Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pharisees, tradition and modernism

Todd Wilken (of Issues Etc. fame) has written a stirring defense of traditional theology and practice, entitled “Playing the Pharisee Card”. It is filled with the same intelligent, cutting arguments that Pastor Wilken made for five years on his KFUO radio show against subordinating the church to popular culture, arguments that we will see again with the impending return of Issues Etc. under new ownership.

His piece is intended as a direct analogy to the “race card” or “gender card” used in modern American political arguments as an ad hominem attack to demonize opponents and stifle political debate. As Pastor Wilken writes:
Today, the label "Pharisee" is applied to many Christians just like me -- perhaps you're one of them. We are Christians who cherish God's Word, the Church's historic Creeds, confessions and practices. When we see the Church abandoning these things to follow the latest fads and entertainments, we lament. When we see the Gospel itself being left behind in the Church's rush to mimic popular culture, we are grieved. And when we question the Church's infatuation with the spirit of the age, we are labeled Pharisees.
He continues:
The Pharisee Card is also played in order to discredit Christians who refuse to abandon the historic practices of the Church in favor of the latest innovations. This too works beautifully. Those dealing the Pharisee Card know that, to avoid being labeled a Pharisee, many Christians will tolerate an endless succession of fads in worship, music and ministry. But Jesus never faulted the Pharisees for resisting change. On the contrary, He faulted them for introducing their own innovations and methods in the place of Godís Word.
Wilken notes that Jesus explicitly rejected modernization of belief for its own sake. He quotes from Luke 5:36-39, emphasizing verse 39:
36 [Jesus] also told them a parable: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.' "
By the way, “New Wineskins” happens to be the name of an (orthodox) evangelical renewal movement within the mainline Presbyterian Church USA.

I’m with Pastor Wilken all the way, but wonder if we are on shaky ground for one point. I certainly prefer a parish that maintains traditional music and resists the pressures of the transient popular culture in liturgical music. My favorite Issues Etc. shows were those where Pastor Wilken interviewed Terry Mattingly (author of Pop Goes Religion) and others making exactly this point.

However, most of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin and the (soon to be) Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh -- as well as AMiA -- have gone to modernized liturgy. Can we say these godly men of undisputed character are erring by bringing electric guitars into the sanctuary?

No comments: