A Deeper Debate over Drums in Church

Native Christians still wrestle with how their culture fits into their churches.

More than 20 years ago, Mohawk musician Jonathan Maracle says, God told him to use his drum—an instrument used in traditional religious ceremonies—while playing at a conference for First Nation Christians.

The ensuing performance spawned his music ministry, Broken Walls. And it also sparked a controversy.

The next week, when he brought out the drum to play for another community of Native Christians, he was asked to leave the village.

“Religion had come in and taught my people that the drum was evil,” Maracle said. “I had no idea how difficult of a task I had been handed. Nobody was using the drum to worship Jesus at this time in 1995.”

When white missionaries first spread the gospel to indigenous tribes, they often did so in ways that undermined tribal language and culture. Almost all Native Christian leaders agree on that.

But leaders remain divided over what contextualizing their faith should look like—and what role sacred objects, like drums, have in Christian worship.

“There were lots of mistakes that happened historically in Native mission work. But you don’t solve one problem by creating another one,” said Craig Smith, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and president of Tribal Rescue Ministries. “That is what the movement is doing.” He organized a statement for the Christian and Missionary Alliance to warn his fellow Native Christians about “false teaching,” specifically around traditional sacred objects used in a Christian context.

Maracle’s drum playing began during a period when Native American communities were reexamining their own cultural practices—a soul-searching catalyzed by the New Age community’s interest …

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Cover Story: Facing Our Legacy of Lynching

How a memorial could help lead America—and Christians—to repentance from a dark history.

In 1902 a black man named Alonzo Tucker was lynched from a bridge in the coastal town of Coos Bay, Oregon, a few hours south of my home. It is the only lynching on record in the state, and the limited known details were enough to catch my throat. Tucker had been accused of assaulting a white woman, and an angry mob had formed to take his life in the streets. He was jailed, partly to protect him from the crowds. But at some point, he panicked and somehow escaped, hiding for a night beneath some docks.

In the morning, a band of men found Tucker and shot him as he tried to run away. Tucker may have died from his wounds—no one knows for certain—but to make sure he was dead and to make a spectacle of the event, the crowd hung Tucker from the Fourth Street Bridge, right in the heart of that small Oregon coal-mining town.

I stumbled upon Tucker’s story while researching racial injustice in Oregon and couldn’t get it out of my mind. We had a family beach trip coming up, and I told my husband we needed to detour through Coos Bay to visit the site where Tucker died. He drove to the hardware store, bought some lumber, and made a large white cross to bring with us.

Once in town, I couldn’t find the Fourth Street Bridge. My husband dropped me at the local history museum and took our kids to play in a park. I awkwardly brought up the lynching with the man at the museum, who knew exactly what I was referring to. He gave me as much information as he had, making copies from local history books. I asked him if the museum would ever consider making an exhibit about Tucker, but the man shook his head sadly. “We just don’t have enough information” he said. “There isn’t even a single photo …

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I’m a Rare Breed: An Elite Chess Player Who’s Open About His Faith

Why I follow Jesus publicly, even when people warn that my career will suffer.

On the small planet where elite chess players dwell, very few people worship Jesus Christ. If anyone discovers that you’re one of those “superstitious,” “narrow-minded idiots,” you’re likely to see nasty comments accumulate on your Facebook fan page. On a regular basis, I receive emails from strangers lecturing me about the dangers of following Jesus. Out of pity or disgust, they wonder how I, the world’s second-ranked chess player, can be so “weak-minded.”

I have been assured that identifying openly as a Christian will interfere with sponsorship, support, and invitations to events. I have been told that spending time reading my Bible, praying, and going to church will inevitably weaken my performance. People plead with me to at least keep quiet. They say thanking God publicly makes me look ridiculous.

So why did I make such a risky move?

Playing it Safe

The Philippines, where I grew up, is a country of God-seekers. People mention God all the time, in just about every context. Everyone believes he exists, even if they’re unwilling to claim much more than that.

As a child, I was informed that you needed to be a good person so that God would give you certain blessings, like food and jobs—which are very important in such a poor country. But this confused me, because it seemed like the bad people received more than the good people. I knew of many famous crooks who went to church, wore religious symbols, and got tattoos of Jesus or a crucifix—and they were pretty rich.

Clearly, many popular beliefs and practices were less a matter of worshiping God than of appeasing the god of luck. One legend had it that if you rubbed a particular part of a particular statue, …

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Commentary: It’s Not Only Bullies Who Boast

We’re too quick to ignore one of Paul’s most persistent warnings.

This is a good year to think about boasting. That’s true for at least three reasons. Trivially, because American public discourse involves an unusual amount of boasting. (We’ll fix health care for good, or crush ISIS, or “make America great again.”) Historically, because this is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which Martin Luther (among others) saw as a call for the church to boast not in works, but solely in the Cross of Christ. Theologically, because the contemporary church hardly ever mentions the concept—even though the apostle Paul mentioned it dozens of times in just a few short letters.

