The challenge: Honor the past, keep moving forward

Scripture: Exodus 1:1-2:25; Psalm 88; Luke 21

One of the things about reading the Bible is that what you take away from it is so connected to what you bring to it. Said another way, what’s on your mind or happening in your world will determine what you bring away from any particular passage, or what speaks to you at any given time. (And that’s one reason why is good to read and re-read it so often.)

So the verse that struck me today is Exodus 1:8: “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

I have this continuing debate with some church friends, including my son (a Presbyterian pastor) and the pastors at the congregation I attend.

I guess it could be called one of the battles in the worship wars.

You see, I object to what I see as the wholesale ignoring of our tradition in favor of what is deemed to be appealing to a new generation.

In our own congregation, it manifests itself during worship in that we only say one of our historic confessions during a service that includes baptism.

In doing this, I’ve argued with our pastors, we miss the opportunity to ground the many new members of our congregation in some of the transcendent language and themes we Presbyterians have dealt with and professed since the Reformation.

In other congregations, it often shows up in music. I recently attended a service in the congregation my son was serving and began to sing from the hymnbook the hymn that was listed in the bulletin. I realized I was singing different words than the rest of the congregation. So I looked at the screen (YUK!) to see that the words from Come, thou Fount of Every Blessing had been changed wholesale. I was offended, and as I told my son, I felt excluded — which is of course exactly what they were trying to avoid doing for those new to church. (He did not strongly defend that particular choice, thank goodness.)

I don’t want to get into a full-scale debate about the worship wars, but I do want to argue that we must hold on to what’s good about our past — which includes much of the language included in our Confessions and in the language of our hymns.

Are there issues? Yes, of course. Both the Confessions and the hymns reflect the times in which they were written. But the issues they deal with, and the grounding they can give us, are worth struggling with and worth teaching to that new generation.

To just claim that “people don’t like that old language,” or “are turned off by all that old stuff” is to miss the opportunity to teach.

We need to do both.

If we don’t, we risk forgetting Joseph.

Grace and peace.

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One Response to The challenge: Honor the past, keep moving forward

  1. Judith Lightner says:

    Thank you, John. I agree.

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