How shall we praise God? Let me count the ways!

How Shall We Praise God

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (October 28, 1466 – July 12, 1536) was a Dutch Renaissance humanist and a Catholic priest and theologian. He once wrote:

“We have brought into our churches certain operatic and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words as I hardly think was ever in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them. Men run to church as to a theatre, to have their ears tickled. And for this end, organ makers are hired with great salaries, and a company of boys, who waste all their time learning these whining tones.” (Erasmus, Commentary on I Cor. 14:19)

Or this from St. Augustine 354 A.D., describing the worship style at Alexandria under St. Athanasius:

“The pipe, tambourine, and harp here associate so intimately with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theater and circus, it is easy to understand the prejudices against their use in the worship.”

The issue of musical style and instrumentation has been debated by leaders and members of the Church since its inception. Should the Church embrace the use of modern instruments and styles of music in order to reach lost demographics of people? Can the Church go too far in accommodating to culture that it loses its identity as the Church? Many lament the absence of younger generations in church but are reticent to engage with new forms of music and liturgical style which might reach them. Others lament the loss of our traditional heritage of hymns, choirs and organ music to rock bands and video screens.

Certainly, the traditions of our Church, particularly the Anglican heritage of traditional choral-led worship offers a treasure trove of music and worship practices which transport the worshiper to the throne room of the Lord in the heavenly places. Yet, should we be concerned when our children and teens are not finding their souls nurtured because of their personal distaste for older hymns and the sound of an organ over electric guitars and drums?

Mr. Randy Krum, Organist and Choirmaster of St. Peter’s Church in Lake Mary, FL

St. Peter’s has made a serious commitment to offer both traditional and contemporary forms of worship. The reality is that we have different types of people whose souls are fed by different forms of worship. Right now our contemporary service is the higher attended of the three services, but we have about equal numbers of people between the two forms of worship when you combine the attendance at 5 and 9:00, which are both more traditional in style and format. Our praise band led by the gifted and inspired, Rev. Wes Sharp, has set a high standard for contemporary Christian music expression within the Anglican tradition. With Randy Krum as Organ/Choir Director, we have placed a renewed emphasis on providing resources to the traditional 5:00 and 9:00 service. Our choir has been strengthened with more members and the traditional forms of worship enhanced. Randy has brought a wealth of experience and skill in leading musical worship in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition. And, we have a beautiful Allen organ to lift the roof in our church with beautiful music.

Admittedly, it has been real challenge to do both traditional and contemporary forms with God glorifing excellence, but God is worthy of our best efforts to praise him in every way. The sacred music of our Church’s tradition is something that I personally would never want to jettison, and so long as I am rector of St. Peter’s, it will always have a prominent place within the life of our congregation.

That said, one thing we should always bear in mind is that all of the forms which we consider traditional were at one time contemporary novelties for the Church. The first and main use of the organ as an instrument was at Roman gladiator matches in the arena. It was a very prominent instrument in the Greco-Roman culture. The church use of the organ was not until the tenth century and had to overcome its suspicion of the organ’s popularity in contemporary culture and more specifically its association with the Roman arena. It was a popular instrument at the time and an attractive novelty for the church–it brought people to church!

Consider that it is a traditional Anglican “thing to do” to put the message of the Gospel and Worship into the language of the people in order to reach the lost. The translation of the hymns, the Scriptures and the Prayer book into English from Latin was a fiercely debated monumental change in liturgical and worship practice to reach the demographic of those who speak English as their primary language. Contemporary translations opened up the gospel and worship of the Lord to the general population in a way that started a massive revival in Europe called the Protestant Reformation.

St. Peter’s Adult and Youth Choirs

Many of the “traditional” hymns that we now sing were actually written during this time. Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was musically set to a popular German bar tune! Many more of our traditional hymns were written during the Great Awakening during the founding of the United States, by revivalists such as Charles Wesley. In their day they were new! The missionary methods of the Wesley brothers with their emphasis on large revival meetings and small groups were often criticized for being too accommodating to culture and not in keeping with the traditional way of forming Christians. Anglican priest, George Whitfield, often had to preach outside because the traditional church would not welcome his populist messages and styles.

One thousand years earlier, St. Patrick was an effective evangelist because he found aspects of the Irish culture that could be used by Christianity and translated the gospel into those forms. He was put on trial by the Roman Church leadership because his evangelism to the Irish “Barbarians” did not conform to the “Roman Way”. His monks didn’t wear the right robes, they didn’t cut their hair in the right way! We must never compromise with our culture in the area of morals and doctrine of the Church! We do not change our sexual ethics, or teaching on the nature of marriage to make it more expansive to our permissive culture. We do not water down our commitment to preach Jesus as the Lord of all and the only way to the Father, even if such a message is unpopular.

