Broadcaster and publisher Chris Cole suggests that it's servanthood not humanism where we'll find satisfaction.
When Bill Clinton took office as President of the United States earlier this year, an inaugural celebration was performed in Washington DC. This showpiece of American culture was inspiring, if you were an American patriot, but very flawed if you value truth. Trotting out some of the greatest names in the entertainment world from Aretha Franklin to Michael Jackson and Jack Nicholson to Bob Dylan, the celebration was sentimental splendour aimed at communicating 'America was built on human rights, civil liberties and a passion for the individual's right for freedom, liberty and the American way'.
Two great American figures were constantly referred to and quoted. They were Abraham Lincoln and Dr Martin Luther King Jr. The inspired rhetoric, achievements and similarities of these two great American figures were sung about and proclaimed from the podium. Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr were indeed great men.
Without a doubt, the values which both shared helped create the thread which makes up the fabric of America's passion for human rights. But what was flawed in the whole celebration of these heroes was the fact that during the event not one mention was made of the power which inspired and motivated both these great men. That power was Jesus Christ himself.
History tells us that both Abraham Lincoln and Dr Martin Luther King Jr were committed Christians whose lives were driven by their passionate relationship with God and commitment to truth and justice.
I got a real sense, as I watched the inaugural celebration, that the truth was being at best ignored. This determined manipulation of unpalatable history happens continually within the Western world, including our nation. Europe's greatest institutions, legal systems and social values were historically built on the teachings of Jesus Christ. You won't find that in today's school books.
The dangerous subtlety which I see within our culture, as the truth gets buried, is a celebration of humanity and a denial of the Creator. This is the heart of secular humanism, an ideology which declares to its followers that our future and security as the human race lies in humanity controlling its own destiny. This is the ideology reflected in the inaugural celebration for Bill Clinton's presidency of the USA.
This ideology, however widespread it may be in today's society (and it is widespread), was never at the heart of Abraham Lincoln or Dr Martin Luther King's philosophy and actions. To hold up these two men as examples of America's undoubted contribution to democracy, without giving glory or even credit to the God who inspired and sustained them in the face of tremendous hardship, not only denies historic reality, but also the only true basis for successful human life, i.e. the character that will sacrificially fight injustice and passionately work to enhance other's lives not merely our own. As Christians of course we know that such character only comes from one source, a living faith in the Living God. For that character is the character of Jesus, actualised into our lives through the Holy Spirit so that we enjoy intimate relationship with our Father in Heaven.
In our society and tragically in our churches we see little of this character. Perhaps we Christians should begin to ask the question what is the 'Good News' of the Christian faith which will influence our society? If we are all as honest as we should be, at times the question in our own hearts is more like "Is there any 'Good News' concerning the Christian faith?!" Christians suffer illness; experience emotional pain; have their houses repossessed; struggle with the insecurity of the recession. We're encouraged, in the book of James, to treat the trials and tribulations of this life as friends in order to develop patience, perseverance and character. Character, being the operative word. In my experience THERE IS 'Good News', but it doesn't come easily or cheaply, or through easy believism.
Salvation is free through God's grace. Ongoing salvation, our being made more holy, more whole, more like the Jesus who saved us, costs. The cost we agreed to at our initial repentance needs to be paid in order that we may 'buy from God the gold refined in the fire', the character we must have to carry the love of Jesus into a desperate world. Call it a 'commercial' metaphor if you like, but we dare not throw out the Truth to appease our desire to have eternal life on the same easy terms as everything else in our instant, consumerist society. Whichever way up we hold the Bible, Old Testament or New, Jesus or Paul or Abraham or James, the message is the same: The pearl of great price, the oil in our lamps, the gold, silver and precious gems of our faith, need to be BOUGHT, and the cost is everything we hold on to as our security before God the Father. It's an attitude of heart for sure, but the development and proof of that Christlike heart is always in the real blood and guts and dirt of everyday life, just where we see Jesus outworking his relationship with his Father in Scripture. This relationship cost Abraham Lincoln and Dr Martin Luther King Jr their very lives. So if the Good News isn't 'Jesus gives us all we need to make us happy in a nice secure set of circumstances, so we can all just get on together and have no hassle' then what is it?
I think it's found in a band like Rez. At the same time that the multi-million dollar, self-congratulatory media circus that was the new US President's inaugural celebration was being beamed to TV millions, a soup kitchen in the violent back streets of Chicago was offering food and hope to hundreds of urban street people. The Rez band's brand of faith is Christianity that costs something. While most of Cross Rhythms readers will know Rez for their pioneering heavy rock music, how many would be prepared to live on the cutting edge like Rez? Glenn, Wendy and the rest of Rez will be coming to Britain in October to play one concert and to minister at the Meltdown weekend. I'm looking forward to meeting up with the band again since I visited them in Chicago in 1989. In the meantime, I would suggest that we reflect for a moment on the lifestyle of Rez as well as their music. It should be an inspiration to all Cross Rhythms readers. But as I write this I can almost hear some readers say, "No man, I just want to hear Rez rock".
