is no pressure to drink) or ideas which we find different from ours. We find our safe space.

Safe spaces are great; they allow us to find people who agree with us, who won’t challenge what we say. Or so we think. I believe that we often change ourselves to fit in. I don’t know about anyone reading this, but I often find that young Christians seem to almost be identical in what they listen to, what they enjoy, and the way they talk. It is all a bit weird.

I will be the first to say it; I’m not really your average young Christian. I have never found it easy to be around young Christians, and there are many reasons for that. That isn’t saying I haven’t found friends amongst young Christians, I can think of a few great guys who have been an absolute blessing to me. But I do think these cliques do not help. After all, I’m stubborn and won’t change my ways because other people don’t like it. I don’t fit into the stereotypical young Christian trope and I’m ok with that. I’m actually grateful for it. It means that for one, the focus goes to the Word, and the Lord. My Christian friends don’t make me fit a system but just want me to love the Word and Him and that is great.

You won’t find me around these guys all the time (most of them don’t even live where I live anyway). I love to spend time with non-Christians.; in fact, most of my friends aren’t believers and, as Christians, aren’t we meant to live in the world? I know Ryle argued otherwise, but I honestly believe we can play a big role in people’s lives.

And this comes to my problem with these cliques and bubbles. Apart from the fact I think they turn you into a generic young Christian (I mean literally its weird), they keep your light hidden. They water down your doctrine. I just think of the typical university Christian Union. Most treat the CU like a social club, a place to hang out, and have little interaction with non-Christians. Perhaps I am wrong but I don’t get any other impression. I have often heard the expression that the CU is a ‘home away from home’, but that shouldn’t be the case. Our churches are our homes; the CU is not a church. The ‘bubble’ means that rather than an evangelical centre and mission field, the society becomes a safe space; where they sing happy things that make them feel good, rather than sharing the love and light of Jesus Christ. Rather than standing firm in the faith, the doctrine is watered down so there are no disagreements. It is not wrong to create strong friendships in this environment, far from it, having close Christian friends is vital, but rather these friendships being a product of our labour, it is what we seek first and only.

It creates an isolating atmosphere. I know a few people know who do not go to CU because they do not fit in. If you are Reformed like myself, then I feel the CU is difficult, and personally for me, it became a no-go place. You feel as though you have to be one of them and that is just wrong. The cliques on the outside make you feel as though you miss out, that you are not part of them. If you just want to meet one of them, you find that you can’t because the rest of the clique say no or what not. Christians shouldn’t be like this. We should be accepting people, loving people, and not staying within our comfort zones.

It creates an unwelcoming atmosphere. Our churches, our societies should never be unwelcoming. Yet they are, because we prefer the safe space, rather than what is right. We water down our theology and doctrine to fit in. We keep our light hidden. Christians, we ought not to be in bubbles and in cliques. We need to be radical, be adventuresome and be courageous.

What About Climate Change?

The Netflix documentary ‘Our Planet’, has helped re-energise another generation of climate change warriors. Along with the formation of Extinction Rebellion and the prolific use of social media, it’s not surprising that “single-use” was the most popular word of 2018 . But how should Christians respond to the climate change debate? 

It saddens me having to preface this but firstly ignorance and denial cannot be our position. Climate change is happening regardless of how unhappy we are with the direction media or political extremists are taking the conversation. We as Christians must engage with the climate change debate with the limitless compassion of Christ and the gospel clarity that defines us as his people. Where there is pain, suffering, injustice and decay, all symptoms of a fallen world, we as Christians are commanded to speak into the mess and point people towards the gospel (Matt 5:16, John 17:15-18). Climate change along with the cultural climate we’re in, provides an opportunity to showcase our God-given role as responsible stewards and perform this duty with Christ’s kingdom in mind. 

However, the term ‘stewardship’ is a complex one to unravel as the concept is never explicitly explained in Scripture. It’s absence doesn’t deny it’s relevance just requires more careful thinking. 

In Genesis 1 God places Adam and Eve in a Garden named Eden. He commands them to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens”. Here, God establishes humanity to be divinely appointed to rule over creation. So where can we infer stewardship from and how does this inform our decisions today in the heat of the climate change debate? I wish to argue that stewardship is the process by which we implement our dominion. Although God has made us “a little lower than the heavenly beings” and given “dominion over the works of your hands”, we are to enact this rulership with wise, servant-hearted integrity. Firstly, Dominion was given as a human mandate at the start of creation. It is not solely the church’s responsibility nor should individual Christian’s take this upon themselves. Our ‘go forth and multiply’ mandate is given in Matthew 28, to bring new life into the Kingdom. Secondly, we must understand how sin has affected this role of dominion. Exploitation has become synonymous with Dominion yet that is not how it was intended. Systems of abuse, cycles of decay and entire industries built on the suffering of others are not in harmony of a Christian agenda and therefore we should step away from such practices. As “mirrors or carriers of Christ to others” we cannot employ methods of harm and abuse towards the environment, instead Christ-like Justice and Dominion must be exercised over all of Creation. Therefore, thirdly, we are to imitate Christ in how we exercise our Dominion over creation. If “for by him all things were created” then Christ is King over the melting glaciers, empty forests and dying wildlife and groans with his creation as it bears the scars of the fall. He is sovereign, therefore, we don’t despair yet he is our example and look how he feeds the birds and dresses the lilies. Who are we to despise creation if this is how our King cares for it? 

