Peter Gabriel, Coffee, Bagels and Worship?

Peter Gabriel - Pop/Rock 'icon'

Just imagine. The band is playing Peter Gabriel. A woman leads worship with stories of real life, social challenges and human frailty. The lights dim and a video spoof of “Cops” fills the 16 foot screen. After that we watch a skit that is more like Saturday Night Live than the typical church drama. Adults are sipping coffee and children are eating bagels right in their seats. And then a man dressed in jeans and a sweater starts to speak. His timing and inflection sound more like Dennis Miller than Billy Graham, but nevertheless – we are in church.

…………………………………..The Warwick, New York Advertiser

‘…in church…”  Really?

So when does the desire to be ‘relevant‘, become so consuming, so enthralling and so blinding, that the Church, in trying to be relevant actually becomes ‘irrelevant’?  When does the church in its quest to be like culture, become like the very culture that it is trying to ‘save’ and redeem? The above quote was taken directly from a church website in New York state, and although this was a review in a local paper, and basically represents the goal of most evangelical churches today, the pastor had this article pasted  proudly as a ‘red badge of courage’ on the front page of their website: in essence saying, “Look how relevant, cool and hip we are!  We are just like you!  Come and you won’t be offended!  Come and everything goes,  and nothing will be asked of you!  Come and we’ll water down the Gospel  til nothing’s left!”  Come – and let us ‘relevantize‘ you…

 Has American Christianity digressed so far that we willingly trade the songs of angels, saints,  martyrs and the heavenly host for Peter Gabriel?  Have we become so entertainment obsessed that we need movie spoofs like “Cops” projected on a 16 foot screen to draw us and keep us?  Since when did the Eucharist, the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, become excess baggage in favor of a ‘Saturday Night LIVE’ skit?  And instead of partaking of the Divine Holy Mystery of the Incarnation in the sacrament, adults find more pleasure in ‘sipping Starbucks coffee’ while the ‘kids munch on bagels’ in their seats?  And finally, instead of the Son of Man, Christ Jesus, who comes to us in the Gospel proclaimed by His priest who wears the garments of service, vestments of historical and liturgical significance, since when do we prefer ‘ a man dressed in jeans and a sweater starts to speak…with his timing and inflection sounding more like Dennis Miller than Billy Graham, but nevertheless – we are in church.”

But are we? 

Would Luther recognize this as ‘in church’?  Calvin, Knox, Wesley, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom?  Or better yet how many today even know who these guys are or even care?

Are we in Church, or in a performance, in a show, in an event, in a relevancy love-fest that has nothing to do with the Church founded by Christ, His apostles and the long line of countless Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and laity whose crimson blood has paved the way of worship in spirit and truth that honors God, instead of ourselves, worship that changes us, instead of us always changing it.   i.e  Jazz worship, Country worship, Acoustic worship, Clown worship, Blended worship, Contemporary worship, Traditional worship…  Somehow the one holy apostolic church resembles more of Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors, where you pick your favorite, instead of the Blood Stained Bride of Christ?

The historic way of worship in the Church is Liturgical, a prayer and practice that is unchanged since the earliest days, a worship that is full, rich, deep, substantive, beautiful, meaningful and satisfying.  It is transcendent as it does not follow the whims and trivial frivolities of culture, it is imminent as it brings us into the very presence of saints, angels, martyrs and Christ Himself who worship with us, heaven and earth as one.  It is not about me, or us…  the liturgy is not mine, it is not ours.  It belongs to the Church, the Body of Christ, an unbroken line of faith that stretches back two millenia, it is an unbroken prayer and song that remains, and will remain.  It is the worship that continues ceaselessly even now in the courts of paradise.

In modern Christianity’s mad, and blind dash to be ‘hip’ have we become heretical?  In their desire to be ‘like culture’, culture simply ignores them as mimics, ‘wanna be’s’ and  ‘me-too’ impersonators.  What people long for, truly desire and need, is something bigger than them, more important than them, an experience that demands from us submission, yieldedness and obedience. 

Recently I was asked by a good and faithful pastor to share what I  thought would be some helpful insights for a “Reformation” sermon based on Colossians 2:18f, he asked:

…so how do we proclaim a pre-denominational Christ in a post-modern/church/refomational world…?”

 I thought about this for awhile.  What does the church want today?  Better yet, what does the world need today?  More Peter Gabriel songs?  More Saturday Night Live skits in the sanctuary?  More Dennis Miller and less Billy Graham?  Do we need popularity or holiness?  More relevance or more sacredness?  More feel good worship, or personal repentance?

