By Chaplain Mike
Part two of a four-part series.
The most important issue to us in our journey from evangelicalism has been that of corporate worship.
For thirty years now, this theme has always been at or near the center of our thinking and practice in ministry. In the last post, I summarized my critique of what passes for worship in many evangelical congregations today, especially in the pacesetting megachurches, where in my opinion worship has become more of a stage show than a corporate gathering around Christ and the Gospel.
Today, I give my own definition of worship, as I have come to understand it through Biblical study, reading, leading worship as a senior pastor and as an associate pastor entrusted with planning and leading worship in congregations.
People who have been most influential on my thinking over the years? Gordon MacDonald and the ministry of Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA; Richard Dinwiddie and Jim Westbrook at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School from whom I took one of the few official classes on worship that were available at that time; and Robert Webber (may his tribe increase), whose books and teachings still teach me new things all the time. I have read widely beyond these mentors as well, and plan to be a lifelong learner in this area.
I have participated in and/or appreciated virtually all styles and forms of worship music. Saved in the midst of the Jesus Movement, I witnessed the birth of contemporary Christian music, followed it for years, have written my own praise and worship songs, and led services with my guitar. But I also treasure Bach cantatas, and listen to them regularly to follow the Church Year. Many nights I go to sleep with Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil (Eastern Orthodox) leading me to the throne. My wife and I now sing in a traditional church choir, and we have led them often in the past. I taught worship seminars to those who participated in leading worship in our church as musicians, instrumentalists, and readers.
Needless to say, this aspect of church life has been a huge part of our life and ministry.
My Definition of Worship
Of course, worship can be defined or described in various ways. In its broadest sense, we worship God whenever we faithfully respond to his grace and live for his glory (1Cor 10.31). Paul also uses worship language to describe our total response of faith to the Gospel (Rom 12.1-3). However, we are talking about something more specific hereâ€”corporate worshipâ€”when God’s people gather for what we call a “worship service.”
Here is how I define worship…
Worship is a meeting with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in which a congregation of believers, in response to Godâ€™s revealed character and acts, presents offerings of…
- confessions of faith
- confessions of sin
- prayers of petition and intercession
- vows of obedience
- readiness to hear and respond to Godâ€™s Word.
For his part, when his people gather to meet with him, God applies the benefits of his saving grace in Christ to them through…
- the living Word, by which the Holy Spirit renews and transforms his people
- his Sacraments, by which the Holy Spirit reassures and sustains his people
- the koinonia of the Holy Spirit, which produces unity and mutual edification among his people
- the filling of the Holy Spirit, which empowers his people for love and service.
What do you think of this definition?
Important Considerations with regard to the Practice of Worship
If my definition is accurate at all, then this has certain implications about the way a congregation and its pastoral leadership goes about planning and participating in worship services. In the rest of this post, I will explore some of “theÂ more central and significant issues,” in my opinion, with regard to worship. The first is…
DISTRUST OF FORMS
A primary attitude in non-liturgical churches is that worship should not conform to set forms, but should be free and spontaneous. In their eyes, liturgy is seen as set, scripted, vainly repetitive, dull and without spiritual vitality. On the other hand, non-liturgical worship is seen as free, lively, Spirit-led, from the heart, and open to possibility.
In my experience, this dichotomy bears no resemblance to reality.
First, in the free-style evangelical churches where I’ve worshiped, the worship was just as scripted as any liturgy.
- The order basically remains the same week after week.
- A limited number of songs are sung, thus creating a repetitive musical “tradition” within the congregation.
- An annual calendar is followed, though not the Church Year calendar. It takes into account the major Christian holy days, but is based more upon the pastor’s preaching schedule, secular holidays and schedules, and church events.
- Prayers in worship, though “spontaneous,” take on forms that become repetitive.
And so on. The argument is not, and never has been, between “form” and “freedom” (defined as “lack of forms”). The real difference is between one kind of form and another.
Second, those who advocate evangelical free-style worship often fail to grasp the significance of the kinds of forms we use.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “Pastor, it really doesn’t matter what form we use, as long as we worship God from our hearts!” There is a sense in which this is true, of course. Paul and Silas were able to worship and praise God in a Philippian jail cell, without the assistance of a church building, Bibles, musical accompaniment, or comfortable seats. God has never been confined to a building or set pattern of worship, even when he gave Israel specific instructions about how to approach him.
But that is NOT what folks mean when they protest forms. Rather, they are suggesting that they are free to do whatever they enjoy and call it worship, and if a friend comes along and suggests there might be more to it than that, they resist as though someone were trying to deprive them of their liberty.
It is the responsibility of pastors to start, not with people’s preferences, but with the God we worship, as revealed in creation, Scripture, and in Christ and his Gospel. The first question to ask is not, “What will attract people?” Rather, we begin by asking, “Who is God, and what has he done for us?” That question should be our main guide in choosing the forms we use.
That does not mean everyone has to use exactly the same forms in shaping worship. Nor does it mean we have to use only old forms or traditional forms. We need not sing only hymns and reject gospel songs or praise choruses. For that matter, why should we sing songs primarily from English, German, and American sources? Why not integrate songs from God’s family all around the world? And there’s more than music to consider. We need not have only certain forms for hearing Scripture or participating in prayer. We are free in the Spirit to creatively adapt our forms, as long as the forms we use maintain a sense of integrity with God’s revelation.
I’ll give one example. I think contemporary evangelicalism misses the mark and fails to recognize the impact of the forms our worship takes in the area of congregational participation.
- Church buildings now being constructed have auditoriums that are more like concert halls than sanctuaries. These buildings mold us into stage-actors and audience. The form of our architecture tells us that a worship service is something that we attend and others perform.
- In many church services, the only opportunity for congregational participation is through singing. However, even in churches that sing a lot, it is not uncommon for the band and singers on stage to be so dominant that the congregation does not have a sense of lifting their voices together in musical praise. The atmosphere is more like a concert where people show enthusiasm for the music without really being the choir that produces the music.
- In these same services, often the only people who speak during the service are those who speak from the stage. The congregation learns that its main job is to sit and listen.
Now, contrast this with a typical service from the liturgical church we attend:
- Welcome by pastor, with response by congregation
- Gathering song, sung by the congregation (with no “worship leader”â€”we all sing together and follow the instrumentsâ€”same with all hymns and songs)
- Responsive greeting between pastor and congregation
- Sung Kyrie (“Lord, have mercy”). One singer, standing at congregation level, leads us by singing the verses and congregation sings the refrain with him.