Limitless Compassion

Changes in the global environment are, if not to ourselves yet, reaching crisis level. Lives have been lost, species made extinct and vast swaths of natural habitat destroyed. Our society rightly is appalled by such horrors and we can respond with compassion to their upset. Listening, therefore, is crucial. Be informed of what is happening and be ready to change. If your waste disposal is putting wildlife at risk, reduce your plastic pollution. It may require humility to accept advice from those you don’t whole-heartedly agree with. Being informed and responding graciously with the facts put in front of us, save us from the stigma of Christians being uninterested or ignorant of the world around them. With a clear grasp of the conversation surrounding climate change, we then have a stronger position to lead the fight to protect our planet. Surely having Christian environmentalists, scientists, social activists, educators, campaigners, politicians at the forefront of this discussion will be beneficial for everyone. Not only can we imitate Christ in servant-hearted dominion but we can also by explaining to people why we do what we do, point them to the full message of the gospel.

Gospel Clarity

The panic that fuels much of the Extinction Rebellion propaganda, appears to echo apocalyptic prophecy. However the End Times will look, the Christian can rest assured that God is entirely in control and mankind will not be able to predict when the end of the earth will be. If we begin to despair and lose our faith in God, we have lost our gospel clarity. Similarly, we must be wary of falling into incorrect thinking that says we can truly save the world. Having gospel clarity about who saves the world and God as creator, should affect how we interact with the world, will keep us from doubting God’s sovereignty or developing a saviour complex. Therefore, we should “stir one another up to love and good works”, not only pointing each other towards our eternal hope but also encouraging each other to be more active in our love, respect and appreciation of God’s world. 

Finally, as we reorganise what we mean by gospel clarity, let’s recognise how our fellow humans are being affected by climate change. Natural disasters strip entire communities of their livelihood, overpopulation that leads to not enough food being distributed where it’s needed, drought, famine, floods, wars over natural resources – these are all events that will affect our planet’s most vulnerable people groups first. Forget saving the turtles by banning plastic straws, or reducing your carbon footprint by cycling to work – people’s lives are at risk because of climate change. A radical care for people is an imperative for the Christian primarily because they are made by God and are valuable in their essence but, secondly because their souls are eternal. How we adapt our lifestyles, our treatment of animals, engagement in social justice, must all be centred around a Biblical perspective of ourselves and those around us. The finite details of how that will look depending on our context and stage of life but servant-hearted dominion will seek to rescue humanity from danger and point them towards their saviour.

On a more practical side one may ask questions regarding zero-waste living and how this equates with Christian hospitality, how does our faith inform our diet (aka should we all be vegan?), can adoption be an avenue Christians take in reference to overpopulation and how, if there is a class bias within this whole debate, are Christians perpetuating this? At least I think those may be interesting! If you have any thoughts, please comment below or if you disagree with everything I’ve said, still comment! 

Further references

https://arocha.org.uk/

https://www.plantwise.org/about/ 

https://ruthvalerio.net/ 

https://www.ourplanet.com/en/ 

https://www.tearfund.org/ 

https://justloveuk.com/about-us/vision

https://www.thejusticeconference.co.uk/

https://www.thegoodtrade.com/

https://knowtheorigin.com/blogs/ktotalks

https://www.desmogblog.com/2014/03/05/pentagon-climate-change-impacts-threat-multipliers-could-enable-terrorism 

Christian Music: An updated opinion piece.

Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song;     sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name;     proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations,     his marvellous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;     he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols,     but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him;     strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,     ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;     bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness;     tremble before him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”     The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;     he will judge the peoples with equity.

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;     let the sea resound, and all that is in it. 12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;     let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. 13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,     he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness     and the peoples in his faithfulness

 

Michael talking about church music, how uncommon! Well, I have been busy studying the theology of contemporary worship recently and I wanted to share some thoughts with you. I pray that you will find this a blessing and I hope we start to see a radical change amongst young people.

Don’t you just love Psalm 96, it is a Psalm full of praise to the Lord. The Psalmist has such a heart for the people of God to worship the Lord. Yet at the same time, it is a theologically rich Psalm, full of the gospel, of the Word and evangelical. It is complex like every Psalm in its own way and it’s beautiful.

Worship music is not here to fix our feelings. No, it is to feed us scripture, to help us praise the Lord Almighty, to help us memorise truth, help us see the gospel and also is a way in which we can evangelise. Imagine singing

God all keeping, omnipresent, in the passing days of man First to last, not one forgotten by his strong and steering hand He the Sovereign Lord now praise we, he the fount of Providence On his word we rest unwavering, yes his perfect word shall stand”

When you sing this for example, you are singing Biblical truth! How awesome is that. Rather than singing ‘God is good…whoop, whoop’. You are singing deep amazing truths, which edify you, others around you and stand as a witness to the non-believer! How amazing is that!

