The Church and its Move to Secularism
LIBERTY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Historically the Church has purposefully pulled away from ideas and practices that seemed even remotely ungodly. Christians behaved themselves in such a manner is to easily differentiate between them and non-Christians. The Christian language was not replete with expletives neither were church services geared toward a specific group rather than wholesome worship of God. Even more, the manner of dress was evident in that both males and females dressed in modesty while biblical principles were taught in the homes and reinforced in the church.
Today it appears that the Church is moving from traditional Christianity to a selfish modernism. Sound biblical teaching has given way to feel good speak which serves only to create a double standard among the adherents of a Gospel which seems to be acceptable only to those growing up in pre-postmodern era in which sound doctrine was the norm rather than the alternative. It is for the reason that an examination of some church practices will be presented in this report. Research in the matter of church secularization shows the church at large pulling from traditional teaching and practices to a more liberal view and application of past traditions.
The fact that God has always required a high standard for His followers goes without dispute. Even before the time of Moses God required that His people worship Him and Him alone. Multiple scriptural references show that God’s people are to live in the world without being attached to the world system (Romans 12:2). This idea of not being attached to the world by conforming to its standards of living pulls in the idea of holiness. This separation is not new rather has been a struggle of the church from the time of its birth. The problems of a secular church was at least hinted on with the words “We see the church is yearly becoming more tolerant and more democratized” in the late nineteenth century. This observation suggests that the church has been becoming more secular with the passage of time to the extent that the Church of England noticed changes in its clergy.
The move of the Church to secularism was also well noted by Michal R. Weed in his article “The Secular Church” wherein he reaches back two centuries to show the steady move of secularism in the church both in Europe and the United States. Weed specifically notes that “In America, churches have survived, however, by adapting to secularization and by commending themselves in terms that are attractive to “secular man.” It would appear that the ‘secular man’ is more inclined to self-satisfaction rather than adherence to sound biblical teaching as has been the history of the Church.
Weed further notes that the secular church is more like a “Christ Club” wherein members are not gathered to worship God rather the practice of the secular church is to become more entertaining with hosts of social activities and various forms of recreation that have little to do with spiritual growth and biblical learning. The suggestion is that spiritual growth and the adherence to biblical principles has become less than paramount as appeasement to self-centeredness and perhaps hedonism have taken stage in the secular church.
There are divergent views on the secularized church. For instance, traditional churches relied on classic hymns or traditional Gospel music as forms of worship. This style of worship has been replaced by Hip Hop and is not necessarily seen as appeasing the secular man. Instead, it has been propped as speaking for “the marginalized, the poor, and the downtrodden … and sought to increase social consciousness along with racial and ethnic pride.” It is further argued by Daniel Hodge, author of “No Church in the Wild: Hip Hop Theology and Mission” that Hip Hop “Engages profound religious themes and has a capacity to provide meaning and hope to people … ignored by many Christian churches.” This begins the argument that deindustrialization was the impetus for Blacks becoming disenfranchised thereby causing a shift in cultural expressions giving rise to Hip Hop. Hodge predicates his view of Blacks making themselves relevant with the use of Hip Hop and other forms of secular music in the church by stating that “It emerged as a source of alternative identity formation and social status for young people within the theological vacuum of the ‘hood are within a system that had abandoned them.”
Hodges view presupposes at least to issues. The first is that the changing economic condition of the United States primarily negatively impacted Blacks. It also supposes that the church at large had no use for the young people. While there may be some truth to Hodges view, Alan Ehrenhalt argues that demographic changes in inner cities have not nor are currently in place solely because of racial issues. He argues that “Race is not always the critical issue, or even especially relevant in this demographic shift.” Ehrenhalt further argues that “… the deindustrialization of the central city, for all tragic human dislocations it caused, has eliminated many of the things that made affluent people want to move away from it.”
Ehrenhalt shows that the impact of deindustrialization impacted humans no matter their cultural heritage. The affluent were also gravely disadvantaged yet Ehrenhalt makes no specific effort to show whether the affluent were of any particular people group. Instead a larger picture is painted of different groups moving either in the city or into suburbia because of their financial ability to live in either location. Ehrenhalt also makes clear that starkly different from the 1970s “… middle-class people of all colors began to feel safe on the streets of urban America in the 1990s…” One might be hard pressed to say that Blacks alone were negatively impacted by deindustrialization rather it might be suggested that the plight of Blacks was highlighted more than that of their White counterparts.