- Hymn of praise (congregation)
- OT reading, by reader who is member of congregation
- Choral Anthem by adult choir
- NT reading, by reader
- Gospel song, sung by congregation
- Gospel lesson, read by pastor
- Children’s message, children gather at altar and are taught by pastor
- Sermon, by pastor
- Hymn (congregation)
- The Creed (said together by congregation)
- Prayers of intercession (said responsively with reader and congregation)
- Offering, followed by offertory sung by congregation
- Responsive prayer before communion (pastor and congregation)
- Communion, made up of many elements that are responsively read or sung by pastor and congregation, including the Lord’s Prayer, said together in unison. Communion is taken at the altar, distributed by pastor and reader, and a couple from the congregation
- Blessing, by pastor
- Closing hymn
- Announcements, given by pastor and other congregation members
Whatever you might think of the individual elements or how they are practiced in this particular church, you must admit that this service is overwhelmingly congregational. The only extended period of sitting and listening is during the sermon. In every other part of the service, the family of God is actively involved in giving worship to God. In this church, we don’t attend worship, we worship!
Congregational participation is a Gospel value that is integral to genuine worship. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is creating a forever family, and he wants his whole family to be actively involved in worshiping him together. He wants to hear from each one of us, as well as speak to each one of us. He desires that we experience the unity of the Spirit as we lift our voices together to give him offerings of praise. In fact, the word “liturgy” means, “the work of the people.” No spectators allowed when it comes to worship! We should reconsider any forms of “worship” that diminish congregational participation.
DEVALUED OR DISREGARDED MATTERS
In general, liturgical worship is poetic while evangelical worship tends to be prosaic. The liturgical tradition values an aesthetic approach, while evangelicals are much more straightforward, plain and pragmatic. This has led to the stereotype that portrays “high church” worship as elitist, pretentious, and snobbish, while “low church” style is the domain of the common manâ€”honest, direct, speaking straight to the heart.
The following quote from A.W. Tozer (fifty years ago!) represents a voice from within the nonliturgical community that shows the damage done to evangelical worship when we cling to that stereotype and promote the merely pragmatic:
We of the nonliturgical churches tend to look with some disdain upon those churches that follow a carefully prescribed form of service, and certainly there must be a good deal in such services that has little or no meaning for the average participantâ€”this not because it is carefully prescribed but because the average participant is what he is. But I have observed that our familiar impromptu service, planned by the leader twenty minutes before, often tends to follow a ragged and tired order almost as standardized as the Mass. The liturgical service is at least beautiful; ours is often ugly. Theirs has been carefully worked out through the centuries to capture as much beauty as possible and to preserve a spirit of reverence among the worshipers.
…In the majority of our meetings there is scarcely a trace of reverent thought, no recognition of the unity of the body, little sense of the divine Presence, no moment of stillness, no solemnity, no wonder, no holy fear. But so often there is a dull or a breezy song leader full of awkward jokes, as well as a chairman announcing each “number” with the old radio continuity patter in an effort to make everything hang together.A. W. Tozer, God Tells the Man Who Cares, p. 11f
An important element in my journey from evangelicalism to a liturgical tradition was a growing desire for less prose and more poetry in worship. I was looking for…
- A church with a worship space that puts God front and center, focusing attention on him. To put it bluntly, an altar not a stage.
- A worship space that communicates both God’s transcendence and immanence, lifting our faces and hearts upward and gathering us as one family together around the God to whom we look.
- A worship space that is intentionally designed and decorated with elements of beauty that stimulate the imagination and delight the heart and mind.
- A worship service that is personal, hospitable, and authentic, but not “chatty” or “casual.”
- A worship service that encourages the active participation of all worshipers, not one that reduces the congregation to an audience of spectators and listeners.
- A worship service in which the leaders understand the power of words, and use them to lift us into a higher realm of thinking, imagining, and relating to others.
- A worship service that is not just all about analysis and answers, but one that invites us into the mysteries of realities that transcend what our minds can comprehend.
- A worship service that is filled with Scripture, along with time and space to meditate on what God is saying.
- A worship service that honors the sacraments as well as the Scriptures.
- A worship service that allows for holy silence.
- A worship service that both reflects what the Holy Spirit has taught the church over the ages (history and tradition) and what the Spirit is saying to the church today (creativity, spontaneity, freshness).
- A worship service that respects and includes people of all ages and backgrounds.
Transcendence. Mystery. Beauty. Imagination. Silence. Participation. Hospitality. Reverence. Careful and thoughtful preparation, especially with regard to words and atmosphere. These are characteristic of a transforming worship that looks up to the Father through the Son in the Spirit.
Such worship lifts us out of the prosaic and becomes a poetic window to the heavenly, spiritual realm, a foretaste of eternal newness.
Adventures in Missing the Point
Of all that might be said about worship practices, we must not leave this subject without emphasizing THE fundamental truth about worship. It must be said, because in my opinion our worship practices fall short mainly because we forget this truth.
Here it is: WORSHIP IS WHAT GOD’S PEOPLE DO FOR GOD. The word “worship” does not describe what God does, but is a verb assigned to our part in the meeting we call a “worship service.”
We have been conditioned to think, on the contrary, that worship is for US.
- That worship is where I go for my weekly spiritual inspiration.
- That worship is a habit of godliness that keeps me on track in my walk with God.
- That worship is where I go to get spiritually fed.
- That worship is where I go to stay in fellowship with God’s people.
- That worship is where I go to get blessed and filled so that I can go out and face my daily life with God.
- That a worship service is where unbelievers come to hear the Gospel and get saved.
Because we think worship is primarily for us, we get concerned when someone no longer “goes to church.” We think of going to church and attending the worship service primarily as something beneficial for people. And of course, it is! However, we must understand that the benefits we gain from worship are byproducts that accrue from participating in it.
Worship is a verb that describes our actions. Worship is for God. Worship is what we do for God. Worship is God’s people coming together and participating in actions that are directed toward God.
- Bringing offerings to God.
- Giving gifts to God in response to the gifts he has given us in Christ.
- In the call to worship, we are invited to actively praise God.
- In confession, we acknowledge our sins to God.
- In the Creed, we affirm to God that we believe in the revelation of his mighty deeds.
- With our voices and hearts, we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to him.
- We present our material and monetary offerings to him.
- We also offer God our thanks and receptive hearts when we humble ourselves to hear his Word and partake of his Sacraments.
- In worship, we celebrate the Gospel!
Worship is for God, and worship is what his people do. Worship is not a meeting we attend. It is not a concert. It is not a preaching service made up of preliminaries to “warm us up” and then the “real thing”â€”the message and invitation. It is not a missionary endeavor in which an audience of unbelievers is confronted with the Gospel through public proclamation. Nor is it a Bible study or Christian meeting designed primarily for a believer’s spiritual growth and development. All these conceptions of worship assume that the service is directed toward the congregation, that those up front or on the “stage” are those who act on behalf of God, and that the main purpose is for them to give something to those in attendance.
This, however, is not the meaning of the verb “worship.” Worship is what God’s people do for God. Each worship service is like a special occasion on which we honor our great Hero and celebrate his accomplishments in winning a decisive victory. If you and I were invited to participate in a ceremony honoring a war hero, what would that be like?
- We would come together to express our appreciation through words, gifts, rituals, songs, and other activities.
- We would decorate the hall with banners and flags and emblems of victory.
- We would put our hero front and center.
