23 October 2009

Annoying Misconceptions

Earlier in my presbyteral career, I spent about four years as a member of a now-defunct traditional Anglican Church which was, essentially, a low-to-broad Church body. The bishop I served under had at least conversational relations (and some very close relations) with bishops and clergy in other jurisdictions that were, broadly, in the traditional Anglican camp.

In those days, I was certainly a bit of an outcast in my own body – always the highest churchman on the block (with the chasuble to prove it), but I also retained an inordinate love for things like John Michael Talbot music, modern translations of the Bible, and so on. As a result, I in those days often encountered criticism of my views on music and Scripture. Of late, as I have expanded my reading and studies anew in a more Reformed Catholic direction, I have found there remain two supremely annoying misconceptions among the world of traditional Christianity in general (and in Anglicanism in specific).

The first misconception I that irks me is the idea that contemporary Christian music is incapable of being spiritually uplifting and moving because it is, supposedly, ‘indistinguishable’ from secular music. While it is utterly certain that much that passes for modern Christian music is somewhat offensive to my aesthetic senses, I don’t see the use of secular beats and rhythms as reasons to disregard contemporary selections. Myself, I rarely hear organ music that I actually care for; I’d prefer a guitar any day. It doesn’t matter the song – “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “One Bread, One Body” both sound more meaningful to me on a guitar or even a piano than they ever have on an organ. This isn’t to say that organs are bad (well, that well-played organs are bad – I’ve heard plenty of awful organ music over the years!), but it isn’t meaningful to everyone. Biblically, we see (particularly in the Old Testament) a wide variety of instruments employed in praise of God. While I am not likely to care that much for drums, bass guitars, cymbals, and tambourines, I cannot discount them when the music is offered with a pure heart and spirit.

The second misconception that bugs me more, however, is the notion that the King James Bible is the only valid Bible, and that both Biblical readings and Liturgical usage must be in ‘ye olde English’. I have no beef with people who prefer classical English. Its cadences are un-matched (and I doubt they ever can be matched with the modern tongue), and its memorization qualities are readily apparent (mainly because of cadences!), but comprehension is nearly always lacking, and the grammatical structures – particularly in liturgical texts – are foreign to English as it is used today. Does this mean that Churches employ classical English will grow better than those which employ contemporary linguistics? No, I don’t think so – though I have no data to back up this claim. I don’t know that either side will grow better or worse, but I do know that it is impossible to look at classical English texts for contemporary English use without a severe re-visitation of some of the vocabulary and a remediation in structure away from the rhetorical English commonly used in older prayers and texts.

Additionally, words change their meaning over time, and theological hairsplitting is often lost on individual believers. The simple example of sheol, hades, tartarus, and gehennah all being translated as hell in the King James Bible gives an immediate and readily apparent example of how basic Biblical truths can be quickly covered up by a bad translation. Contemporary Bibles aren’t always better – my beloved New Living Translation, even in its second revised-revised edition, still manages to screw up the status of Joseph and Mary’s relationship before Jesus’ birth (they were not engaged!).

Translations are just that – translations, attempts to convey truths from one language into another. Some translations are deliberately laced with falsehoods (the New World Translation comes to mind), but most preserve the spirit of the Gospel Message intact, in spite of occasional (or even significant) errors in translation. The King James text is certainly filled with problems, and I get a laugh when people tell me they are using the original, God-preserved Bible and point to their KJV. I go on to ask them exactly which version of the KJV was ‘preserved’ – the 1611 original? Perhaps the 1801 revision? Or is it the Third Millennium Bible produced in the late 1990’s? All of these Bibles unquestionably preserve the truth of God’s Word, but to proclaim that they are the single God-preserved biblical text for English-speaking Christians is patently absurd.

Beauty is often in the eye of the beholder, and I find beauty in a guitar and an NLT Bible. Others find it in the KJV and an organ. Still others will find them in other senses and settings. Now matter where you find beauty, I pray that your beauty contains the depths of God’s majesty and glory, and enables you to worship him in spirit and truth. At the same time, I pray that you won’t rush to un-Church those who disagree with your position; for wherever the Gospel of Salvation is proclaimed and the Sacraments rightly ministered, wherever Jesus is exalted and the moral, ethical, and theological imperatives of Sacred Scripure are proclaimed - Christ is present there.


All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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