Arguably, the same is true of music. While Hip Hop and Rap are presented as a means “to overcome despair with hope” the musical genre might be more aligned with social rebellion. This is also true with other forms of music introduced to the secular church such as Rock. While Rock is not provided the cover of racism or any other racial impetus with Hip Hop rather, Rock is seen more as a form of popular music “used to express religious, social and political messages.” This distinction between the two genres of music is significant because they are contemporaries in popular culture. It is also shown that “The sociology of music is more about society than about music. It is based on the assumption that social reality is embodied in an individual’s activities…” This is why the introduction of secular music such as Rock and Hip Hop is troubling. Neither form of music is expressly used to worship God. Instead of worshiping God, the music is used to set forth agendas that may have nothing to do with godliness. Hip Hop, for instance, in part sets forth a racial divide in that Hodge presents the idea that “Hip Hop contextualizes a Jesus to whom urban youth can relate – not a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, White embodiment of perfection… The problem of Hip Hop in the church goes further than diabolical racial divides it also promotes erotica in ways such as was never intended to be in the Christian Church. Michael Ralph notes:
Hip-hop’s most promising intervention grows from its preoccupation with desire and fantasy. This tends to be a chauvinistic male fantasy, but hip-hop actually narrates a range of social practices. Some rappers develop coded queer personas, even if they refuse to identify that way. And rap music that reveals an abiding interest in erotic power remains indebted to feminism while, ironically, expressing callous disregard for the female, queer, nonconforming populations offended by its licentious messages.
The introduction of secular music provides considerable insight into why and how local church bodies became secularized. This is exceptionally true when music with sexual overtones are presented as a way to reach people have become preeminent rather than using music to worship God. A greater problem is that the male rappers are often considered to be exploitive of women yet women have also chosen first hand in the world of Hip-Hop. Women have not only voluntarily engaged in Hip-Hop but also freely subscribe to the idea of “praise dancing” in many local assemblies.
In 2004, there was at least one discussion surrounding the idea of programmed dancing and its place in the church. While the trend has taken on considerable influence there are some that liken the introduction of secular dancing in the church to the introduction of Hip-Hop and Rock into the church. Among those who bemoan praise dancing is Rev. Ron Brown of the First Missionary Baptist Church who declares that “When you put women in leotards in the church, it’s going to open the doors to problems because it attracts unbelievers in a fast and powerful way – and worldly women who want to show off their bodies.”
Despite the different dance styles involved in praise dancing such as hip hop and ballet, there are dissenters to Rev. Brown’s point of view. Among those is Pamela Rutherford who believes “Church leaders should accept that reaching modern churchgoers requires modern techniques.” The idea of reaching modern churchgoers might be considered code for reaching the youth as much of the secular church seeks to reach the youth by integrating secular ideas in the church. This is the case with Hip-Hop. It is seen as less than “a utopian ‘evangelizing tool,’ it can help youth to find God on their own terms without the religious mantras present.” Perhaps this is the reason Rev. Brown sarcastically retorts during a discussion, “If I had three or four good-looking women with great bodies, I’d be guaranteed an audience.” It seems evident that Rev. Brown has not only recognized the secularization but also the sexualizing of the church as it has welcomed practices which go against the norm of the traditional Church.
The introduction of secular practices is not seen as inappropriate by some clergy members but also some in academia. For instance, Professor of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark suggests that her peers “stop studying hip-hop through the lens of Christianity, and view rappers more as products of their own environment.”  This idea seems to go in line with the thought that “The so-called transcendence of the secular church is a false transcendence which merely uses the Creator in a thinly veiled adoration and infatuation with the creature.” 
Music, however, is not the only issue in the Church that pulls toward secularism. A rising practice is the teaching of a prosperity Gospel. This form of teaching presents the idea that “health, wealth and material success as the essential promises of the Christian faith. It would appear that the major difference in prosperity teaching and secular music in the church is that the former may be designed to reach the older members of local bodies while evidence shows that the latter is specifically geared to younger generations. Even so, prosperity teaching seems to demean the poor as it seeks to “exalt success as to pour scorn on the poor and stubborn infidels who have evidently refused to seek God’s aid.”