- Every activity would be planned for the purpose of honoring him, all the focus would be on him, and all applause directed toward him.
- Special speakers would tell his story and pronounce his praises.
- The community would feast together.
- Neighbors and family members would give testimonials.
- Presents would be lavished on our hero, and each member of the community would want to say “thank you” personally.
Now, let me ask, would that occasion be a blessing to those who participate? Of course! Such a celebration would uplift and inspire everyone in attendance as well as encourage and challenge them to live a better life. But not because they came in order to receive a blessing. No! Those who came gathered for one purposeâ€”to honor their hero. To lift up his name. To tell the glad story of his achievements. To express appreciation and gratitude to him. To participate in activities that magnified him. As a result, they themselves were blessed. The natural byproduct of honoring another is the blessing that accrues to those who participate.
The flaw in my illustration, of course, is that we are not merely honoring the past acts of a hero. We are meeting with the living God who is present with us and active to transform us. And when we present our worship to him, weak, feeble, and filled with sin though it may be, he receives our offerings and acts toward us in ways that bless us.
Of course, God meets with us in worship. Of course, God blesses his people with his presence. Of course, God teaches us from his Word. Of course, God’s Spirit fills us and transforms us. Of course, we receive food for our journey through the Sacraments. Of course, we are spiritually formed and edified when we meet together in Christ’s name. Of course, if unbelievers join us, they may respond to the Gospel and experience God’s saving grace.
Of course. But the question here today is, what is worship? Answer–the glad offerings we bring in response to God’s grace. As Robert Webber said so succinctly, worship is a verb. We don’t attend worship, we worship.
71 thoughts on “My Issues with Evangelicalism: (1) Worship”
I maybe off on this one but I have to think out loud here:
I don’t have problems with being “connected to the Great Tradition of the church”. I desire that one too. But I will have problems being identified with a church body (ELCA) that is on a slippery slope.
Also, like our late beloved I-Monk Mike Spencer, I’ve attended Episcopalian services albeit occasionally. What gets me really uncomfortable is the portion of the liturgy wherein there is the intercession for the dead. Somehow I can not reconcile this with my hardcore traditional Evangelical upbringing that concerns this matter
I practice liturgical worship not only because of what I see to be its inherent advantages over “free” worship, but because it is historically rooted in the Great Tradition of the Church, and it is important to me to be connected to that in a living way.
I wouldn’t say everyone should practice any specific form of liturgy. Michael Spencer’s series on the Evangelical Liturgy (find in the archives) would be a good place for any “free church” person to start if looking for a way to make their church’s worship more robust.
I should say finally that everyone has a liturgy. The question is whether it’s a good or bad liturgy, meaning whether or not it accomplishes the purposes of worship.
Great thread of thoughts here!!
If I understand Chaplain Mike correctly, the High/Liturgical type of worship is what he FEELS to be the more more appropriate one…..
It’s odd to be commenting on this, as I’ve attended relatively few services in my life (although quite a few Quaker meetings, after working at a Quaker school). The one that gave me any insight into this entire worship idea was a Roman Catholic Easter service. I loved the ceremony, the sense of something greater coupled with the joy the priest was projecting.
However, I think that in a lot of ways, I got more out of it than most of the other teenagers there in the chapel at the time. (This was a shared chapel for multiple denominations and faiths.) I was there by choice, wearing a freshly ironed suit (an attempt at a gesture of respect), soaking it all in. My peers were there because they had to be. Some might have might as well been in a boring lecture, which saddened me.
I compare this to the African American worship services that I see when I walk around my neighborhood on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings (I live in a mixed Hispanic/Black part of Brooklyn.) The congregation is fully engaged, singing, listening, more entranced than I ever was in that distant Easter service. While I cannot speak to how much God is present in whichever aspect in these services, the praise offered up to Him by the congregation seems much more sincere in the storefront Black churches than it did in that Easter service. (Although I grant you that a great deal of this might simply be teenagers and not an artifact of the means of worship.)
But the the reason for the split is because the Filioque is the Sum of all Heresies:
Which in the eyes of EO/Oriental/RC is one and the same, as in the eyes of these Churches, you can’t be truly and/or totally united to Christ unless you’re united to His Church (which all three take an exclusivist approach in varying degrees). Due to the separation of the three groups, this is ONE area where the Great Schism is in some ways worse than the split caused during the Reformation-era, at least from a Catholic perspective,
But again that’s because for the Orthodox as well as for the Roman Catholics partaking of the Eucharist is not just a matter of one’s (comm)union with Christ but of one’s (comm)union with the EO or RC Church.
If they think the RCC is bad, forget the Orthodox. They don’t even allow Catholics to receive, despite a more-or-less shared understanding of the nature of the Eucharist.
Sounds more like a lack of understanding or appreciation for the meaning and symbolism of what the liturgy is. That may lose something the further you get away from the original western liturgy of the Roman Rite, I don’t know.
Sounds like more of an indictment of their catechesis, and less an indictment of liturgical worship. I speak from experience of being a Catholic growing up in the years after Vatican II, when, when more of the Bible was being read in Sunday Mass, we seemed to not do a very good job of teaching it. I went to CCD (Catholic Sunday School) until graduation from HS, and I never really learned much from the Bible until well after college, aside from the basics that I hear every Sunday on a three year cycle. Some of the most biblically knowledgeable folks in the world are in the center of the Western Liturgical Tradition, Rome. I have a cousin who is a Benedictine priest currently studying Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
RE: Recreating heaven-on-earth. In the Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental Churches’ view, the earthly liturgy is supposed to be a reflection on the heavenly liturgy, hence the angelic hymn (the Sanctus “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord, the God of Hosts, etc.”), Gregorian Chant in the west, Byzantine, Maronite, Chaldean, etc. in the east, so on and so forth.
Yes, and depending on the particular Lutheran church you attend, your liturgy may be more traditional in appearance, and more “High Church” than many RCC parish Masses, excluding of course, my favorite Extraordinary Form Latin Mass.
Compared to Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey and You Spin Me Round Round Jeesus Round Round, you’re practically Tridentine. Any liturgical church would be.
I won’t lie — I’m just not real big on highly-structured worship services, whether they’re of the traditional variety or the newer, louder, more expressive varieties. But that’s just me. I love variety and spontaneity and creativity, and rote repetition just drives me crazy. I can’t help it. Heck, it gets on my nerves when I hear the same song on the radio more than once a day. But I do understand that many (or even most) people need a certain degree of structure and order and repetition in their lives and in their worship. And I understand that only so much variety, spontaneity, and creative expression can be practically pulled off in a sizable gathering of believers — which is why I prefer relatively small, intimate, and informal worship gatherings.
But, regardless of the venue, form, or style, I suspect that God is looking for worship that is genuine — worship in which His people are focused on Him (body, heart, mind, and spirit) and expressing their love, adoration, and thankfulness toward Him in the best way they know how.