The problem could be our fairly childish perspective on what counts as “boasting.” To modern ears, it sounds like a six-year-old saying, “My dad is bigger than your dad,” or a professional wrestler’s trash-talk, or perhaps a presidential Twitter feed. So when we hear Paul railing against boasting in anything other than Christ crucified, we might assume it doesn’t apply to us. Boasting? I haven’t done that since “I’m the king of the castle.”

In the ancient world, however, boasting was not just child’s play; it was deadly serious. You would boast as you went into battle, reassuring yourself that victory was certain. Goliath did it to David: “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field” (1 Sam. 17:44, ESV throughout). Messengers from enemy nations did it to Jerusalem: One warning mocked “the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (Isa. 36:12). This sort of boasting has provided iconic moments in the history …

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Are We Missing the Point of Spiritual Disciplines?

The goal isn’t merely getting closer to God, but making a difference in everyday life.

One crisp fall morning, I watched my son’s first-grade soccer team attempt to play soccer. Many of his teammates had not played the game before that season. Even a few weeks in, the young athletes were struggling.

While watching, I thought back to their practice earlier in the week and found myself intrigued. During practice, they had executed drills without any problems. They had dribbled, taken shots, and even passed the ball to one another. They looked like they could play soccer—but their practice did not translate into the ability to play a real, live game.

I began to wonder: Why was there such a disconnect between the practice and the game? Were their practices really preparing them to play the game of soccer?

Then I began to think of our churches and ask similar questions. Like my son’s soccer team, don’t we sometimes experience a disconnect between real life and what we “practice” at church? Are Sunday school classes, small groups, and spiritual disciplines the equivalent of ineffectual soccer drills? Perhaps, even when Sunday school classes are full, small groups well attended, and spiritual disciplines regularly practiced, these practices are not helping us know how to love God and our neighbors in the nitty-gritty of real life.

Vertical and Horizontal

These are the kinds of questions Kyle David Bennett asks in Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World. Bennett, a professor of philosophy and director of The Spirituality and Leadership Institute for Young Leaders at Caldwell University, is eager to show believers what it looks like to follow Jesus on the ground. Bennett believes that spiritual disciplines are supposed to help us as we seek to follow Jesus, …

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The Beginning of Dementia Isn’t the End of Grace

How the church can come to the aid of sufferers and their loved ones.

In the era of modern medicine, a great many human afflictions can be treated, if not cured outright. Medicines easily defeat diseases that once would have killed us, while prosthetics and pain-relief drugs help us adapt to disabling symptoms and incurable illnesses. Dementia, unfortunately, remains neither curable nor especially treatable—and it is only getting more common as our population ages.

Dementia is especially fearsome in a culture like ours, one that treats autonomy as essential to human flourishing. Losing the ability to think and make rational decisions is always a profound loss, but it is especially terrifying for people who value independence so highly. Thankfully, Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by physician John Dunlop is an excellent companion in thinking through the questions that dementia raises.

The first half of the book covers some basic theological precepts about sin, illness, and the body, as well as medical and scientific details about dementia. Dunlop then describes the daily experience of those who suffer from dementia and the people who care for them. Plenty of books and resources contain this sort of information, but this book remains immensely useful for anyone—pastors, family members, or even people in the early stages of dementia themselves—seeking basic facts about the disease and subjects like in-home care or nursing homes. Having spent many years caring for demented people at every possible stage, Dunlop helps readers step into the non-slip socks of a person with dementia and understand his or her frustrations and sorrows.

For the rest of the book, Dunlop asks whether we can find any grace in dementia. To do this, he first confronts the assumption that makes people …

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Interview: Keith and Kristyn Getty: Singing Isn’t Just for Sunday

Why congregational worship is a feast we prepare all week long.

The Christian musical landscape includes dozens of widely known worship leaders and recording artists but comparatively few hymn writers. Of these, Keith and Kristyn Getty are preeminent. Their songs are enormously popular (over 40 million people sing “In Christ Alone” in church services each year, according to their website). And in June, Keith—who is from Northern Ireland—became the first contemporary Christian musician to be honored as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, an award given by Queen Elizabeth II. Over the last decade, the Gettys have been leading seminars around the United States for pastors and ministers of music. This teaching work forms the foundation of their book Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church. Steve Guthrie, associate professor of theology at Belmont University (and head of the school’s Religion and the Arts program), spoke with Keith about reinvigorating the Christian practice of singing, in congregations and families alike.

With so many difficult issues facing the church today, why give special attention to congregational singing?

