Maiden Lane Church of God, Part 2:

Controversies of My Teen Years (1972-1978)

Although I regularly attended church since I was a baby and have many memories from church from all my growing-up years, the clearest memories I have are from my teen years. And since the teen years are important formative years, these are important parts of my spiritual journey. In part 1, I gave background about Maiden Lane church, giving a brief history, describing what the church services were like, and a few distinctive teachings. My teen years are particularly memorable because of two things happening concurrently: the culture clash within the Church at large, and the changes happening in our own church.

Culture Clash: Music

Let me begin with the culture clash of the Church at large. Until the late 1960s, churches were pretty much stuck in tradition when it came to music and other expressions of worship. Hymns written in the 19th century dominated, with hymns from earlier centuries and the early 20th century taking up most of the rest of the musical expression. Evangelical churches also had some forms such as choruses, simple songs that were popular with youth and in Sunday night worship services, but in no way contemporary by late 1960s standards; also existing were what I call Gaither music; and Southern Gospel, particularly for male quartets.

In 1969, a rock musician named Larry Norman released an album of Christian songs put to rock music. This rocked the church, as it had been assumed up to this point that rock music was of the devil, so how could you put songs about the holy God to music that at best, is of the flesh, or at worst, of the devil? Coming from another direction was a man named Ralph Carmichael, whose music was tame in comparison to Larry Norman's, and not even exactly soft rock, yet it contained an element that bothered the church: syncopation. Syncopation was problematic to many people, because it provided too much beat or...syncopation, which gave it too much swing, or kept it from being completely straight and thus holy.

When this music, known at the time as simply "contemporary music," began to infiltrate churches, it was not received well. And I, as one who was crazy about music, and loved hard rock music from the very first time I heard it at eight years old, was right there in the midst of this transformation. This was the heart of most of my church battles during my teen years.

Some songs that were new at the time and were causing controversy were "They'll Know We Are Christians (By Our Love)," the Larry Norman songs "Sweet Song of Salvation" and "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" (the latter was especially problematic for our church because it had Rapture theology, so it was certainly never performed, although we as youth liked to sing it among ourselves), and a host of songs by Andrae Crouch--"My Tribute (To God Be The Glory)," "I'm Gonna Keep On Singin'," "Through It All,"...oh, I can't think of any more right now. The singing of these songs in church would make some people really angry, that we would let this unholy rock music come into the church.

Culture Clash: Values

In addition to the music controversy was the generation gap found throughout society on many issues. Most of these were rather minor because most of the issues fought for by the crowd that said "don't trust anyone over 30" were issues that were clearly out of the question for Christians--free sex, drug use, etc. However, there was that general feeling at the time that traditions that had no value should be destroyed, and there were a lot of traditions that we as youth felt had nothing to do with real Christianity, and we fought them. These were such issues as going to movies, playing cards, listening to [secular] rock music, boys having long hair, girls wearing pants, etc. (To put that last one in perspective: it wasn't until I was in the seventh grade, 1972, that girls were permitted to wear pants in school--I'm talking PUBLIC school here! So how much more this was an issue in a conservative church, with the Bible verse frequently being cited that women are not to dress like men.)

As I said above, free sex was certainly out of the question for Christians, but sex was also an issue at times. To the old guard in the church, it was not a topic to be talked about in detail, only in general terms. Once we had a guest speaker (pastor? evangelist?) come to preach, and he talked of sex in ways that offended some people (such as, "I'd be perfectly happy if I was having sex with my wife when Jesus returned"--too shocking for some). Sex education at my public school was really lame--nothing more than some gym teacher quite ignorant on the subject, teaching "health" class that included some basics on how the body changes in puberty, but that's about it. (How ignorant was he? He called pubic hair "public hair"!!) The real sex education happened at church, in youth meetings, where the discussions included things like kids asking how far can you go without sinning. But not only that; there were also details about male/female differences in sexual arousal and other informative stuff.  That these things were being covered in church was another part of this total culture controversy that was part of the generation gap mentality at the time in the total culture as well as our church.

Culture Clash:  Bible Translations

One other issue that was hot at the time related to church only as far as the topic, but the type of controversy was also reflective of the clash at the time between traditional and modern that was occurring throughout the culture. This was related to modern translations of the Bible. Until this period of time arrived, the King James Bible was the only Bible used and there was never any question about it; it was THE Bible. Well, along came some new versions of the Bible, and this didn't go over well with a lot of people. In 1966, the Good News Bible came out, also known as Today's English Version; this version translated the Bible into contemporary English and also included cool line drawing pictures. In the early 1970s, a paraphrased version of the Bible came out, called the Living Bible. What made this especially popular with youth was a youth edition called The Way, which featured before each book of the Bible a hip, relevant introduction to the book with stories and examples from the present day, as well as modern pictures. (Today, these pictures look very hippie style, so I call it my hippie Bible.) When someone would read from the Living Bible in church, it upset a lot of people because to them, it wasn't the real Bible; it was a corruption of the Bible parading as the real thing. Perhaps it just didn't sound right after hearing the same thing in King James for so many years. But they couldn't put forth too much of an argument on that basis (though I did often hear, "Modern translations are not as poetic as the King James version"), so they tried to make claims that the modern translations were not true to the original meaning, etc.