Still, I think that too much emphasis has been placed on the worship service throughout most of church history — by which I mean that the worship and relational life of the church has been too narrowly confined to particular places and particular time slots. I think that even home churches like mine can become too centered around our once-or-twice-a-week gatherings, while neglecting to be a closely connected and Christ-centered family of believers during the rest of the week.
I tend to find these sorts of judgments manifestly unfair. It’s understandable to think that way as a child, but life experience often breeds compassion. That bored-looking person may be having an intense internal encounter with God. Maybe he’s burdened by what happened in his week. Maybe he’s feeling joyous and peaceful and it just isn’t reading in his expression.
Isn’t it somewhat of a problem, though, if he stops focusing on God and starts worrying about how his expression is affecting those around him? And what if you appreciate his smile, but someone else thinks he’s smug? Or flippant? Whose interpretation means the most? That’s a slippery road, until we remember that it’s God’s knowledge of our hearts that matters, not any person’s opinion.
I’m not suggesting everyone should be monotone or look glum. And a little reminder to engage mentally in what we’re saying/doing is always helpful. I’m sure that’s the real spirit of your post. But I think it’s missing the point to start assuming a lot about the spiritual state of the congregation based on superficial judgments about their expressions (or lack thereof).
“Personally, I find that I can pour much more of my self into worship when I engage in singing a more culturally relevant worship song. For me, there is more heartfelt worship in the style of Bob Dylan, Sade, Bjork, or Tricky than in the style of Bach, Wesleyâ€™s hymnody, or Lutherâ€™s 15th century beer hall songs, which frankly are just not genuously resonant for me in the same way.”
This is a side issue to the question of liturgical vs. non-liturgical. Liturgical does not imply any particular musical style. The liturgy can be set to any sort of music you want.
That being said, aiming for “culturally relevant” raises problems. For one thing, “culturally relevant” is a moving target. The hip young pastor who really connects with the kids one can easily find himself a few years later as the mildly embarrassing middle aged pastor who isn’t nearly as hip as he would like to think. The same happens with music: Exhibit A is any of the countless 1970s folk masses.
This is the problem of culturally relevant for whom? I grew up with Bob Dylan. I know who Bjork and Sade are, but I couldn’t identify their music. I have no idea who Tricky is. So culturally relevant for you and for me clearly aren’t the same thing. There probably are even people out there who really related to those 1970s folk masses. The logical conclusion of this is to segregate our worship services by age group and social background. Is this really our goal?
The ideal, it seems to me, we should be striving for is just the opposite: to be timeless. The lazy approach is to have a book of music by dead white guys; but well done, we should be including the best music from any time, from Medieval plainchant through, I dare say, Tricky. We have an advantage with the older material in that we have had many years to winnow out the mediocrities, which abounded. But a good hymnal should include new material, even as we realize that a lot of it will fall by the wayside. In any case, we should not suffer the indignity of trying to convince our children and grandchildren that Bob Dylan is hip. Convincing them that he is good is much likelier path to success.
excellent thots; thanks
I agree that following the will and moving of the Holy Spirit is more important than any human tradition or custom we may create – however ancient or beautiful. I agree that, insofar as any custom prevents people from so following the Spirit, it has gone wrong. However, it seems to me that when the will of the Spirit leads us to something wholly new and unexpected, when it forces us from our habits and customs, when it drives us away from the mundane and headfirst into the unknown – those are blessed times. They are also very much the exception. In the same way that God, though capable of miracles, ordinarily allows His physical laws to act without drastic intercession, in the same way He, for the most part and for most people, seems content to leave them be – to learn about Him slowly, through the simple loves and labors and beauties of mundane existence.
I will go one step further. I do not think it is otherwise in worship. God may act in extraordinary ways whenever it pleases Him as we worship. If it happens to us, may we follow eagerly. But what do we do the great majority of the time when this doesn’t happen? We can’t just sit there hoping to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. We need to do something. And we can just try and make it up as we go, as more charismatic churches try to do. This is, in my opinion, usually awkward and unlovely. Why not follow a form, if we must follow a form, that is tried and tested, and filled with meaning? I have nothing against new liturgies; I do not think something’s age makes it good any more than something’s newness makes it good. But they should be well and carefully crafted. If older styles of music no longer resonate with us, make new music; but look to the old as an example. Aspire to its quality. Do not make new things for newness’ sake. Do not throw away the past; unlike bread and wine, liturgies do not spoil.
Let me try to give a bit of context here. I have been attending church twice weekly my entire life – that is, a few more than twenty years. In that time, I have felt what I believe to be the ‘will of the Holy Spirit’ twice. Two times. Both times, the rigidity of the church made a coward of me, and I did not do what was asked. I can only blame myself, of course; given even a large obstacle, I should have done what He asked. But the obstacle would not have been nearly so large were the church and its customs not so rigid. And so when I say we should have a good liturgy, I do not say it lightly; obviously, more than that is necessary. The liturgy should only be considered a ‘good enough’ practice, perhaps, until something better comes along. But we shouldn’t expect that to happen often.
To expand on this a bit, back in Reformation days the Lutheran church mostly took the existing liturgy and translated it into the vernacular. The Church of England did the same thing. German immigrants to the US initially worshiped in German. English-language services begin to appear in the early 19th century, and by mid-century this was widespread enough that formal service books began to be published in English. (I assume that Scandinavian Lutherans followed a similar pattern, but have never looked into this.) But rather than translate the German liturgy, they lifted wholesale from the Book of Common Prayer. The service books used through the 1970s followed this tradition closely, with much of the language taken verbatim. A new book came out in the late 1970s with a revised, more contemporary liturgy, making a noticeable break from the earlier versions. This is the “green book,” which replaced the “red book.” It has recently been replaced by the “cranberry book,” but it follows closely in the green book tradition.
I strongly suspect that Chaplain Mike uses either the green or the cranberry book. The form is clearly derived from the Western Rite liturgy, but it is several steps removed. If you can find a Lutheran church still using the red book (there are a few here and there) you would find a liturgy even closer.
The problem is that when you feel manipulated by the environment, but you don’t feel deeply compelled to comply, you look around the room at hundreds of others who are “getting into it” and start to wonder…. Am I missing something here? Is there something wrong with me? If I was more spiritual would I be feeling what they appear to feel? It is pietism at it’s worst. Sometimes I come to church just feeling like a dirty rotten sinner… Ok most times I do… and these type of experiences serve to accomplish the opposite of reconciling me to God. Not because I won’t participate. I give it my best and feel every bit as estranged when it is over than before, if not more.
Thanks. My husband did have a kick preaching a sermon on love in a Catholic church (he grew up Catholic, but ended up somewhere else). It was supposed to be “just” a eulogy but he thought he’d milk it. People really appreciated it :0)
This is a wonderful post for so many reasons – detailed definitions, pointed questions and insightful comparisons. I don’t come from a high church tradition, but find myself longing for certain elements of it as I continue in my walk with Christ. Born a pragmatic, the pursuit of beauty, whether in architecture or liturgical expression, seemed wasteful to me for many years. Now I see its inherent value. Beauty is an expression of our Maker. If we are formed in His image and expected to imitate Him, shouldn’t we also pursue beauty in everything we do – in worship, in language, in work, in the arts and in the ways we love others?
