Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Message and Messenger

What is the connection between the message and the messenger? This question invariably arises in the context of music and worship styles. It came up yesterday in my Christian Worship class. Specifically, the discussion centered on types of music appropriate in worship. It was not the usual traditional vs. contemporary argument, rather it concerned types of contemporary music appropriate in church services. On the one hand, the argument was that the message is the primary issue. Music is neutral and is only a carrier for the message. On the other hand, the argument was that music is not always neutral and the wrong message could be conveyed, even if the theology of the song was solid. Therefore, care must be given to the medium as well as to the message. Now if I had the answer that would satisfy both sides of the issue, I would offer you autographed copies of my book at an outrageous price.

This discussion stimulated our thinking about the connection between the message and the messenger, or the container or carrier of the message. My conclusion was profound and one of the students suggested I post in on my blog for both of my readers to see. Indeed, the response was so profound that I forgot what I said. But I think it was something like this: the medium (the carrier or container) of the message must be appropriate to the message. It should not be more than the message so that the medium is the main thing. I’m sure I said it better yesterday.

I wish I could give chapter and verse for my stated opinion, but all I can provide are insinuations. For example, the book of Jonah could have ended at chapter 3, but it continued another chapter showing the Lord working with His messenger who was out of sync with God’s plans. In Acts 16:17-18, Paul rebuked a demon-possessed girl who was actually speaking the truth. Apparently, it mattered who spoke the truth. Twice in the New Testament, Paul told two different audiences to “Take heed to yourself” (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:16).

I think we would all agree that the messenger does matter, although perhaps not to the same degree. Some detract from the message because of their manner of life. One needs only to think of recent and not-so-recent scandals involving prominent media ministries to see how one’s life reflects upon the message.

Spurgeon spoke to this issue quite forcefully: “Whatever ‘call’ a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he certainly has not been called to ministry” (Lectures to My Students, p.9). And concerning those who are ministers of the gospel, he cautioned them to be careful to guard their hearts and to be diligent in personal soul care. To them he wrote: “Having to carry the living water to others, we must go oftener to the well, and we must go with more capacious vessels than the general run of Christians” (An All-Round Ministry, p.75).

It is true that God uses flawed instruments. Were that not the case, I know of no one who would be in ministry. Yet, we must strive to be the best tool, the sharpest knife, the cleanest instrument, the most useful messenger that we can be. The medium reflects upon the message. In both, may God be glorified.

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