Atlanta Church Opens Worship Service with Prince's 'Purple Rain'
With the understanding that it may be a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” type of thing, I’m less concerned about our culture’s slide into moral relativism than I am about the slide of many mainline evangelical churches into the sacrilegious. Every Sunday this slide seems to become steeper and faster as a variety of churches attempt to reinvent the definition of “Church.” Repackaging the gospel in ways that they believe will be more palatable for unbelievers, many congregations have traded their birthright as joint heirs with Christ for a pot of pop porridge.
This past Sunday, for example, and sadly, Buckhead Church in Atlanta opened their worship service with the praise band performing a rendition of “Purple Rain.”
[Editor's Note: Video of the performance was removed due to a change in the privacy settings.]
The intentional ambiguity of Prince’s sexuality was complemented perfectly by his intricate, steamy, and gyrating music. Like its genius creator, the song “Purple Rain” is drenched in its own ambiguousness but without undermining any overt odes to the god called sex. To use a song that NME once referred to as “an unholy triptych” in the worship service on the Lord’s Day is beyond the pale, no matter how much that church desires to be a relevant place where people who don’t go to church feel comfortable. That marketing-driven desire being allowed to reshape ecclesiology is the real sickness; the use of an inappropriate song is the symptom.
That symptom, however, shouldn’t be ignored. On its Facebook page, Buckhead Church defended the inclusion of “Purple Rain” in the worship service with the statement, “From time to time, we open with a secular song as folks are coming into service just for fun and to be a bridge for our unchurched friends who are giving church a try for the very first time.” In a phone conversation with a Buckhead Church staff member who didn’t want to speak on the record, I was assured that secular music is generally only used as an introduction, and that worship songs and the preaching of the gospel are always present in the services at Buckhead Church.
Except there is no such thing as nothing; everything communicates something. The sultry “Purple Rain” as the introduction to the worship service is not a neutral statement. Using a profane song as a bridge for the unchurched ignores the reality that, as God told us, the message of the cross is considered foolish by the unchurched. The gospel isn’t a bitter medicine that can be swallowed easier if enough pop culture sugar is sprinkled on top. Telling people that they are sinners before God who need to repent of their sins and bow their knees in faith before the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not going to be well-received by anyone apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Employing a cover band to play sexually charged pop songs isn’t going to appeal to anyone except those who are looking for self-affirming, squishy religiosity. Appealing to the lukewarm unveils the actual sickness.