Another element I find myself longing for is the unifying force of high church worship. In the same way that classical education provided themes for civilized public discourse for centuries, liturgical worship seems also to bring worshippers into the Great Assembly in a way that nonliturgical worship can’t. Since I attend a nonliturgical church, my sense is that while my congregation sometimes experiences unity within itself, we experience little unity with the worldwide Church.
Another thought that I had as I read this post is that I often fail to come into my church already worshipping. If I have failed to pray and meditate on God’s word in my waking minutes I tend to come to the service flustered and distracted, hardly ready to give my love to the One who has bought me with a price. I recognize the same condition in most others I encounter on Sunday mornings. If it is not that, it is shallowness, resistance to give to God or merely attending to satisfy some social need. At any rate, true worship doesn’t start when the music begins; it starts privately in individuals and merges into corporate adoration of the Maker of the heavens and earth, the God of all flesh.
Not that it necessarily helps, but if you don’t ascribe to the Roman Catholic beliefs about the Eucharist and the Real Presence, the priesthood and the priest’s Eucharistic authority/power, and the authority and primacy of the Pope, as well as assent to and confess the required Roman Catholic dogmas (e.g., Papal Infallibility, Purgatory, The Immaculate Conception and Bodily Assumption of Mary, etc.), why would you want to partake of a Eucharist that is a public and spiritual declaration of unity and communion with these things and the Church that decrees/declares them? Partaking of the Roman Catholic Eucharist is not a communing in/with whatever you hold to or believe re: communion and Christ and His body and blood and the other believers there, but a sign and symbol and effectual uniting and pledging of yourself in agreement with the Church of Rome as the One, Holy Apostolic Church that is Christ’s Body and whose head on earth is the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ.
I.e., Roman Catholic communion exclusion is not just a matter of “rules n stuff.” It’s fundamentally related to who and what the Roman Catholic Church believes about Christ and the Church.
Romans 9:4 (KJV)
Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
The word here used for the service of God, could also be translated the worship of God, Latria. Of course in Lutheranism we call sunday morning worship “Divine Service”.
you are though right. Liturgical worship has its roots in the Old Testament Church, among the liturgies of both the synagogue and those of the temple. And this would make sense even by Anthonie’s naive view that these are just codified forms of what was once a comfortable form of worship. The earliest Christians were Jews, or gentiles who considered themselves Jewish proselytes. The Apostles continued to worship in the Temple, and also in Synagogues for a long time. When they were kicked out of the synagogues, it would only be natural that they would continue with those forms of worship with which they were raised.
Damaris: I think that scholars like Paul F. Bradshaw have raised questions about theories of liturgical development like that proposed by Dom Gregory Dix (THE SHAPE OF THE LITURGY) such that a nice straight development from, or adoption/overlay of, Jewish synagogue worship can’t be assumed or firmly held. The Didache, whether early or late, certainly testifies to a different eucharistology and maybe even a different Christology than became the norm. Read David Aune’s book on Prophecy in the early church. 1 Cor 11-14 shows us that something quite different from a Christianized synagogue/Temple service was going on, at least in some of the churches. Perhaps Jewish worship styles formed the backbone of much of what became St. James’/Basil’s/John Chrysostom’s Liturgy, but I’m not sure that scholars are in agreement that this was the predominant nature/style of Christian worship in its early decades.
There is a certain freshness to anything new. In my own limited experience, I have seen a lot of folks attracted to non-denominational free worship and churches over the years because it is different and appears more free. Many of them also later go back, realizing its shallowness and inability to sustain a robust faith for them, compared to something that has deeper roots and more theological depth.
The verse tha provokes in terms of worship is Deuteronomy 30:11-14:
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”
For me worship starts with scripture and faith.
Anthony — You say, if I understand you correctly, that the liturgical forms evolved out of comfortable practices that became codified. I had heard that the liturgy, at least in part, was a direct adaptation and continuation of Jewish Temple worship. Certainly some things have been added and changed over the years, but the backbone of it is supposedly Jewish. Can any scholars help me out here?
Oddly I have heard the same story yet in reverse. I know several men who grew up in the old CRC Churches who when they step into their respective local mega-churches, felt like they were worshiping for the first time. One of them even used the word “freedom” to describe the sensation of not being stuck to the liturgy.
Come to think of it, I do remember “ringing endorsements” of the Anglican style of worship. However I also recall iMonk not wanting every discussion on worship to degenerate into “my way is better…no your wrong my way is better”. I’m not saying your post goes that far but it has clearly inspired some of that type of response.
Please don’t see this as criticism, I really like your effort here at the iMonk website.
One more thing, my MIL’s funeral was in the Catholic Church. My husband(former protestant minister) was allowed to say a piece as part of the funeral mass, which was received well. We all really enjoyed the liturgy and it was meaningful and enlightening. But when it came time for communion, and the priest passed us over as if we didn’t exist, I felt such a punch in the stomach to be recognized(well, not even that)as NOT a part of THAT body of Christ. I know they have rules n stuff on who takes communion and I respect that. But it just really HURT to be left out like that and it really took awhile to get free of that, like a bruise. I was sure raised with the sacredness and meaning and responsibility of communion, I just have to say that hurt a lot. For my whole family too.
That so well expressed the things I have been thinking and struggling with for several years. The church in which I grew up has, in recent years, become more of a show, and it makes me feel really uncomfortable. (At the same time, I attended a few more liturgical churches here and there, and while I thought the liturgy was a great thing, I didn’t think those churches were where I fit either.) When I went to college I found a church that was not really liturgical, but which had more of a congregational mindset that preserved a sort of liturgy. For instance, we had a time of quiet or silent prayer every week and Communion every week (my home church does it once a month). It was a very set structure but within that structure there was so much freedom for the Spirit of God to move. I think evangelicals (and I still consider myself one) are afraid that sticking to “tradition” hinders the Holy Spirit, but I think it’s really just the attitude of the congregation that can do that.
I think your definition of worship (with the bullet points) is good as it relates to corporate worship. Worship in general, I think, is less about specific acts and more about the attitude of the heart – it’s responding to God with thanks and praise and reverence and awe. I believe we can do this any time of any day, doing any activity. Brother Lawrence, in The Practice of the Presence of God, writes about constantly being in communion with God, whether it was at the altar or washing dishes in the monastery.
I think it non-liturgical churches can be great (I went to one) as long as their focus is on Christ rather than on how many people are in the pews. Similarly, I think liturgical churches can be great as long as their focus is on Christ rather than on respecting tradition. Basically I think that for every “kind” of church, there is a temptation somewhere for something to come between the church and Christ, and whatever it is must be put behind, or maybe even removed altogether.
Michael, this is awfully good writing. I haven’t had time to read it as well as I want yet, but will very soon. I attend a mainline church that follows most of this practice and I wish we were doing all of it.