As evangelicals, we take the Bible as our authority. And when we look at the Bible, we find that, actually, the second most common command is to sing. It wouldn’t come up that often if it weren’t extremely important to God. Yet when Kristyn and I started studying this, we realized we couldn’t find good books on singing for ordinary people.

In 2013, we did a series of leadership lunches where we would ask the participants: “What’s the first question you ask about music in church?” And we got a whole range of answers, from production to musical style to personality to presentation. …

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Parents of Prodigals: Let God Work on Your Anger and Fears

An excerpt from ‘Hope for the Prodigal.’

Having a prodigal in our lives can expose us—in a good way—although the exposure doesn’t always feel beneficial at the start. We might not be prodigal ourselves, but ultimately, the crisis shows where we may have gone off the rails or developed false beliefs. God may allow or ordain circumstances that expose our attitudes and beliefs, revealing our deep need for God’s ongoing help.

When my son Christian was still in high school and going through his rebellious season, I (Jim) was senior pastor of Real Life Ministries, as I am now. Our town, Post Falls, Idaho, has a population of about 35,000, and our church has about 6,000 people, so we have a fairly large presence in town. Christian was known in high school, in the community, by the police, and by the church. Christian embarrassed himself and my wife and me publicly on many occasions. It was painful. His DUI and arrests for that and other things put us all in a poor light.

When a prodigal leaves home (or church), chaos and tension can enter a family. It’s much like a hurricane sweeping through. The prodigal leaves and others are left to clean up the mess. Some people try to ignore the problem; some become angry and blame others. Some give in to depression, and in grief over the broken relationships, they withdraw and isolate themselves. Some people live in regret—they dwell on what they wish they’d done or hadn’t done. For me, though I had been sober for many years, the temptation to retreat into alcohol was the strongest it had ever been.

When Christian was going through his difficult season, Lori and I disagreed on how to parent him and sometimes argued about it. The crisis exposed weaknesses in our marriage and in us as individuals. …

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Germans Are Welcoming Refugees as a Way to Honor Luther’s Legacy

Asylum seekers and immigrants are big part of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary in Germany.

As a young man, Martin Luther had a persistent, obsessive fear that he was cast out from God’s grace and that it was his own fault. He saw himself as a figurative refugee from the love of God. “My sin lay heavy night and day,” he wrote.

Later, he would lament, “To be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.”

Then, after nailing his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, Luther became an actual refugee from his homeland. Roman Catholic leaders were seeking his life, and he was forced to flee and hide.

Five hundred years later, the Reformer and German icon is strikingly relevant for the issues facing Germany today. Millions of Germans feel attached to Luther and, to many of them, his example urges their country to welcome refugees.

“Luther was so human,” said Markus Ziener, a veteran journalist with the influential German newspaper Handelsblatt who now teaches at a university in Berlin. “Because he struggled, the rest of us who struggle can identify with him and find him very approachable,” Ziener said.

Luther’s quest for the grace of God led him to study theology, the Bible, and the writings of Augustine, and he met a merciful Christ he couldn’t wait to tell others about.

So when Luther wrote his 95 Theses, he was driven by a few simple, democratic ideas—for example, that the grace of God is available to every believer and that everyone is equally free to access that grace through faith. Because they were already assured of God’s love through his unmerited grace, Christians were then to help others in need. According to Luther, “God does …

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Gleanings: September 2017

Important developments in the church and the world (as they appeared in our September issue).

Christian hospitals spared financial crisis

Religious health care groups faced a crushing debt of billions of dollars’ worth of pension payments in the wake of three recent appeals court decisions. But this summer, the US Supreme Court overturned the decisions, ruling that religiously affiliated organizations such as hospitals, schools, and daycares are exempt from the US Employee Retirement Income Security Act like other “church plans.” “Churches—not government bureaucrats, and certainly not ambulance chasers—should decide whether hospitals are part of the church,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket, a religious liberty nonprofit that filed an amicus brief on behalf of the hospitals. Nearly 100 lawsuits have been filed against religious hospitals for opting out of for-profit pension plans in the past four years.

Hobby Lobby returns smuggled Iraqi artifacts

Hobby Lobby, whose president Steve Green is an avid Bible collector and chairman of the forthcoming Museum of the Bible, was forced to surrender thousands of relics and pay a $3 million fine after a federal investigation determined that the artifacts had been illegally plundered from Iraq. Officials said Hobby Lobby mislabeled the shipments and did not check the origin of the items, which included cuneiform tablets from ancient Sumeria. Hobby Lobby acknowledged making “regrettable mistakes” due to being new to the field and stated it has since improved its procedures.

US threatens to deport persecuted Christians

The Trump administration detained hundreds of persecuted Christians from Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq and Indonesia, for potential deportation under a new immigration policy. In a …

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