There’s no better way to start off the new year than with a controversial post, so here goes:
In July of 2007, just a couple of months after I had accepted the position as full time Worship Director at Christ Community Church, I attended the first annual National Worship Leader Conference in Austin, Texas. A number of big name Christian musicians led worship that week, but there were also a few young, mostly unknown songwriters and worship leaders who taught various workshops and seminars.
One of these was a guy named Matt Maher. I had never heard of Maher before, but at the conference I found out he was the person who wrote the song, “Your Grace is Enough” which Chris Tomlin had recorded the previous year (yes many worship leaders record songs written by other people). Maher intrigued me and I was anxious to hear more from him with the release of his new album the following year. Needless to say I was not disappointed, and over the next few years (and albums) Maher quickly became one of my favorite worship songwriters.
Then I would stumble upon the Youtube video that would rock my worship world:
I don’t entirely remember how I found it, but I stumbled upon a video of Matt Maher with two puppets named Drag and Gary. It is absolutely hilarious (especially if you grew up in the 90s and know what a TrapperKeeper is).
When I went to find more information about these crazy puppets and how they knew Mr. Maher, I discovered that they were a part of a Catholic Youth Ministry website. My interest was peaked, and after doing some more research I discovered my suspicions were correct:
Matt Maher is Catholic!
And not just in name only, but a faithful, devout, practicing Roman Catholic who doesn’t shy away from talking about his faith. I, like many other people, had no idea. This was especially shocking for a conservative Evangelical who left the Catholic church at a young age. It’s not a secret that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics haven’t gotten along very well in the past, and to be quite honest, much Evangelical practice was established to be specifically non-Catholic (this is why we celebrate Communion once a month or less, instead of weekly). So after finding all this out about one of my favorite worship songwriters, I had only one response:
This Is Awesome!
Now, if you come from a conservative Evangelical tradition like me, this response probably confuses you. Why would I be excited about Matt Maher being Catholic? Aren’t they the ones who believe strange things about Mary, and that the Pope is more important than the Bible, and that you have to do good works in order to be saved? This is the perspective (or perhaps caricature) that most Evangelicals have of Catholics and their theology.
But I was excited (and still am) because I believe this represents a huge step when it comes to the unity of the Church. In John 17, Jesus specifically prays that the church would be unified, one in him. And yet 2000 years after that prayer was prayed we are more divided than ever. This is a complete travesty for the Church. But here you have a young Catholic writing songs that are being sung by Evangelical Protestants around the world in praise to the one God that we both worship. If there was ever a reason to hope for a greater unity within the Church, this is it.
Evangelicals Need Catholics
Yet, even more importantly, I strongly believe that Matt Maher’s Catholic theology is incredibly helpful for Evangelicals. Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am an Evangelical Protestant and disagree with many things in Catholic theology. Were Maher and I ever to have the chance to sit down over coffee I’m sure we could have some lively debates about the purpose of the sacraments, the role of Church authority, and the means of salvation, among other things.
But while we may disagree on some issues, there is far more that we agree on, and even areas where I can learn from his tradition to make me a better Christian. I don’t think it’s an accident that so many of Maher’s songs focus on elements of Christianity that Evangelicals have deemphasized, like the necessity of the resurrection, the centrality of communion, and the need for confession. These are parts of our common tradition that we Evangelicals have too easily downplayed, which has left our doctrine and worship hollow. Matt Maher’s Catholic faith pours through his songwriting, extending to the congregations that sing his songs. I’ve even seen a shift by other songwriters to try and recapture some of the lost traditions and doctrines of conservative Protestants. I’m not saying this is all because of Matt Maher, but I do think he has played a significant role in this shift.
Disagreeing With The Disagreers
Now I realize that there are those who will find out about Matt Maher’s faith through this post, and they will then choose not to use his songs anymore. It’s not uncommon to find people who believe we should not use music from Christians with whom we have doctrinal differences. Frankly, that would be a terrible shame. This is a tremendous opportunity for Catholics and Protestants alike to find common ground in worship. And I believe that worship is the beginning point of the Christian life. The simple fact is we need each other, and worshiping together might be the only way we truly come to understand that. In the end the songs Maher writes are good, faithful, true, and challenging. They are the types of songs that are essential for the life of the Church, regardless of our particular Christian tradition.
So celebrate with me that we have so much in common with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters that we can sing the same songs to give praise to the Father who created all things, the Son who redeemed us by his death and resurrection, and the Spirit that leads us into the new creation life! There is plenty of time to work out the doctrinal differences later, but for now it is time to sing!