I often said that Michael Spencer was peeking inside my head when he wrote some of his posts. Apparently, you (Chaplain Mike) have inherited that talent. I was a life-long (40 year) Baptist before moving to an ELCA Lutheran Church a little over a year ago. Your experience and mine are so much the same that I could have written this post. You saved me the trouble. 🙂
During the time I was contemplating leaving the Baptist church I was attending and moving to my current church, my father was a bit concerned about me. He didn’t understand my dissatisfaction with the Baptist church we both attended, nor the attraction of the Lutheran service. That is, until he decided to come with me to a service at the Lutheran church.
After the service, we stood up. He turned to me with tears in his eyes, hugged me, and said, “Thank you. I think I’ve actually worshiped for the first time in my life.” This is a man approaching 70 who had attended Baptist churches since the day he was born.
Over a year later, we still sit together in the same pew at the Lutheran church, worshipping, not just “attending a worship service.”
Oooooh, Bob Dylan… Yeah!!!
You make many excellent and salient points, but it is, after all, a one-sided argument, and omits many important points which are not consistent with its thesis. I would like to make a scattered few which strike me as particularly apposite. Firstly, I think that you neglect the important historical similarity of the liturgical and non-liturgical forms (which glosses the larger point that you appear to confuse this distinction with the distinction of evangelical and non-evangelical orientation, for certainly there are non-liturgical non-evangelical congregations and evangelical liturgical congregations in abundance). The higher liturgies were instituted by people who found certain patterns emerging in their worship, patterns following from the experiences they had of God’s face in worship, and which were subsequently formalized, institutionalized, made habitual. The non-liturgical communities have done much the same, but have arrived at different forms.
You aptly observe some of the deficencies of the latter. The former have some painful deficiencies as well. Importantly, they are alienating to a very large number of people. Certainly to the majority of naive Christian and non-Christian persons alike, unschooled in the liturgical form, find the form to be an empty rote exercise, and a large proportion of the youth of any liturgical community are often alienated from the Church by the same causes. It is good therefore that both forms are available, to help in preventing tragic losses of persons who could otherwise find no place which they were comfortable to call a spiritual home.
Personally, I find that I can pour much more of my self into worship when I engage in singing a more culturally relevant worship song. For me, there is more heartfelt worship in the style of Bob Dylan, Sade, Bjork, or Tricky than in the style of Bach, Wesley’s hymnody, or Luther’s 15th century beer hall songs, which frankly are just not genuously resonant for me in the same way. Responsive reading does not strike me as poetry, but as assembly-line work, a dumb, thumping machine rythym. Poetry is a thing of Pound, Du Fu or e.e.cummings, not limericks and heroic couplets.
I have known many people who attended liturgical churches from childhood and never had clue one about the gospel, and what it meant. This frightens me, and to my mind is an fiery indictment of the entire liturgical enterprise.
Finally, I must say that you are certainly right that most of the time the evangelical or charismatic orders of service are no less rote than liturgy. This is not, however, an argument for liturgy. Both are bad in an important way. The times when I have seen God manifest Himself meaningfully, perceptibly, even miraculously, have always been times in which the rituals and rote forms of worship have been abandoned in favor of the will of the Holy Spirit, which blows the way He will. When He moves, and we follow responsively, wonders occur. The tragedy is that rituals and rote forms so often interfere, even preclude this following — I certainly will not say they preclude the Spirit from moving as He will, merely that we chose to adhere to our comforting habits rather than obediently following, perhaps because we do not know how, for lack of sound teaching.
All the human traditions which seek to capture long past historical movements of the Spirit are doomed to fail in that end. I am glad that you find fulfillment in liturgical worship. I think there are important merits in it, and would that more of these benefits could be captured in my own home Church. But far higher priority in my mind is that each and every local body that is called by His name should seek his face earnestly, and follow the Spirit where it will go. If fulfilling the expectations of our co-congregants, our community leaders, becomes more important, the loss is tragic, evil, and much to be grieved.
PS, just sayin the song request/testimony/prayer times really followed the flow of what people were experiencing in their lives at the time, and the spontenaity was indeed really cool. Of course you have to have folks willing to be honest, and not just fluffy.
To try to put it in a nutshell I would say worship is a collective “yes” and “thank you”. I grew up in a holiness type church, which kinda had the both worlds of liturgy(sunday morning) and informal(sunday nite). But I have to say the most meaningful, or closest to heaven, or what I would pin as bestest worship ever, would be the Sunday night song request/testimony times(songs included both hyms and choruses), and youth group times just spent singing, and of course singing aroud the campfire, either camp or a church picnic. The most invigorating element I think was that we pretty much knew each other really well, and had a history together, on both peer and cross generational levels. This deep body knowing on such a wide scale is unheard of now, maybe you can get that in a bible study, but TIME does things. Sure there were the squabbles, but it was very family. Of course I won’t rule out that one can worship alone too, of course, but then that’s how I’ve felt the last years, alone in the crowd(I still keep in touch with my growing up church friends, miss them horribly).
Might sound weird, but I think “genreal” humanity can worship too(without knowing it). I was at a Styx concert and when they sang “Come Sail Away” the longing for “the hole” to be filled was sure there. After all the bible says every knee shall bow, we all long for our Creator, whether we know it or not.
Miguel, what an interesting comment–“My experience with evangelical worship is that when Iâ€™m in a rock concert worship service, I have trouble connecting with God because I feel like everything is being scripted.”
Like everything is being scripted? I thought this kind of service was supposed to be filled with “free,” “spontaneous,” “from the heart” worship!
Thanks for stating the real truth, Miguel.
MWPeak: “I really wish the focus would move away from trying to reach up to a God in heaven and instead recognize that God descended in the flesh for our sins.”
That’s why I think the Lord’s Supper should be a part of every Lord’s Day service.
The form of the Lutheran service is essentially the Western Rite.
Our church is not high liturgy, and we use contemporary music.
Go to the Archives and check out Michael Spencer’s “Evangelical Liturgy” posts. And remember that Michael made a beeline to the Anglican church to worship whenever possible.
I agree with your comment that in many church services the worship is more like a stage show. Your list of worship offerings (praise, thanksgiving,… ) is very good, especially the last one – readiness to hear & respond to God’s Word. This ought to be one of the main goals of the worship in the service, to help people to get focused on God and ready to hear His voice and then respond. People need and want to hear from God. Eccelesiastes 5:1 is a great verse: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools.”
I know your article is about corporate worship, but I would say that worship is much more than just the worship service itself, it needs to be more of a lifestyle of devotion & love & passion for Jesus; a lifestyle of daily fellowship with the Lord and total submission to Him (Romans 12:1-2) that incorporates your list of worship offerings.
Thanks for the good post.
General comment: I’ll be the first to admit problems exist everywhere. I have to also admit, though, occasionally when I read entries and comments, I catch myself wondering where in the world everyone lives if all the surrounding Protestant churches are going crazy.
Not an indictment, just an observation.