In my ten years actively involved in Christian media in Britain I have gradually come to glimpse certain things. Music is a uniquely powerful tool of communication. Precisely what is being communicated is of course the all-important thing. The exact nature of what happens within the human spirit when it responds favourably to music is a mystery way beyond me, and I suspect all finite human beings. Suffice it to observe that when Christians are enjoying and entering into music they are more open to the invisible realm of the spirit than when they're engaging in many other human activities.
Contemporary Christian music is concerned with conveying through lyrics, and more complexly, through "prophetic" instrumental music, a body of truth for which we have a convenient catch-all "The Gospel". Certainly at any observable level even shallow, 'smile God loves you' music is preferable to the lust, witchcraft and humanism which permeate our Western culture. But as more and more Christian musicians are beginning to discern, we have to go beyond music that treats God like a dispenser of happy pills.
It is our constant prayer at Cross Rhythms that now our work in developing Christian music will not be an end in itself but will change people as they listen to it. Then, maybe, in time some of Britain's CCM listeners and Cross Rhythms readers will resist the cloying insularity that pervades much of our church life and begin to manifest that society-changing faith like that of Dr King, Abraham Lincoln... and those unlikely metal missionaries Rez.
Music performed by Christians has fuelled a number of debates within the Church. The recognition that the Bible teaches us that there is no such thing as a secular/sacred divide is one of the most crucial needs in the Church today. Holiness is an attitude of heart, not a question of outward appearance or activity unless, of course, that activity is morally contrary to God's teaching. Being in the world, but not of it, raises tremendous dilemmas for the serious disciple of Jesus Christ. To look at the world through the true eyes of Christ, one has to become, through real obedience and faith, as secure with the Father as Jesus was. This security enables the believer to 'discern' the world out of a powerful, supernatural, unconditional love and not a 'judgmental', insecure Christian religion. The difference between these two attitudes is of vital importance.
At the heart of Cross Rhythms' vision is a theology which desires to create what some call 'Lifestyle Evangelism'. Rez are a great example of Lifestyle Evangelism. They are one of the greatest heavy rock bands gigging today and their lyrics and witness to the media give testimony to Jesus. But witnessing goes way beyond words as Rez demonstrate. They are part of a community of believers, Jesus People USA, who not only feed 300 people a day, but also run projects and businesses which encourage young people to integrate into a family of believers, find their gift and calling and acquire their God given self worth in Christ. There are no 'stars', no hierarchy. Be it playing a guitar or painting a house all gifts and all the people who've received them are valued equally. Jesus People USA thrives not through some controlled, heavy shepherding structure, but in a structure built out of relationship, humility, consideration, liberating discipline and commitment - all fruits of relationship with Jesus. Rez are a heavy rock band who can back up every statement they make from a stage with a lifestyle which totally radiates the love of Jesus in action. They teach the balance of the character building process of God's Word in Scripture with the supernatural power of God's liberation from sin through his Holy Spirit. Balance being the all-important word.
The Cross Rhythms team is of the opinion that the Rez are a prophetic demonstration to the Christian music industry, Christian music consumers and Christians everywhere on how art and prayer, social action and holy power can all find their right balance in believers literally manifesting Christ's character. The integrity and transparency of Rez has long inspired me (and anyone who's heard Wendy Kaiser's stunning testimony on 'Rez Live' will know that such openness costs). Cross Rhythms, in its own Devonshire part of the vineyard, is trying, by the grace of God, to develop - in magazines and road shows, radio programmes and festivals, leaflet distributors and journalists, secretaries and broadcasters something with the same savour of Jesus about it. We've a long way to go. Sometimes we miss the mark completely - not every record review or broadcast manifests the character of our Lord as we'd wish.
But we're trying to show the integrity, vulnerability, transparency, reality, truth and supernatural power aren't charismatic buzzwords left empty of meaning by their shallow usage. They can convey something deep. Cross Rhythms is involved in media and we're struggling daily to communicate our faith in a way which makes sense culturally - heavy rock not Rock Of Ages, rave music not grave music - but in this age where every wind of doctrine blows it's vital we don't compromise spiritually. Cross Rhythms is endeavouring to encourage the embryonic CCM industry in the UK by establishing an infrastructure through which the CCM industry can communicate, both to the Church and then out to the world.
There is no money in CCM in England because most believers, let alone non-believers, still don't know of the musical revolution that Cross Rhythms is attempting to document, broadcast and give a live concert platform to. The music is still rarely heard on radio and therefore gradually but tangibly things are getting a little easier. Our second Cross Rhythms radio programme is now being broadcast on Severn Sound in Gloucester and we are on the point of finalising a sponsorship agreement with a third ILR station. A Charitable Trust is being established which will enable us to syndicate a Cross Rhythms radio programme sponsored by Cross Rhythms magazine on to at least ten Independent Local Radio stations around the country in the near future. This Trust will also give us the right counsel, prayer and accountability to ensure the Cross Rhythms team stay on track. Because finally, nothing of any eternal value will occur if CCM enters a boom time in Britain. Cross Rhythms is sold by the bushel in every W H Smith in the land but in the process we become shallow sloganeerers rather than men and women relying on God's holy power to change us. Then we will be prepared to work in soup kitchens as well as crank it up at a heavy rock concert.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
Chris and Kerry speak at a number of national conferences on Christian lifestyle, marriage and culture.
View all articles by Chris Cole FRSA