Sharpening Of The Mind

So, the bulk of my teen years at church were spent battling--battling people with old-fashioned values, people who confused tradition with Biblical truth. The good part of all this for me was that it sharpened my thinking. I constantly had to think of ways to refute claims that I knew immediately, viscerally, were lame, but I had to find logical ways to reveal the weaknesses of their arguments. This had to be done from a thoroughly Biblical standpoint, since both sides agreed that the Bible was the ultimate authority on all matters, and I also had to learn some church history to show similar controversies in the past. From the more open-minded older adults I also learned valuable history that helped my cause. Some of my favorites were things I learned about that had caused controversy in earlier days in the church--wearing neckties, wearing any kind of jewelry--even wedding bands were prohibited at one time, using an umbrella...and my favorite of all, when brassieres were first invented, the church was against them because they would accentuate women's breasts. And here I was in the height of the Burn Your Bra era, when now the church was saying it was immodest to go braless. All of these little tidbits I learned about the past helped me see more clearly the controversies of that present time: the church was once again going through modernization pain, trying to sort out what was truly immoral or indecent or offensive to God and what was merely part of tradition that really didn't matter one way or another. At times it was frustrating and even depressing to be in the midst of this, but at other times I was energized to fight for what I strongly believed to be true. It bothered me to see people mistake a mere tradition as commanded by the Bible; I saw that as not only inadequate understanding of the Bible, but also as a hindrance to communicating the Gospel.

Music Battles

It was in music where I felt these controversies the most, because I was very active in music. I started playing the cello when I was 10 (played until I was 17), and started playing the piano when I was 15. I participated in singing beginning in ninth grade. I was part of the church youth choir, and also sang in a nine-member ensemble called The Young Believers, as well as performing in one-time combinations of duets, trios, or quartets (usually assigned to us by the Music Committee). Most of the controversy revolved around The Young Believers and the youth choir. Our music was too contemporary for the taste of many, with too much syncopation, too much beat, and lyrics that were too modern. With these songs, sometimes we would subconsciously sway to the beat as we sang, but that in itself was controversial.

Drums were especially controversial. One time I decided to use drums with my cello solo. First the music minister came up and warned me to be very careful, lest I set back the progress we had made in getting the church to accept contemporary music. Next the pastor came up to me and also warned me, in such a way that I wondered if the music minister had felt I wasn't heeding his advice enough and needed a second warning. I was told that there were some people that would turn around and walk out of the church as soon as they saw the drums. (My feeling was, "Well, too bad, if that's how shallow their Christianity is, then they need to grow up" but I didn't say that.) He re-iterated that if I went too far, it would make acceptance take a step backward. By the time the drummer and I had heard from both of these pastors, we were rather nervous. I was particularly disturbed about this because the drummer was a new Christian, who was being poisoned with the attitude of these narrow-minded people before he had a chance to really get to know Christians well. Other things that upset people were snapping fingers to the beat and anything electric, such as guitar or bass (except organ, that was okay, of course).

What I got out of all this in my early teen years was that though music could be contemporary, it must never detract from the message in any way. So, for example, I could handle a heavy electric guitar being used in Christian music, but not a singer "getting into the music" (think super-soulful rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" for what I mean in that phrase), or any attention called to the matter of the music itself. I must have been fairly conservative lyrically in my early days too, for I remember talking to the youth choir director one time about my objections to the lyrics of a song we were doing. The lyrics were very "hip" for that era--"Right on with Jesus, with Jesus, he's #1!" I felt they were demeaning to the holiness of God. The soft-spoken choir director thought for a few moments, then said to me diplomatically, "Perhaps to someone else, though, this song has great meaning; perhaps these words express the way they feel inside better than any other words could, that there is no one who is above Jesus." The conversation wasn't this short, but it is this sentence that has stuck in my memory to this day. Although my opinion of the song didn't change immediately, I was at least able to sing it by the time we performed it without feeling like I was singing something demeaning to Jesus.

Another turning point in my spiritual-musical journey was my first purchase of a Larry Norman record. I had bought some Christian rock music before that--Ron Salsbury & The J.C. Power Outlet, Petra (yes, their first album that came out in 1974), and some contemporary pop stuff, but lyrically all of those were quite straightforward, actually conservative by today's Christian lyrics standards. I discovered Larry Norman through a Christian record club I belonged to at the time(Christian Music Warehouse from Allen Park, Michigan--anyone remember that club?), and the record review described his lyrics as controversial. Well, I love controversy, so I bought his double album entitled "Bootleg," which included his underground stuff from 1968-1972. (Unfortunately, I bought it on 8-track tape rather than record, and the 8-track tape has since unraveled!) Truly these were mind-expanding lyrics. They broadened my view of how one can express their faith, their feelings toward God, and the message of the Gospel. Later I got "Only Visiting This Planet," (fortunately, on LP!) and found more hard-hitting lyrics. These kind of lyrics even to this day you rarely see on Christian albums--political statements from a Christian viewpoint ("...and your money says 'In God We Trust,' but it's against the law to pray in schools; you say we beat the Russians to the moon, but I say you starved your children to do it; you say all men are equal, all men are brothers, then why are the rich more equal than others.").