A couple years ago my wife and I started attended Episcopal and Catholic liturgies. The thing we’ve noticed, and it seems to make ALL the difference, is what the worship is about: the Word (mostly the Gospel reading) and the Eucharist, but mostly the Eucharist.
The homily might can be uninspired, the priest might be awkward, the music might be bad, or the people may be unfriendly. But all this doesn’t matter, because this miraculous, holy, mysterious, sacred thing happens when the Eucharist is consecrated and shared.
I know Catholics or Episcopals who have a strong preference about music or hearing one particular priest, and it’s good when these things are inspiring. But it’s so not about the preacher or the instruments.
How true. 🙂 To my Evangelical pastor friend who asked if they even read the Bible during Orthodox worship, I laughed and told him that we probably heard more Scripture recited during a single Liturgy or other service than in a month of Sundays in our prior ProtEvangeMatic churches.
Yeah, I agree. This also was a big point for the iMonk if I remember correctly. He was very much against the “anecdotal combat” and the false “I’m right and your wrong” dichotomy. Based on reading his stuff I would say he would personally agree with the Chappy, but I’m nor sure he would have gave such a ringing endorsement of the Western Liturgy.
However, in all fairness, Chaplain Mike is his own man. Continuing the legacy of Michael Spenser doesn’t mean cloning him.
Very well done, Mike. You’ve really been hitting it out of the park the past couple of weeks. Keep it up.
Thanks for this. As a worship pastor who is wrestling with his theology and trying to come to a concise definition of worship, I find this to be extremely helpful. However, my conclusions may not keep me in good standing with the Baptist church I work for. I like Webber. But I also like Bob Kaufflin and some of these Calvinist guys.
A definition I read recently is: Worship is the work of the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ to the glory of God the Father. I think it is helpful to remember the C.S. Lewis illustration in regards to prayer being a manner of being caught up into the life of the trinity: God the Spirit is the source, God the father is the aim, and God the Son is the means by which we pray. I think the same applies for worship, and therefore any definition of what worship is must be Trinitarian by nature.
My experience with evangelical worship is that when I’m in a rock concert worship service, I have trouble connecting with God because I feel like everything is being scripted. The drums become more intense and I’m supposed to have this emotional rise as a result. But the fact that I feel the drums are manipulating me into this destroys any desire I might have had to comply. Ironically, I feel totally able to connect to God at home with my Book of Common Prayer every morning, though my every word is scripted for me, most of it is scripted by God.
Isn’t it ironic that low church types who claim to value scripture so highly will not take seriously the forms of worship that are most saturated with it?
I remember hearing this line from the Phos hilaron as a young adult at some service, but in a mass-monotone: “You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices.” The irony of the moment almost made me laugh out loud, then it just distracted me with various degrees of sadness on and off for the rest of the service.
A side note: trained singers (and some phone salespeople) know that the sound of a person’s voice actually changes when they smile. I wonder what the liturgy would actually sound like if half the congregation were smiling? And I’m not suggesting that people start faking a smile. I just think that if we think about and believe what’s being said in the liturgies, we may cry, we may shout, we may just smile, but we won’t sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher.
In all seriousness, I bet it would be a great experiment for a priest/vicar of a liturgical church to talk about this issue with his church and then ask them all, for just a few months, to stay silent in the response or even the hymns whenever they sense they are just going through the motions, or can’t say what the congregation is saying with conviction. Anyone in silence could just take the opportunity to listen, pray about the words, and join when they could speak with their heart, soul, mind and strength. I wonder . . . it sounds a little risky . . . things could get . . . interesting . . .
I like the analogy of honoring a war hero. Jesus, He fights for us.
The one problem I have your description of a liturgical service is that it seems too poetic. Again, one problem I have with the pop-evangelical service is its effort to recreate heaven-on-earth, i.e. Revelation 4. I see the same issue with overly-ornate liturgical services.
Granted, I am glad that both evangelical services and liturgical services are at least trying to worship God, but I really wish the focus would move away from trying to reach up to a God in heaven and instead recognize that God descended in the flesh for our sins. That, for me, is my aim when I worship God in or out of church.
This is a great post, Chaplain Mike, and the comments are great, too. How do we actually communicate with the megachurches and those who attend them? How can we persuade them that being the “hottest show in town” is NOT what Jesus had in mind? This kind of stuff drives me crazy…
Amen Brother! Preach it!
How’s that for a witness? 🙂
It is understandably difficult to get a large group of people to say/read something in unison without getting very chaotic unless everyone tries to drain it completely of all emotion, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You can always set it to music (Rich Mullins Creed for example) and I’m sure people could eventually learn to read together with some gusto and still be mostly in-synch. Maybe we could take the really old fashioned approach and break out the Gregorian Chant! I think it would just take a church deciding that they
I’ve always wanted to find a church that uses a mostly traditional liturgy with some slightly more modern music. I have a rather strong dislike of pipe-organs, which seem to be extremely popular where I live. I find that plenty of people can drain the life from most hymns pretty well too, and I always thought Amazing Grace should be more upbeat.
I’m sure there are lots of reasons for it, but I think it’s more than just coincidence. Each tradition has its own strengths and weaknesses to which it is disposed. Unfortunately, the formality and reverence of the liturgical traditions don’t exactly tend toward “Corinthian” style problems like my charismatic brothers do! I think your and my experience is too often the norm.
Great post, Chaplain Mike. I especially like your point about beauty. It occurred to me recently that God is not just beautiful, as if He were being measured against a standard outside of Himself; He is Beauty. Our participation in worship has all the purposes you express so well here. It also, when rightly done, will have the effect of training us in what is beautiful — in what is like God. If we are steeped in the beauty of God, vile art, manipulative music, and mindless and pedestrian books will cease to attract us. We talk a lot about how the Church protects us against the nasty parts of human culture, and I think this is one way it should be doing that. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Psalm 84) If we truly felt that way, so many things would no longer be temptations.
Gee, Lukas, so are you saying that we Americans have a tradition of scorning tradition? Hmm.
Wow! Where to start. Good job on this piece and yes, I think it is imperative that we begin by defining “worship” and what exactly is our purpose for gathering. Are we free to do just whatever feel like worship to us?
But the main issue that that I would like to reflect on is that of congregational involvement. Anyone who has had significant exposure to both free form and more structured liturgies will readily see that how we typically do “free form” services today is anything but participative – very spectator. On the other hand, while our nearby Anglican (AMiA) church may have a fixed liturgical structure it is nonetheless very participative. How refreshing! The congregation is not all sitting back sipping their Starbucks and shouting “amen”! There is a beautiful flow and participation as the gospel is represented; the music supporting that movement, responsive readings, congregational prayers of confession, and moments of silence (perish the thought:-). It’s a beautiful thing indeed as we meet with and respond to God in all of his greatness.
Great analogy, Lukas!
Thank you for this comment ,it is a subject that has concerned me a lot lately. I had thought that it was perhaps because I was getting older.
