Mr. Rogers Worship

When my kids were small I didn’t forbid them from watching Mr. Rogers but I ridiculed the man, and I say so now unapologetically not wishing to speak ill of the dead but truthfully of the one-time living.

He was effeminate.  He taught morality apart from Christian spirituality and that is moralizing.  And he thought neighborliness solved everything.  It doesn’t, but it’s appealing.  In the 90s the church came up with “Friendship Sunday.”  Yes, I tried it, and felt like Mr. Rogers doing so.

This must have been the mind set of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, Winchester, Texas when they did “Polka-Style Worship Service at the Park” on January 12, 2014. It’s all there.  “Come Now and Worship” is set to the “Beer Barrel Polka.” “High Above the Mountain Tops” is set to “Erica Waltz.”  “O Bless the Lord” is set to “Liechtensteiner Polka.” The Gospel Acclamation seems to have been left inviolate, but “Oh, That the Lord Would Guide My Ways” is set to “Happy Wanderer.” (Now that’s almost funny rather than ridiculous.) The Benediction is set to “Edelweiss.” I don’t know if the closing hymn, called “Sending Hymn” is Polka or not.  It’s “Adio, The Service is Ended,” and I would say mercifully so.

Having been at the 2013 ACELC conference and hearing one of our speakers say that you could rap the Nicene Creed, I shouldn’t be shocked.  You really may in Christian freedom and can with some knowledge of the genera do it.  But should you? Is this a case of Dr. David Scaer’s dictum: if all they can sing is “Dropkick be Jesus through the Goalposts of Life,” then do it?

I can’t speak for the pastor of St. Michael’s but when I have gone out on a limb in the name of neighborliness or friendship it wasn’t about either. It was about what I thought was the best chance to spread the gospel for growing the church.  That’s why the remarks of John W. Robbins in the foreword to a 1990 Gordon Clark book stopped me in my tracks.  He says, “One of the sins for which Christ condemned the scribes and Pharisees – the religious leaders of his day – was their dynamic evangelistic program. ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves’ …..Growth, as a goal, is the ideology of the cancer cell. True evangelism has a different goal: the propagation of God’s truth” (Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine, v, vi).

Can God’s truth be propagated by rap and Polka? Is John 3:16 just as true whether it is beat-boxed to or accompanied by Oompah-Pah? Yes. But do these “art” forms befit the truth expressed?  You could sculpt the Venus de Milo out of horse manure and it would still be her but would it be fitting?  Actually I don’t think it would be even friendly or neighborly to do so.

Mr. Roger’s theme song “Won’t You be my Neighbor?” was written by the host and was used for 34 years till the show went off the air.  Do you think the people to whom the show is beloved would tolerate, accept, let alone applaud it being rapped or Oompah-Pah-ed in the name of making the reruns more popular?  No, they would be insulted.  What about the person who had never heard the original?  He may indeed be drawn to Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, but it would be one with rap or Polka music.

Notice how I have referred to rap and Polka music with no need to define them? Why does everyone recognize the legitimacy of categories of music called jazz, soul, rock, punk, grunge, heavy metal, country, rap, and Polka, but some refuse to recognize that there is a category called sacred music? Who thinks it fitting to hear punk in a jazz club or rap at a honkytonk ? The same people who think it fitting to hear Polka in church.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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