Yesterday AU had a visit from some 200 members of the Church of God Restoration Movement. I had a fascinating experience and have done a lot of reading and reflecting since then. I'm not going to be done for a long time.
The visit is a very controversial thing on campus. There are some people who believe, as much of mainstream culture does, that this group (like many truly fundamentalist Christian groups) is a cult. It depends on what definition one uses. I don't tend to operate within the frame of mind that defines cults by group structures. I define them, if necessary, according to how they approach certain theological issues. But to be honest, I think that defining cults is mostly counterproductive. It promotes divisions among people and doesn't do much to help heal any harm that occurs in the particular groups. In fact, it only pushes the groups further away from the rest of the world because it creates antagonism.
The Church of God Reformation Movement founded by D. S. Warner, which I am affiliated with and which is still quite strong and decentralized, promotes unity with people from other denominations. Many of the former teachings have been altered. For instance, while we believe that denominationalism is dividing and harmful and we have a significant membership that has roots in other denominations, we don't go around encouraging people to leave their denominations anymore. We spend our time doing discipleship and missionary work.
The Restoration Movement promotes a return to the old 1880s doctrines, plain dress, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if they would be glad to see some of us Anderson folks joining them. The way I understand it, the purpose of our invitation to them was to put us in touch with a living interpretation of the history that we in seminary are accessing primarily through reading. They were also invited to visit the archives and some other historic buildings on site--to have the opportunity to connect with some of the history that they are living out. I don't see it as a bad thing at all; and I would like to think that things like this might someday lead to positive changes in both groups. There are certainly things that we in the Reformation Movement can lose sight of and need to embrace again and re-teach. There are things that the Restoration Movement needs to understand as well. I would like to think that dialogue could be helpful. I've read enough to know that a number of people would think that it could never be done. I'm not convinced. Perhaps I'm too stubborn. Perhaps with God all things are possible. Perhaps the truth is a mixture of both.
Dr. Stafford wanted us to hear them sing--and it was phenomenal singing. I've read--and one student has told me--that singing can be used as a method of mind control. I am having a bit of difficulty grasping the concept. How is this different from what we do when we plan a worship service? In my worship class, we talked about using music to usher people into the presence of God, create a mood of prayer, etc. So how is any of this different simply because it is about praising God for power over sin? I could see this if it is done over and over and over, and perhaps that is what the point is; but on the other hand, a good bit of the Christian life is about mindfulness of what Christ has done--about controlling our minds. "Be transformed by the renewing of your minds." Perhaps we don't like discipline or accountability very much. Perhaps the Restorationists and similar groups go a bit overboard on it. But I think that the real problem lies elsewhere, not with the use of music itself.
What I have taken away from the experience is the same thing I have taken away from some other experiences where the worship has been very free: Black churches, charismatic churches, Pentecostal churches, etc. We need to learn to be more "free" with our singing, to truly offer up our praise with our whole hearts. We hold back so much, waste so much energy on trying to be "appropriate!" Amy and I were talking about what defines the Holiness movement... We talked about this in Dr. Stafford's theology class a few weeks ago. Today we talk about the Anderson Church of God and the Methodist Church being part of it, and we say that holiness is a state of the heart. according to Aunt Judy, who recently turned 100 years old, holiness is a lifestyle: no playing cards, a particular style of dress, no dancing, courting rather than dating, etc. When I go to most of the Anderson Churches of God or to a Methodist church, the music is relatively straightforward. It has a particular style and doesn't deviate. When Aunt Judy plays--and when the Restorationists sing--they "let it rip." Everything they have goes into it, and whatever they feel like putting into the song goes in. They know how to make good music, and it praises! It isn't out of order or anything. They probably wouldn't do the same thing twice, but it wouldn't matter. Perfection isn't the point. Praise is.
I have quite a few quibbles with some general theological points that were made yesterday. I don't have time to go into great detail right now; and a part of me thinks it doesn't matter that much. In a way it does matter. I'm not sure how to reconcile this within myself. I need to try. I wish that I could do it today. I have a paper to work on and a chapter to read.