Today, Monday, January 14, 2008, I finally agreed with those who have long asserted that Loma Linda University should no longer require chapel attendance. I held out for thirty-three years and four months as a professor in the School of Religion, but no longer. At long last I have conceded that it should be strictly voluntary.
I say this because I believe that our chapel services no longer consistently represent the cultural heritage of Christianity in general and the Seventh-day Adventist Church in particular. Perhaps they never did this and I was too blinded by my hopes to face reality. In any case, I am now convinced that this is not happening and that it probably never will.
John Brunt, Senior Pastor of the Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grand Terrace, just a few miles from Loma Linda, preached a memorable sermon this morning that blessed us all. Titled “Matchless Charms or Temper Tantrum?” his exposition of Scripture focused on the New Testament story of Jesus driving away from the temple all those who were exploiting others. “It is written,” Jesus proclaimed, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Brunt’s sermon would have been spiritually refreshing in the best of circumstances. But things were much more difficult for him than that. Dwight Nelson, Senior Pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church at Andrews University, who had been scheduled to speak, was unable to make it and at the last moment Brunt agreed to fill the slot. He had very little time to prepare, but he overcame this challenge
Brunt overcame another challenge as well. This was the frank commercialization of the “The Week of Devotion” of which today’s chapel service was a part. Some of its promotional materials state that the “series is made possible through the generosity of the following sponsors.” They then list fifteen financial supporters. In addition to various LLU entities, these include Charity Productions, Clark’s Natural Foods Markets, McKee Foods Corporation, South Coast Medical Center and Vibrant Life Products. No placards promoting these businesses lined the walls, however.
The worship service also included a commercial by the LLU School of Dentistry. Randy Roberts, Senior Pastor of the LLU Church, introduced it after welcoming the congregation. He informed us that it would immediately precede Brunt’s sermon and it did.
The moments immediately before a sermon are decisive in preparing the congregation for the exposition of Scripture. This is why they usually consist of quiet music, readings from the Old and New Testaments or prayer. But today we had a commercial and then we had a sermon. Thankfully, John Brunt rose to the occasion.
Brunt also overcame the vulgarization of Christian music that preceded the commercial that preceded his sermon. According to my dictionary, “vulgar” means (1) characterized by ignorance of or lack of good breeding or taste; (2) crude, coarse, unrefined and (3) current, popular, common. This is what I have in mind. The word also means indecent, obscene and lewd. This is not what I mean.
Even those who disagree with the previous paragraph will concede that this morning’s music was very loud. All will also concede that the beat was hard and heavy. And all will admit that this music was not representative of the kind of music that Christianity and Adventism have created over many generations. It was “innovative.”
I did not learn the name of the group or the type of music it played. It struck me as a synthesis of Lawrence Welk and the Rolling Stones, even though I’m certain that in popular culture today it must have a specific label. The musicians, all young men, I think, began in a “v” formation from which they strutted and skipped across the stage, sometimes intentionally running into each other backward and twirling parts of their instruments like the slingshot David used to slay Goliath.
A huge set of drums was in the middle from which a young man kept everything moving. Several fellows with saxophones, several with trombones and perhaps some others made up one arm of the “v.” Several other young men with trumpets with wireless microphones attached to their flared bells were on the other arm and there may have been other musicians there too. Front and center, in the widest portion of the “v” a young fellow sang. But even though he stomped his feet, yelled, hollered and implored us all to clap our hands over our heads, I rarely could hear his voice over the music from my place on the second row.
All the musicians were clean-cut and they all did what they did very well. Despite their youthfulness, they weren’t amateurs. They were professionals and I appreciate this very much. I salute all those who take their vocations seriously and these young musicians certainly qualify. But I think that their kind of music is inappropriate in worship services on Christian college and university campuses. It may have a place elsewhere, but not here.
I know that many disagree with me. I respect them and their views. But we do disagree and this is why Loma Linda University should no longer require chapel attendance.
Those who are blessed by the kind of music we heard in chapel today should be free to keep on attending and, if those who plan our worship services are correct, most students will. But those who prefer music that makes it easier for them to discern the still, small voice of God should not be forced to attend. This may include the many students on our campus who are accomplished classical musicians.
I’m not asking that everyone agree with me about the kind of music that is appropriate in college and university worship services. I am only requesting that we make it possible for all of us to worship on a voluntary basis where we are most likely to be blessed.