If you want to split an oldline Protestant church, you start a fight over sexuality. You can read that story in major newspapers year after year from coast to coast, world without end. Amen.
But, as the old saying goes, if you want to split an evangelical church all you really need to do is change the hymnal (or throw it out altogether, of course). That's when you jump into the arena that church-growth researchers call the "worship wars." This is where the "traditional church" (think 1950s) gives way to contemporary, seeker-friendly worship which is now giving way to post-contemporary-emerging-post-post-modern worship or words to that effect. I'm sure that I'm a week or two behind on that.
I've been writing about these issues for along time -- say from 1999 ("Buy incense now") to 2007 ("FM radio reality in church") and beyond -- and nothing draws more feedback from my readers than "worship wars" materials. Oh, and among Catholics? Remember the "Barney Blessing" video?
So I have been following the story down in Miami pretty closely, where loyalists of the old mainline style of the late D. James Kennedy have squared off with a young preacher whose name is linked to an even bigger star in the evangelical Milky Way. You can follow the action through Religion News Service or the local South Florida Sun-Sentinel. But the Associated Press is also doing a pretty good job.
Here's a report on the latest wrinkle in the plot:
MIAMI -- Hundreds of congregants have left a pioneering megachurch in Florida to form their own congregation because they were unhappy with leadership at the church that's seen as a bedrock of the religious right.
The action by the unhappy members at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church was the culmination of a feud between loyalists to an evangelical luminary, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, and his replacement as pastor, the Rev. Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham.
Now, reporters are assuming that there must be political content to this battle. Yes, there may in fact be some connection to the whole post-Religious Right style of younger evangelicals, as opposed to the in-your-face style of the old Coral Ridge. Then again, that may not be the main battle line in this sad war.
Read between the lines of the follow material in the AP story. Look for the fine details that lead me to ask: Is this really a "worship wars" story?
... (The) move is a dramatic split. Kennedy's daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, joined many longtime Coral Ridge members, including church elders, the organist, choir director and hundreds of choir members, in deserting the congregation they helped build. ...
Under the leadership of Kennedy, who died in 2007, the church was a forerunner to modern evangelical megachurches, a fiercely conservative voice on social issues including homosexuality and abortion, and a powerful political voice.
Tchividjian, 37, took over earlier this year. While he has shown no sign of theological differences with Kennedy, he has rejected politics as the most important force for change, and his sermons have not focused on divisive issues. Meantime, he cuts a far different image, forgoing the type of choir robe Kennedy wore during services, and sporting spiky hair, tan skin, and sometimes a scruffy beard.
Choir robe? Kennedy wore the formal, academic vestments favored by the mainline clergy elites of old, pulpit stars who wore their seminary doctorates, literally, on their shoulders.
That's part of the picture. But what do you think really offended the organist, choir director and the legions of older church members in that massive choir loft, the assembled masses that used to belt out those Easter cantatas? I wonder if the musical style of the church has changed. You think? That's a story worth exploring. Trust me.