Here’s how I responded:

Well that is a loaded question!  I guess there are  three things… (Very Trinitarian… very Orthodox!)   and very short.

 At first I would simply say  “…stop reforming,… and start returning…!”  There’s very little need for a “reformational” ‘post’ anything emphasis today versus a serious return to the apostolic church, to the teaching and practice of the undivided church which is not only pre-denominational but also very pre-reformational.  


1. Proclaim the Cross, Christ and Easter: death our greatest enemy and problem has been destroyed:  Theosis is our path.   Becoming like Christ in His image and likeness in everything.    2 Peter “…become partakers of the Divine nature…”  a lifelong, and eternal, journey to divinization…

“O Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs He is bestowing life.” 

 2.  Worship as Christ taught in Spirit and Truthreturn to substance and our inheritance: a liturgical, apostolic, sacramental, Eucharistic  worship, receiving weekly the Mysteries i.e. the sacraments of the church … a heavenly (Isaiah 6/Revelation) worship that Changes us… instead of us changing it… thus deal a death-blow to consumer driven Christianity… embrace transcendence, imminence, holiness, other worldliness, these are the things people long for, things the world cannot provide,  but the Church can, and does.

Finally listen to two thousand years of wisdom… and speak what has been spoken…

 3.  Listen to the Church.  What has she taught on Colossians 2 over the centuries?   What have the Church Fathers spoken?  Then go and do likewise.   From the Church we learn what to speak to every age, and every culture.  This is the fullness, the substance, the catholicity of the Church.   We proclaim that which has been proclaimed “everywhere, always and by all…’  St. Vincent of Lerins

In a world that is constantly changing.  A world obsessed with entertainment and infantile reality shows that have nothing to do with either reality or entertainment, in a culture that removes the sacred and holy out of everything… we need something that doesn’t change, something ageless and timeless to hold on to.  Truth that cannot be changed or altered by human whims.

There is the Church, which does not changeThe Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated each Sunday in an Orthodox Church just as it has been for over 1,500 years.  Our prayers, our song, the Nicene creed, our Eucharist is one… One with our ancestors who have gone before us, and our voices join theirs, and they sing in paradise with us the song of the unending marriage supper of the Lamb – which will have no end.  And our children, and their children will sing and pray the same unbroken and unchanged song – this is the fullness of the faith.

Frankly, I don’t know about you, but  I don’t want a man with an untucked shirt, and blue jeans with holes acting like Dennis Miller to lead anything other than a pep rally.  Imagine if the cardiologist doing your open heart surgery came into the surgery room – late – with flip-flops, a muscle shirt, baggy shorts hanging off his backside, and  said, “Wuz up yo, yo!”  Tell me that you would say, “Go for it Doc, fix me up!”

What we see in churches today is not worship.  At  least it’s not what the church has known as worship for the past two thousand years.

At best it seems as if it is pandering to the ‘crowds’ by offering a hip, cool, relevant milk toast kind of ‘faith’, and at its worst, it seems a blind dash for  relevancy that is only supplanted by something greater: its sheer irrelevancy  – to the very people it’s  intended to impress. 

Certainly a conundrum and paradox of epic proportions.





4 thoughts on “Peter Gabriel, Coffee, Bagels and Worship?

  1. I want to send your article to someone minus the last two paragraph. I agree with the last two paragraphs, but the recipient I have in mind might find them unnecessarily inflammatory. Is that something I can have emailed at your leisure?



    p.s. good stuff, well written, catchy title. although I must admit I have been out of the Protestant loop for a decade or more. So, I don’t know who Peter Gabriel is.

    • Dear Laurie,

      Sure I can email it to you. As for being inflammatory, I will seek to correct that. My purpose is obviously not to be inflammatory or derogatory… just honest, and truthful… based on what is seen and what is known. However, I understand the point you are making, and thank you for making it. As a convert to Orthodoxy, i need to remember where I was on the journey only a few short years ago, and to try to ‘soften’ things a bit. Generally that works. But some would say that desperate times, require strong medicine…? But in the end, we all are unworthy, and in need of grace and mercy… especially me.


  2. AMEN! You are right on the mark with your assessment of the sickness of modern Western, primarily evangelical worship, which tries to be all things to all people. As a convert to Orthodoxy with close ties to evangelicals, I continually struggle with this and the blindness of those who fail to see the damage they are doing to the church. Yes, the solution is not to reform but to go back and discover our rich heritage prior to the Reformation. Thanks for your words!

  3. I believe what you said was very logical.
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    video or a picture or two to grab readers interested about everything’ve written. Just my opinion, it would make your blog a little bit more interesting.

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