AT THE MOVIES: 'Believe Me' spotlights worship
I miss those days, not because I fear change, but because these changes and others in Sunday worship seem to reflect a secular influence. A new movie spotlights this change.
Not unlike today's church services themselves, Believe Me is not your father's church movie. The leads drink and swear, and for the first 51 minutes, they flimflam godly folks with all the nefarious skill of the "Ocean's 11" protagonists. It would appear that the goal of the filmmaker is not to proselytize, so much as reveal the soft underbelly of Christian ministries. But the film, opening Sept. 26, goes further.
A significant moment concerning this age of incessant change occurs via the shot of a coliseum-sized church gathering, during which the lyrics of a song are shown overhead on giant screen.
The lyrics proclaim the name Jesus 16 repetitive times. That sequence pretty well parodies the showbiz aspect of today's Sunday morning congregational sing-a-long, with the main musical number repeated over and over as if the praise team were attempting to put pew-sitters into a devotional trance.
While the filmmaker's intent is more about taking a jab at "flashy church services" and self-important people who control those services, still, that praise/worship sequence deserves analysis.
This style of music, labeled "contemporary" Christian music back in the 1970s, was designed to appeal to those who had come to reject their parents' traditions and any kind of formality in religious gatherings. Denim-clad troubadours such as Barry McGuire ruled. Rebellion was thriving in our society and the dawning of the Age of Aquarius even invaded the sanctuary.
Along with abandoning a dress code, those who embraced this new musical fashion made it a declaration, and now this format is accepted by most denominations. Soon, there were two worship services each Sunday morning, with one congregation divided into two. The first and more traditional service was given to the "older" members who could still wear their coats and ties and sing hymns, if they didn't mind attending at 8:00 a.m.; while the 11 a.m. gathering was given over to a younger generation, that presumably needed more sleep.
Notes and words in hymnals once aided worshippers in harmoniously following the tune. Many feel this new style of music, on the other hand, often consists of shallow lyrics and typically lacks memorable melodies. This update in the church songfest is somewhat understandable, as each generation wants its own sound, even when worshipping our Savior. But some would contend this praise/worship-lite construct has become the antithesis of that which once galvanized Sunday morning attendees. Evidently, ministers thought this appeasement would woo a discontented generation to return to the Lord. How's that working out for you, pastors?
That's not to say all new genres of Christian music miss the mark. Certainly, worship leaders with contrite hearts abound, and there are nonpaid musicians who use their talents on Sundays to thank their Creator for their gifts. Many songs written today uplift the soul, though some of us might have difficulty humming them on the way home from service.
But what is the reason for this musical evolution? Could it be that many in this transitional age are not satisfied with change within the worlds of politics, media and electronics, but demand change in our chapels, as well?
Music and attire will be modified by each new generation and no one over a certain age will be comfortable with those modifications, I understand. My concern, however, is that these changes might not be constructive, and may only reflect what's in store for followers of the faith. Already there are Bible publishers more concerned with being politically correct than being biblically and historically correct.
Maybe what's more important than the church showing the world our commonalities, is showing them our differences.
"Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8 - NIV).
As to the film, I appreciated the filmmaker's determination to expose those who would make a buck off Jesus. But I found the production company's touting tactics somewhat ironic. On the official website, there was a promotional that read: "Get Paid to Promote the Film." Further down that page, we discovered that T-shirts just like those worn in the film could be purchased.
I'm not sure the film company got the filmmaker's message.