Atheist choirmasters?

My fiancee recently asked me what I thought of something. She is musically gifted and is up on the whole "choir scene" at various churches in her area. One of the smaller United Methodist churches - that we'll call St. Joe's - has a young choir director with an excellent music education leading the choir. The quality of the musical elements of the worship services at St. Joe's have increased noticably since this young new director took the reigns.

While quite adept at picking hymns and choral arrangements that lift the hearts of worshipers, the new choir director is actually an atheist. As an atheist the choir director is, naturally, not a member of the congergation, but respectful of the beliefs of Christians, while not sharing them.

Now some would argue that it is inappropriate and compromises a church's integrity for an atheist to be the choir director since this is a position of visible leadership in the Christian community. Furthermore, if this person engages in non-Christian practices out in the community, it could be a stumbling block to members (or prospects) who don't know about the whole atheism thing (as many presumably do not). While all people - regardless of their beliefs - are welcome to participate in the life of the Church, only committed Christians should be given positions of leadership. These folk are primarily concerned with the principle of the matter, though there could be practical consequences.

Others would argue that at least this person is using natural gifts to help others encounter and worship God; and better in church than in bed on Sunday mornings anyways, right? Maybe the experience of hearing the Word and working with followers of Jesus will cause the choir director to re-think Christianity in general. Besides, in the UMC only clergy need submit to doctrinal examinations. These folks are looking more pragmatically at the situation.

I tend to be more a principles than a practicals person myself (i.e. I would not have hired this fellow to begin with). What do you think? What would you do if you were the pastor or DS and somebody brought this to your attention?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no way whatsoever, not even in my lowest moment, would I ever allow an athiest to lead the choir or congregation for that matter in worship to a God in which the leader does not believe.

Yet, I was reminded while reading this post that both John and Charles Wesley (from what I have been told -- I have not read this for myself) were not yet converted while they were training for ministry.

Nonehtheless, today we know better of such things, or at least we should, and I for one do not find it permissable for an unbeliever -- and especially a self-professed athiest -- to lead God's people in worship of Himself. May the Lord grant me mercy if I'm wrong.

4:08 PM, March 04, 2010  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Certainly both John and Charles had powerful "got it" moments when they made the emotional connection: Jesus was no longer simply "the savior of the world" but "my savior."

I think the tradition of describing this as Wesley's "conversion" may be a bit overstated - we might do better to take a page from the charismatics and call it his "baptism (or filling) with the Holy Spirit" for assurance and empowerment.

5:43 PM, March 04, 2010  
Anonymous Todd Stepp said...

Evangelical conversion is the term I have heard many relatively contemporary Wesleyan theologians use, and it is the term I buy into. I think it fits with far fewer problems than simply "conversion," and especially "baptism (of filling) with the Holy Spirit" in either Charismatic, Pentecostal, or Wesleyan-holiness usage (all of which have very particular baggage, none of which seem to fit Aldersgate). In fact, I'm not aware of any problem with the term "Evangelical Conversion" for Wesley's Aldersgate experience.

Also, William, I would suggest that there is a marked difference between one who has not yet been converted and one who is an avowed (or professed) atheist.

My two cents.


1:34 PM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

That's an interesting way to put it. What is the difference between conversion and evangelical conversion? I think "Spirit-filling" is more accurate for several reasons (though, I do agree that, as you pointed out, this phrase has acquired lots of baggage; though I think it can be reclaimed):

1) even before Aldersgate Wesley surely already believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, though he did not yet have his fuller understanding of Grace, and thus was "converted" to faith in Christ already

2) In the Bible filled (or 'baptized', the two are synonymous in Acts) with the Spirit leads to empowered witness (see Acts 1:8); and that is exactly what happened in Wesley's life - after Aldersgate, his ministry had a new power, energy, even fire

3) at the very least I think all would agree that what happened at Aldersgate was a new work or movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of a man who already believed in Christ in some sense and which empowered that man to new boldness in ministry; this looks suspiciously like what we see happen several times in the NT (as at the end of Acts 4)

I suppose the most debatable part of this argument is whether Wesley was already a believer in Christ. Faith is often defined a "a sure trust and confidence toward Christ." Is that a feeling? Or something more? The nature of faith is the crucial question, that I guess would be underneath this whole discussion.

2:32 PM, March 08, 2010  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Several ponderings:

1. Why would a true atheist (i.e. a disciple of Christopher Hitchens) take a job a church to begin with? Kinda seems pointless if you are an atheist. Leading worship of a God you don't believe in, why? Now agnostic would be a different animal.

2. If said individual is a what I term "cool atheist" or someone who says they are atheist because that is the "cool" thing to do. Makes you hip, with it, down, or whatever else is in style for the day. Then it makes more sense why he took the job (i.e. paycheck), but it makes less sense why he thinks leading choir for a church is a good thing.

Just seems strange...

10:16 AM, March 16, 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home