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Cancel Culture in the Church

We have all heard the phrase “cancel culture” on the news. It is a relatively new phrase to most of us. What does it mean? The “Pop Culture Dictionary” defines it thusly: “Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.”

Another definition with example is: “A culture, as that of many young people of the 1960s and 1970s, manifested by a lifestyle that is opposed to the prevailing culture” such as the hippies.

The counterculture of the ’60s and ’70s changed the musical scene and thus contributed greatly to the change of our culture. Radio was the social media that promoted the change of music. Sinatra was out and KISS was in.

In the church, music went from Isaac Watts to John W. Peterson, to Bill Gaither, to anyone who had a guitar and wrote their songs under the guise of “God gave me this song.” Too many times God got blamed for lousy music and horrible lyrics. But the beat was there. And it was the beat that got people to stand up and according to them really “feel the Spirit.” The music was the “Camel’s nose” that got under the edge of the tent.

Church music has changed over the years many times and constantly but as one person said it was preachers and theologians who usually wrote the music. Today it is that guy with the guitar that is writing, and it is pretty much “touchy-feely” stuff with little theology or Christian thought.

Years ago at a church camp, modern “Christian music” was being blasted all over the campgrounds by a youth minister. A discussion ensued about the type of music being played. The senior minister who objected took a non-Christian boy camper to the youth minister and casually asked the boy, “How do you like the Christian music that is being played around the camp?” His answer was classic, “Is that Christian music? It’s like what I listen to all the time. I didn’t recognize it as Christian.”

Several years ago, a professor of youth ministry, wrote a column in which he decried what was happening in many churches. His explanation was that many well-meaning young men enter youth ministry with the goal of reaching and changing young people for Christ. Along the way they unknowingly begin competing with other youth ministers mostly in the “reaching” of youth. (“Largest youth group wins!”) What “reaches” them in the easiest way? Often using fun and games, but mostly music. As the “youth ministers” age, they want to stay in “church work” but not youth ministry so they move to pulpits. However, they do not know what to do. Their schooling and experience have all been in youth ministry. 15 years experience as a youth minister is not the same as 15 years-experience behind the pulpit. (Which may be why they do away with the pulpits and use a table or better yet, “A music stand!”

I attended a “Jesus People” meeting in the late ’60s in California. This is when the pictures were appearing in the popular press of thousands being baptized in the Ocean. I wanted to know what was going on. For over an hour the young people sat cross-legged (I had grabbed one of the few chairs in the room) listening and singing music that pretty much all had the same beat and repetitious lyrics. Then a long speaker. The techniques were pretty much classic brainwashing techniques. (Google an article: Top 10 Brainwashing Techniques, by George Edwards).

The “Jesus People” crowds were attractive to the youth ministers of that time. They too, wanted crowds so they started imitating the JP sometimes even swallowing their Pentecostal/charismatic doctrines.

What was happening in the churches where these youth ministers suddenly controlled the pulpit and set the pattern for the rest of the church? These newly crowned pulpiteers simply carried on with their youth ministry. Change the music and change the culture. The music changed, often 180 degrees. No compromise. No holding on to the good. No explanation for change. “Change and if some people don’t like it who cares! We are the new illuminati (plural of Latin illuminatus, ‘enlightened’).”

But there were more changes in culture than just music. Churches used to have a mid-week service often called a prayer meeting or Bible study. Something like that takes study by the leader and who wants to do that? Ditch the mid-week meeting.

Sunday also had an evening service where there was again preaching. Two different sermons on Sunday also takes work, and that is hard, so “poof”, gone is the evening service.

By the way, ministers did not used to have offices. The sign on the door said, “Study.” Change the vocabulary and change the culture.

Bible School was also big at one time. In fact, the way to grow a church was through growing the Bible School. Believe it or not, often the largest Bible School class was the Men’s class. Long Beach First Christian Church once had over 25,000 men on one Sunday while in a contest with First Christian Church, Canton, OH. The Baptists grew their many large churches through the Bible School. They even had a book that told how that could be accomplished and it was only sold in official Baptist bookstores and behind the counter. One had to ask for the book by name.

But letting someone else share Sunday morning time with the “Senior Pastor” was rough on his ego so Bible School was minimized. All of one’s spiritual food must come only through the “official” feeder. The culture again changed.

You see, “cancel culture” has been happening in churches for many years. Are we better off? Are more men going into ministry? Are more people going full-time to the mission fields? Are our Bible colleges growing and sending forth preachers and missionaries? Are we starting more Bible colleges? Are more church camps being started? Are more mission fields being opened?

Let us rewrite the first paragraph where we had the description of “cancel culture” and make it apropos to the church. “Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies (the church) after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” The church has always been “cancel culture” wherever it has been. The church was brought into existence to “cancel culture” of the pagan world. Today the movement is away from what the church was to remake it to fit with everyday popular culture.

Paul said in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV)

Peter said in 1 Peter 1:14-16, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (ESV)

We are called to cancel the culture of this world and replace it with a culture of Christ. Oh, that is what would be happening!

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5 replies on “Cancel Culture in the Church”

This is a very enlightening article for me. I knew about some of the facts you’ve addressed about church “evolution” (for lack of a better word). I spent a few years in a Pentecostal congregation (dangerously close to following the NARS movement) until my mind and heart was opened to the truth of the gospel again. I pray for all of our churches to continue to grow in spirit and in truth (Jesus’ truth not some fad preacher’s truth).

great issues altogether, you simply gained a new reader. What could you recommend in regards to your put up that you made a few days in the past? Any certain? Joey Miltie O’Dell

Remember the old “Twilight Zone” episode in which the guy who read old books was found to be “obsolete!” That portrayed “cancel culture” in its most extreme form. I have experienced a church which suddenly wanted, from the “top down,” that new sound. At least, it was new in the 1990s. And if you objected (I did) you were declared “obsolete.”

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