The final thing to set my views on Christian music was an event that occurred at Maiden Lane church, although it was not a Maiden Lane church function. I think it was regional or state youth rally. At this event, a group named Found Free performed, my first time to see them. I was both shocked and angered. (HA! Now I know how those "old-fashioned" people felt about a lot of contemporary music!) It was church, mind you, and they were doing things like singing secular songs like "Be True To Your School" complete with props and crazy antics (they used cheerleading pompoms in the "...School" song). How can you do secular music in a church service? What does that have to do with the Gospel? And what of all those crazy antics when this is music to sing about God? Who ARE these guys anyway?

Yes, this was the final phase of the crow bar being used to open the door of my own mind in regards to Christian music. I began to see that I had been putting God in a box, and people's relationship to him in a box, saying that God can only accept certain types of expressions to Him, and that people could only use certain expressions in relating the Gospel. I began to see that God was a part of our total lives, and that we didn't have to seal off "secular" things in our life from "Christian" things, because they are both a part of our life and God is a part of our total life, not just the religious part. (Sorry, ACLU types, I cannot accept the notion that religion is a "personal, private" matter that must be separated from all other aspects of life!) If God is with us in all aspects of our life, then it is not inappropriate to sing about any of those matters to him or in the assembly of believers, when one of those topics fits in. I don't feel like I'm explaining this well, but suffice it to say, this mind-blowing concert blew the doors off in my partitioned brain and helped me to see a bigger God. It was something valuable to realize, something that has opened up a great appreciation for many expressions of faith and life in relation to God. It's why today I can worship Him through the club-dance music of Nitro Praise and appreciate lyrics from Sixpence None The Richer.

By the way, I became a big fan of Found Free and continued to attend their concerts; the last I remember attending was 1982. I think after that they changed their name to Bash'n'the Code, and I have the first two albums from that group.

Conclusion Of Part 2

Perhaps I've strayed a bit from talking about Maiden Lane, but not completely. All the controversies I experienced during my teen years at Maiden Lane--about music, appropriate ways to worship God and communicate the Gospel, Bible translations, and morality issues (i.e. dancing, playing cards, dress) did much to shape my current views about Christianity.

An interesting thing to note is that during my teen years at Maiden Lane, I felt like the liberal rebel, always fighting against old-fashioned ways. When I entered college, a Church of God college, thus the same denomination as my church, I suddenly found myself, while holding the same views, as being the conservative! My mind got stretched even more at college.

The next page will get back to more of the nature of church functions and specific experiences at the church during my teen years.


IMPORTANT NOTE: As with all churches in this section, please remember the following points:

1.All descriptions of the churches reflect my own observations and interpretations at the time I attended; these descriptions are not intended to be objective. The main purpose of these writings is to reflect on the effect churches had on my spiritual journey, thus the focus is my experiences at the churches and not an objective reporting of the churches themselves.

2.Keep in mind that churches, like any organizations, change over time. The descriptions I list describe the churches at the time I attended, but the church could have changed immensely since that time, for better or for worse. These writings are not for the purpose of helping one decide whether the church is one they should or should not choose; the church may be completely different by now.

3.Any criticisms put forth in any of my writings on the churches are not meant to be objective criticisms to be answered by the church, but rather, they are merely my opinions of the church at the time I attended there, and how those experiences and my opinions of them shaped my spiritual journey.

Churches I’ve Regularly Attended is a sub-website of J Lee Harshbarger’s personal website.  To visit other sub-websites, click the links below.

All about music!  My Annual Music Awards, my music Hall Of Fame, and other writings about music and musicians I like are found here.../Music_Central/Welcome.html
An index to my writings about movies, books, and the media in general, such as news coverage and media bias../J_Lee_The_Media_Critic/J_Lee_The_Media_Critic_Index.html

My political and religious beliefs, and my commentary
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Photo albums from some of my travels outside of Michigan.  Eventually I hope to include travelogues too.

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What does it mean to follow God?  What should the church be like?../Pondering_God_And_Church/Statement_Of_My_Religious_Beliefs.html

A list of all the churches I’ve attended, plus full stories about some of them. Churches,_Part_1.html


Stories about churches I’ve visited,_Part_2.html
The “Home” section: my front page, the descriptions for each of my sub-websites, and the descriptions of all the places where I hang out on the web.../Bananaleaf_Central/Front_Page.html