The challenge to be in the world and not of the world is always before us. If we completely reject the surrounding culture, we can create a monastic existence where we are neither in nor of the world—so heavenly minded, we are no earthly good. What does Paul mean when he says, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings..”? (1 Cor. 9:22) If we can use the contemporary Christian music that plays on the radio to reach the teens and non-Christians in this community more effectively than by not, is it not incumbent upon us to do so?

Certainly part of the formation of the young and new Christian would be to learn to appreciate and even fall in love with the larger tradition and worship expressions of the Church. Likewise, the formation of the older and traditional Christian would include learning to appreciate the new forms of expressing praise to God and perhaps grow to enjoy it! I hope that we will all recognize that the main goal in all of our efforts is to glorify and delight in the God who gave us voice and creativity to express our praises in various forms and expressions. In everything we do, our aim is to bring Glory to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Only God is the unchangeable One!

What do you think? Add your thoughts to the discussion here!

“Two reasons why it was good Jesus left”
by The Rev. Charlie Holt

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St Peter's, Lake Mary
May 18, 2014

Reasons why it was good Jesus left

Jesus informed his disciples that he was leaving them. Yet, he reassured the that his departure was actually for their good! Find out the reasons why by listening to this week’s sermon.

You may want to read the text from the Gospel of John 14:1-14

End Child Homelessness in Seminole County

Hear a discussion about local initiatives taken in Seminole County, Florida, by a collaboration of providers of services to the homeless community to end or lower the number of homeless children in the county.

Visit this link to listen to or down load the podcast –  http://cmfmedia.org/2011/12/end-child-homelessness/

(length -59:21).

This 52-minute event, is hosted by Pathways to Home, the non-profit umbrella organization under which 18 provider organizations are working together to lower the number of homeless children which knowledgeable sources place at about 1700 students in 2010.

The speakers are panel members…

**Debbra Groseclose, executive director of Pathways to Home;

**Stephen Burris, chairman of the board of advisors of Pathways;

**Bob Dallari, commissioner and former chairman of Seminole county government;

**The Reverend Charles Holt, Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and School in Lake Mary;

**Penny Seater; executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Seminole County and Greater Apopka;

**and Jeanne Gold, chief executive officer for Safe House of Seminole.

The panel moderator is Debbie Leon, development director for Pathways to Home.

Prompted by a series of features on CBS Television’s 60-Minutes, which focused its cameras directly on the plight of homeless school children in Seminole County, this panel of local providers and advocates speak on a theme organizers billed as “what 60-Minutes didn’t tell you about Seminole County.”

The panel describes the unique Pathways to Home collaborative, its history and the steps being taken to apply a range of best practices to address and manage the problem of child homelessness in the county. During the discussion, you’ll also hear members of the audience ask questions to which the panel responds.

This feature was recorded Tuesday, December 13, 2011 in the commission chambers of Seminole County’s board of commissioners.

Storming the Gates of Hell!

Sermon (listen now)

The gospel story of the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi marks a major turning point in the battle for the heart of the world’s people. The moment marks the first time a person, one man, Simon, confesses Jesus as Lord: “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Living God”. Jesus commends Simon as “Peter” (the name means rock) as the “Rock upon which I will build my Church.” As I indicated in my sermon (listen here), there are three, yea four, ideas as to what the Lord means by “this Rock”: Peter himself, the faith of Peter, or Jesus as the object of Peter’s faith. As I argued, all three are important for understanding the “this Rock”. Jesus is the Rock and having a rock-solid faith in Him will give a man a rock-solid character. They go together and should never be separated. There is a fourth element to the phrase “this Rock” we need to consider implied by the location of the Confession itself.

Jesus had taken the disciples into the heart of Paganism. Caesarea Philippi was a city which the rabbis warned, “No good Jew would ever enter!” Not only was it a city that was wrapped up in emperor worship. But it also had adopted the more base and perverse worship of the pagan god, Pan. At the base of the cliff face in Caesarea there is a grotto where a statue of Pan stood. And all manner of perverse rites of fertility and bestiality occurred there. This was the “Sin City” of the region. To make matters worse near the grotto stood the entrance of a cave which bore the name “The Gates of Hell” where access to the underworld was attained. To any good Jew, the city was perversely disgusting and place of tremendous satanic and demonic activity.