The general idea of prosperity is certainly a principle which is found in Scripture however, that prosperity may not be as presented by the teachings of pastors such as T.D. Jakes. In fact the converse may be true in that it has been said that prosperity teachers such as Jakes tend to “flaunt tremendous wealth before their congregants as validation of their faith.” By extension, those who have not enjoyed wealth such as Jakes lack faith and perhaps will never enjoy the wealth enjoyed by Jakes and those like him. With that it can be said that prosperity teaching, as it relates to church secularism, seeks to appease God through tithing rather than the Christian living a lifestyle of holiness.
No matter one’s personal view of church secularization, it is inarguable that music plays a significant role in the church as teachings of prosperity have become a form of religion on its own. It becomes more evident that as music has changed, so have larger attitudes in the church at large. For instance, Hip-Hop although it started in the 70s was not intended as a form of music giving worship to God. Instead, this style of music was used to give voice to a group that perceived itself as having no voice. Its uses of vulgarity and sexuality serve only to show lack of regard for biblical standards. Despite this some local bodies continue, to embrace alternative styles of music as a method to reach the youth.
God’s call for holiness is embedded in the idea of the Church. The Church, while in the world, is not an entity of the world. This is why pure worship of God is paramount and should not be “quasi-entertaining” rather; it should be a practice of solemnity in the presence of God. Additionally, while Christians do well to prosper, perhaps a renewed look at prosperity might be beneficial. It is for this reason Weed argues, that repentance “will be a necessary part of recovering our way. We will confess that we have put ourselves in the place of God.” Hence by putting ourselves in the place of God we have created a secularized Church.
 “The Church and the World”, The Speaker: The Liberal Review (Oct. 13, 1894)
 Michael Weed, “The Secular Church: American Church Adapts to Self-Centered Culture,” The Examiner volume 1 (November 1986): accessed March 2, 2015
 Daniel Hodge, “No Church in the Wild: Hip Hop Theology and Mission,” Missiology: An International Review (2013)
 Hodge. 99
 Alan Ehrenhalt, “Trading Places,” New Republic 239 (2008): 18-22
 (Ehrenhalt, 18)
 (Hodge, 100)
 Jay R. Howard, “Contemporary Christian Music: Where Rock Meets Religion.” Journal of Popular Culture (1992)
 (Howard, 124)
 (Hodge, 101)
 Michael Ralph, “Hip-Hop,” Social Text (2009)
 Kortney Stringer, “Spirited Debate: Dancing in Church Splits Congregation; Black Protestants Question Whether a Crowd Pleaser Serves Religious Purpose,” Wall Street Journal (October 14, 2004)
 (Hodge, 103)
 Vincent Funaro, “Religion in Hip-Hop: Reconciling Rap and Religion,” The Christian Post (October 26, 2012)
 Philip Jenkins, “Notes from the Global Church: The Case for Prosperity,” The Christian Century (November 30,2010)
 Shayne Lee, “Prosperity Theology: T.D. Jakes and the Gospel of the Almighty Dollar,” Cross Currents (2007)
Ehrenhalt, Alan. “Trading Places.” New Republic 239 (2008): 18-22.
Funaro, Vincent. “Religion in Hip-Hop: Reconciling Rap and Religion.” The Christian Post, October 26, 2012.
Hodge, Daniel White. “No Church in the Wild: Hip Hop Theology and Mission.” Missiology: An International Review, 2013: 97-109.
Howard, R. “Contemporary Christian Music: Where Rock Meets Religion.” Journal of Popular Culture 26, no. 1 (1992): 123-130.
Jenkins, Philip. “Notes from the Global Church: The Case for Prosperity.” Christian Century, November 30, 2010: 45.
Lee, Shayne. “Prosperity Theology: T.D. Jakes and the Gospel of the Almighty Dollar.” Cross Currents, 2007: 227-236.
Ralph, Michael. “Hip-Hop.” Social Text (Duke University Press) 27, no. 3 (2009): 141-146.
Stringer, Kortney. “Spirited Debate: Dancing in Church Splits Congregation; Black Protestants Question Whether a Crowd Pleaser Serves Religious Purpose.” Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2004: A1.
The Speaker: The Liberal Review. “The Church and the World.” October 13, 1894: 399-400.
Weed, Michael R. “The Secular Church: American Church Adapts to Self-Centered Culture.” The Examiner 1, no. 6 (1986).