Monday, July 23, 2007

Mediocrity Is A Lousy Witness

Within the Christian subculture, a Christian is said to be a "bad witness" when he or she acts in a manner which blatantly contradicts the values in which he or she claims to believe. In other words, a person is a bad witness when he or she cause others to question the legitimacy of Christianity on account of the discrepancy between his or her words and deeds.

Certainly, a Christian who openly lives an immoral lifestyle is a bad witness. All Christians should respect God's laws.

But there are also other ways that one can be a bad witness as well.

Back in the late seventies, I moved to Sioux City, Iowa in order to study piano tuning and rebuilding at Western Iowa Tech Community College.

For a while, I became involved in a local church group which was part of the "shepherding movement" made popular by teachers such as Derek Prince. I'd never heard of that movement until then, so it took me a while before I wised up and realized that the type of authoritarianism taught and practiced by people such as Prince was quite different from the model of leadership demonstrated and taught by Christ when He was here on earth.

During that time, I remember attending a jazz concert at Morningside College. The artist was Maynard Ferguson, a very talented trumpet player who was particularly known for his ability to hit very high notes without sounding bad. If that alone had been what he was known for, he wouldn't have achieved great popularity, but his arrangements were also great, and his band consisted of people who were as talented on their instruments as he was on his. The band's style of music was heavily influenced by rock and pop music, making it more accessible to a person my age than it would have been if it had focused on earlier types of big band jazz. Overall, it was a very exciting concert. We even got to hear them play the theme from the movie "Rocky", which was cool because that was one of that band's most popular hits.

Out in the lobby, during the intermission, I bumped into a guy I knew from church. I was beginning to get excited about the idea of having a Christian band which would be comparable to Ferguson's big band in terms of talent and quality. Naively, I expressed that idea to the guy from church. He replied by saying that that would never happen. I asked him to explain himself. He answered by telling me that a truly dedicated Christian would be too busy praying and reading the Bible to spend the kind of practice time which would be necessary in order to become as talented as Maynard Ferguson and his band members.

Now remember, this guy didn't believe that there was anything wrong with listening to music such as the music performed by Mr. Ferguson. If he'd believed that, then I have to assume that he wouldn't have paid to attend that concert.

In effect, he was saying that high musical quality and deep spiritual devotion were mutually exclusive. He was saying that Christians who loved listening to high quality music would have to rely upon unbelievers or spiritually immature Christians if they wanted to listen to such music, because they could not expect for mature Christians to possess such talent.

I was stunned and appalled when I realized that this guy equated musical mediocrity with spiritual maturity.

I'd like to believe that he was unusual in that respect, but sometimes I have to wonder, when I consider some of the music which has been released by some Christian record labels in the past. There's been a lot of good music, but there's been a lot of garbage as well.

It's been said that "practice makes perfect". Well, no musician is perfect, but some get a lot closer to perfection than others. Generally speaking, the ones who do get close to perfection are able to do so because they spent a lot of time practicing their instruments.

The idea that working hard and practicing one's instrument detracts from one's ability to worship and serve the Lord is blatantly ridiculous. It didn't seem to occur to my simpleminded friend from church that developing one's talents could be legitimately regarded as an act of worship, inasmuch as the Bible commands us to make the most of the talents God has given to us. To develop one's talents is to obey God, at least in that area of one's life.

The marginalized status of Christians and Christianity in the culture in which we currently live can be attributed, at least in part, to the biblically unjustifiable views which were expressed by my Christian brother at that Maynard Ferguson concert. And that is going to have to change if we ever hope to make the kind of impact which will bring about the revival this country badly needs.

Let us therefore endeavor to make the most of all of our talents, by working hard to develop those talents, and by offering other talented Christians the help and resources they need in order to overcome obstacles which stand in the way of their ability to achieve great things for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

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