So when Jesus says, “on this Rock I will build my Church”, was he indicating that the Church would be planted in the heart of that demonic capital, a Church that would storm the “Gates of Hell” and take the ground of a perverse Pagan city such as Caesarea Philippi for the Kingdom of God? Consider the next statement of Jesus, “And the gates of Hell will not stand against it.” Many in the Church of our day have a “sanctuary-refuge” concept about the church. The church is seen as the place of protective refuge where we escape the evil powers of the world and beyond. Now there is tremendous comforting truth in that perspective; however the Church is not merely a sanctuary. It is also a base of operations, an outpost, for the missionary expansion of the Church militant. The call of the Church is to take ground from Satan and evil powers. This world does not belong to him, but to Jesus. We do not merely defend against evil; we attack!

To the church was given the power to “bind and loose”. We are given weapons to bind the spiritual forces of evil and loose the chains of the human captives held within Satan’s strongholds, like Caesarea Philippi.

Consider this: who has ever been attacked by a gate? Gates are defensive in nature. The challenge to Peter and the Church is that Satan has set up his fortresses all over this world. Yet, the Church of Jesus Christ will storm the gates of these hellish strongholds. As we do, they will not stand. The ground will be taken. Satan’s minions will be bound, the people of God will be set free. Hell will not prevail.

Practically, how does this happen? It begins when, a man, woman or child stands up and confesses the Name of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. At that moment, they have chosen sides. The Confession of Jesus is a flag planted in the ground for the Kingdom of Jesus. Jesus is Lord of all. Our job as the Church is to incarnate that reality in word and deed. As Jesus’ disciples revealed, many people could not bring themselves to fully submit their lives to Jesus as Lord of all. When Jesus asked, “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” The answers were all related to Jesus being a mere spokesperson for God, John the Baptist, or Elijah or one of the prophets.” Jesus asks, “But, who do you say that I am?” Simon replied, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Living God.” Jesus wants submitted souls, not warm acknowledgements.

At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Do not fear the haunts of Hell. On the contrary, Jesus would have the church claim the darkest places on earth for his kingdom. People who live in places such as Caesarea Philippi need to be liberated from Satanic bondage and his stronghold. Only Jesus and the Spirit of the Living God can liberate souls in bondage.

One man or one woman, one child who stands in their place of business, community group or school, and raises the banner for Jesus will find the battle engaged. Start a bible study prayer group in a place governed by evil. That is what the early church did all over the Roman Empire. Peter led the fight in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire! These bold Christians took the fight out and into the pagan strongholds. They stormed the Gates of Hell. Make no mistake Satanic strongholds do not go down without a fight. The devils and demons fight dirty. Victory belongs to the faith-filled. Christians who stand up with rock hard faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will prevail. The gates of Hell will not stand against the Church militant. Down the gates will go. And, go down they should!

You give them something to eat!

This Sunday we heard about Jesus feeding the 5,000 from Matthew 14:13-21. In the sermon (listen), we heard a challenge to spiritually feed the 5,000+ people living within one mile of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Almost 80% of them are not actively involved in corporate worship at any local congregation. Over 49% do not even consider themselves spiritual people. Do we have any compassion or care toward this large crowd who lives around us?

During the sermon, I read a challenging letter to our congregation. Let me give you a little background to help with understanding the significance of the letter.

The vestry and staff of St. Peter’s met in retreat on February 12th, 2011 to consider and pray about where the Lord is leading our congregation. As a way of thinking about our unique strengths and struggles, we used the model of Jesus’ letters to the seven congregations found in the Book of Revelation (chapters 2 & 3). Each letter follows a similar three point. Jesus first commends the congregation, he then has something “against” the congregation, and then he encourages the congregation on how to improve and be more faithful to his call.
So we asked ourselves the following… If Jesus were to write our church a letter:

  • What would he commend about St. Peter’s?
  • What would he have against us?
  • What would he challenge us to do?

The fruit of the exercise was the following letter that was drafted by the vestry and staff during the retreat (I welcome your comments on it):

Jesus’ Letter to St. Peter’s Church in Lake Mary, FL: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Transfiguration

Dear St. Peter’s:

You have trusted in me as your anchor in a turbulent world, by having a love for my Word, by having compassion for the “least of these”, by working together as my Body.

This one thing I have against you. You are ignoring my lost sheep because you are distracted by the busyness of the world and because of your pride rather than humility, and because you are too focused on yourselves rather than others. Therefore, my lost sheep perceive you as uncaring hypocrites.

I encourage you to surrender humbly to my call to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission:

“Love God with all you heart mind soul and strength.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“All authority in heaven and on earth had been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Invite my people in the crowd and community gathered around you and welcome them into your fellowship.

As you think and pray about the 5,000+ people who live one mile around St. Peter’s Church, how can we reach out, invite and welcome them into our fellowship?