Movies and the World Changed
- So Did the Church
by Phil Boatwright

I’m of an age when I remember people dressed up to go to a movie, or to take a plane trip, and especially to go to church. And during that age, congregations sang from hymnals rather than giant monitors. I miss those days, not because I fear change, but because these changes, and others in the Sunday worship service, seem to reflect a secular influence. A new movie spotlights this change.

Riot Studios presents Believe Me (opening 9/26/14), a faith-based drama about four tuition-strapped college seniors who start a fake charity in order to embezzle money from the Christian community. Disturbing, eye-opening, and necessary, Believe Me may be the most important film about church you’ll see, for along with its warning about the wolves among us, it also shines a light on the way we prepare for the sermon and the Holy Spirit.

Not unlike today’s church services themselves, Believe Me is not your father’s church movie. The leads are seen drinking and heard swearing, and for the first 51 minutes, they flimflam godly folks with all the nefarious skill of the Ocean’s 11 protagonists. It would appear that the goal of the filmmaker is not to proselytize so much as to reveal the soft underbelly of Christian ministries. But the film goes further.

A significant moment concerning this age of incessant change occurs via the shot of a coliseum-sized church gathering, during which the lyrics of a song are shown overhead on giant screens, the name of its composer taking focal point:


Jesus, Jesus
Jesus, Jesus

© Gabriel

That sequence pretty well parodies the showbiz aspect of today’s Sunday morning congregational sing-a-long, with the main musical number repeated over and over as if the praise team were attempting to put pew-sitters into a devotional trance.

While the filmmaker’s intent is more about taking a jab at “flashy church services” and self-important people who control those services, still, that praise/worship sequence deserves analysis.

This style of music, labeled “contemporary” Christian music back in the 1970s, was designed to appeal to those who had come to reject their parents’ traditions and any kind of formality in religious gatherings. That’s right, our praise worship music was born out of defiance. Jeans-wearing troubadours such as Barry McGuire ruled. Rebellion was thriving in our society and the dawning of the Age of Aquarius even invaded the sanctuary.

Along with abandoning a dress code, those who embraced this new musical fashion made it a declaration, and now this format is an accepted ritual sanctioned by most denominations. Soon, there were two worship services each Sunday morning, with one congregation divided into two. The first and more traditional was given to the “older” members who could still wear their coats and ties and sing hymns, if they didn’t mind attending at 8:00am; while the 11am gathering was given over to a younger generation, that presumably needed more sleep.

As to this new style of music; notes and words in hymnals once aided worshippers in harmoniously following the tune.  Many feel this new style of music, on the other hand, often consists of shallow lyrics and typically lacks memorable melodies.

This update in the church songfest is somewhat understandable, as each generation wants their own sound, even when worshipping our Savior. But this praise/worship-lite construct has become the antithesis of that which once galvanized Sunday morning attendees. Evidently, ministers thought this appeasement would woo back a discontented generation. How’s that working out for you, pastors?

Certainly, there are worship leaders with contrite hearts; I have one in my own church. There are nonpaid musicians who use their talents on Sundays in order to thank their Creator for their gifts. I will even go so far as to admit that there are some songs written today that uplift the soul, though I defy you to be able to hum any of them on the way home. But what is the reason for this musical evolution? Could it be that many in this transitional age are not satisfied with change over substance within the worlds of politics, media and electronics, but also demand change in our chapels, as well?

Music and attire will be modified by each new generation and no one over a certain age will be comfortable with those modifications, I understand. My concern, however, is that these changes aren’t really constructive, and that they only reflect what’s in store for followers of the faith – more change! Already there are Bible publishers more concerned with being PC than being biblically and historically correct. So, who’s really behind all this change?

Maybe what’s more important than showing the world how alike we are to them is to show them what makes us different.

“Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 - NIV).

As to the film, I appreciated the filmmaker’s determination to expose those who would make a buck off Jesus. But I found the production company’s touting tactics somewhat ironic. On the official website, there was a promotional that read: “Get Paid to Promote the Film.” Further down that page, we discovered that T-shirts just like those worn in the film could be purchased. I’m not sure the film company got the filmmaker’s message.