It’s not about new or old, but about God-Honouring worship

I have often talked about traditional worship versus contemporary worship, but neither is good. Psalm 96 tells us to sing new songs, as do other passages in the Bible; it is probably true that Paul quoted new hymns in the Bible as he spoke to the churches. New songs are great, but so are the old. They are timeless, they are what our spiritual forefathers sang. They helped them in their journey as they too can help us in our journey. They taught people doctrine, and they were focused on Him and Him alone. So both are great, debate settled? Well no, for me I’ve realised thanks to the Lord that this was never the issue or should have never been the issue. What is important is not new and old, but what is God Honouring. Psalm 96 tells us to sing all the aspects of the Lord, to explore Him, to praise Him and to honour Him.

Our songs must be God-Honouring. That means they must be Christ-centred, biblical, true to the Word, and that which help us grow in Him. Sadly, much of my generation do not seem to honour Him in music, and can be lost in the music of the age, influenced by churches which are not soundly biblical and it hurts me to see.

The Problem in the Modern Church

So what is the current problem? Well it is the self-centred nature of modern worship. Young people are not discerning regarding music and will listen to anything labelled as ‘Christian’ yet it is mainly focused on the self. If you count the number of times ‘I’ appears in a song, it often appears more than ‘God’. The word ‘I’ is not wrong in of itself, but it must be in relation to the Lord.

What is wrong with self-centred worship? Well its idolatry, it’s all about what God does for me. It’s all about how important I am, rather than how awesome HE is. Rather than explore the complex nature of the Lord, we want to sing about our feelings and how great everything is.

Another problem is that the theology is either heretical or just weak. God is Good, God is Love, God is Great. True themes no doubt, but there is no explanation. There is no focus on growth. In fact I argue this is a way that false teaching has gotten into the church. What better way to mislead the saints than in something that has grown into an industry and plays off our self-centred behaviour? A reading into Galatians 1:10 or 2 Peter 2 and you just get a glimpse of the Wolves in Sheep’s clothing. The bible constantly warns us of false teachers, and we must also look to our songs.

So let’s just nail down the problems:

  • Worship music is now an industry
  • Worship comes from Heretical churches such as Hillsong and Bethel (Prophecy doctrine which can also be seen in the New Apostolic Reformation as well as Prosperity Doctrine)
  • We have celebrity artists
  • We have self-centred lyrics
  • Theology and Doctrine are Missing from our songs
  • Music is not God-Honouring

These are hard truths perhaps but it is true. To be frank, I am embarrassed by my generation and I fear for the future of the church.

Just do not get me started on playing music whilst prayer is happening. It all links to what modern worship is all about, and that is emotion building; building up to a high point to get yourself into a spiritual frenzy/moment. The words actually do nothing, it’s the tune, it’s the drum beat, and it’s the changing temp. Now tunes and melodies are vital to a song, of course they are, but the Word must be central to the song and sadly it is not.

 

Songs which are God Honouring

So what is God-Honouring? Well it’s a congregational-focused worship. Paul says in Ephesians that we must sing to one another! We also need to sing as one people to Him, and not as individuals. Psalm 96 is a congregational based psalm that urges the people to Worship the Living God. That is not saying that there is not a place for the I, but it needs to be in relation to the Word and to the Lord always!

The congregation needs to be gripped with the truth of the Word. It needs to be taught through the songs we sing. Songs which honour God explore His Justice, His Omnipresence, His Love, His Glory, they turn our eyes towards the cross and towards eternity.

Songs which honour God don’t make everything out to be rosy and great. They are real. They are personal. They show sadness, questions, pain, as well as happiness, joyfulness and beauty.

Songs that honour God come from the Word. Not randomly picked verses thrown together as 90% of the music today is, but from what the Word teaches.

 

Time for action

I really do believe that we are on a clock. I think the church is in a dire situation. Some stay with the old traditional but that does not honour God as we are told to sing New songs. Many sing news songs, but are not discerning. They sing anything and have been led astray as a result. We must sing new songs but we must be discerning with our choices.

We must take a stand. We must fight for what is right. I know what damage the worship wars have done in the past, but this is for God-honouring songs and hymns. It’s about the integrity of our churches, of our theology. It is about future generations. More importantly it’s about getting rid of the wolves, it’s about coming back to what Worship really is about and that is Christ.

I want to see the church grow in faith and theology. I want to see the church love their Lord with a burning passion. I want to see Christians strong in the faith. My heart burns for Christ-centred theologically rich worship. I know that the Lord has made be focus on this for a reason. He wants his Church to honour him once more, and I intend to serve Him in doing do.

This is not about instruments, or about style. It’s about what we sing, it’s about Him and it’s about the Glory of God.