I spent many years in the Baptist Church where worship was fairly formal and used some litugy and had plenty of opportunity for meditation and clergy led prayer. But over the past few years the church I have been attending has gone so far down the “charismatic” road that it has no form. I find that I become irritated and resentful after singing the same chorus for the 8th time, a power point presentation instead of prayer and no scripture reading. I have changed churches,which made me feel rather petty but this has helped me put things in perspective.
I was going to quote C.S. Lewis too Eric, I so agree with what you wrote.Worship is more than music but then that is what Chaplain Mike is saying. God is awesome and I want someone to lead me into His presence in an ordered way. Thats what we need the man at the front for,and why he trained for so many years. A guitarist just isn’t my bag!
I also agree that with the solemnity, we can smile and rejoice over what God has done for us…somewhere we have to get the balance right.
This is my experience as well, growing up with the liturgical focus. It was a lot of long faces and a sense of stifling near morbidity. Although probably not true of many liturgical churches, outside of the service and the rote prayer at mealtime no one ever even talked about God. When I asked questions they told me to go see a priest. I felt spiritual starvation, while hearing about God in a scripted and ritualistic fashion. It felt much like the servant’s kid, never having enough food to eat, while being forced to stand at the side of a formal baquet room every week while people dined on fancy food but never seemed to enjoy it one little bit.
Having said that, perhaps the lack of joy is something not correlated with whether one experiences a liturgy or not. Maybe it was just a coincidental time and place thing.
Now, contrast this with a typical service from the liturgical church we attend:
That sounds like a standard Western Rite Liturgy, with a lot of commonality to Mass at St Boniface. The main difference is you seem to sing a lot more in the interludes. Our only song between the Kyrie and the actual Communion is a responsive psalm between the first two readings. And we use the formal Consecration between the Offering and Communion proper.
All us Romish Papists (the original Western Rite Liturgical Church) can start snickering “What took you so long?”
Oh, well said, sir! I’m ecstatic over your “war hero” illustration and very pleased by the focus on the need for congregational involvement.
You overlooked my personal pet grievance: “Worship = music, preferably in a particular style.” That annoys this church musician to distraction. No, music is one technique for expressing worship, and it does very well when you let it, but you can’t express what you haven’t got.
C. S. Lewis: “The ideal worship service would be one we almost didn’t notice; our attention would have been on God.”
Don’t hold back, brother. Go on and let it out. Tell us how you really feel. 😀
I’m really, really with you on the growing appreciation for, in essense, what our higher-church brethren have been doing for some time. The depth and wisdom of the BCP is still impressing me almost every day. I still have some reservations, though, about the typical high-church worship service. I think it’s fair to say that mainline denoms have not done an especially good job at what many low-church folks claim to value, whether it be fresh interactions with the Holy Spirit, or evangelism, or other typical low-church goals.
I personally can’t shake the memory of the tone of the congregation’s response in the Lutheran church where I went to grade school. I occasionally went to church there with a friend from school and was repeatedly perplexed and surprised by the monotone replies of the congregation in the liturgy. The tone and the expressionless faces spoke volumes to me as a child (just like my mom said my tone of voice did to adults!) about what this group really felt about everything being said and what they really thought about the God they were “worshipping.” It (and He) was all kind of a drag.
I think it’s that same tone and what it communicates that has led many folks out of those patterns of worship, or even out of the church. Again, I think you’re right that the evangelical church could learn volumes and volumes from their higher church brothers and would do well to copy them in many respects. But that really does work both ways at least a little bit. Would a little informality, a little authentic human emotion to go with those beautiful words and expressions, kill anybody? It might even save a few folks. The mainline churches are dying for a reason, and at least part of that reason lies with the near constant lethargic tone of the people “worshipping.” Can I get a witness? (or am I in the wrong church for that?) 🙂 C’mon high-church people! Help a low-church brother out! Look alive (at least one Sunday a month or something)! In all seriousness, it matters. A lot. I don’t care if you weep or shout or just smile when you sing, just do something that fits what you’re saying from time to time. Some little kid is listening and trying to figure out if it’s the words or the tone that gives the real story, and the tone and facial expression is more pursuasive almost every time. Lord, have mercy!
I think it’s a mistake to couple, in any way, right/wrong worship and traditional/liturgical vs. new/contemporary. It always ends up in anecdotal combat.
I’m a classically trained singer. I love traditional and more difficult stuff and how that translates into worship. But I also love how you can embed huge theological truths into a pop tune, and repeat them until they become something more than words.
Both worlds can be rote, boring, etc. Both worlds can be careless and shallow. Both can miss the point and be something else besides worship.
In the end they are tools, techniques, and mechanisms that are applied to what worship is. Worship starts before any decision regarding what’s going to happen. If is starts as worship and stays that way, then any execution will be beautiful and pleasing to God.
“In general, liturgical worship is poetic while evangelical worship tends to be prosaic.”
A lot of evangelical worship is more of the “magic book” mentality that Michael Spencer criticized: worship and Christianity in general is offered as the answer to all our problems, which echoes the list of things you mention that worship is not.
I would agree that worship, i.e. liturgy, is the work of the people. With all works, the motivation is key. If I worship and laud God so that he will in-turn shower his blessings on me, then I am no different than the old testament baal worshippers. If I worship God out of love, then I get closer to Christian worship. But my sinfulness and brokenness remains, so that my worship, as all of my works, are tainted with selfishness – rendering them unacceptable.
God is not ultimately pleased with my sacrifice of praise – as I so often hear as the motivation for whipping the congregation into a frenzy, but is pleased with His Son, in whose name I worship. It is in that faith that I work and worship, knowing that it is Jesus who takes my foul excuse for a heart of worship and sanctifies it through His perfect, final, and finished sacrifice.
So, how we begin worship – in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is so key to what follows and why.
Way back when I first started practicing martial arts, I had an idea that mastering techniques was an intellectual activity. I just needed to memorize the movements involved, muster the physical dexterity necessary to pull it off, and that was it! Technique mastered.
However, through a long slow process I discovered that this didn’t work. In the heat of a fight – even a mock fight, during practice or competitions – the body acts based upon instinct, not intellect. And so you need to practice a move thousands of times, until that is how you react naturally under fire. Then you have mastered the technique, and only then can you really use it.
I think worship is kind of like this. Those who try to act ‘spontaneously’ in worship are placing themselves at a serious disadvantage. You try to create a service by pulling it out of your hat, and almost always the hat ends up empty; and so you just go back to the unpolished, unimaginative patterns that you’ve always done.
Traditional, liturgical services have been practiced a thousand times. They bring in the insights of lifetimes, and the influence of deep thinking in solitude as well as spontaneous inspiration. One cannot just make up a great hymn of praise in the heat of the moment – it takes long, careful thought and labor to do so.
I find it interesting how Americans resist tradition. It’s part of our culture. We are individualistic, and we are suspicious – even contemptuous – of the past. It’s probably a vestige of the Enlightenment ideal of progress, and I think it’s a tragic reversal of the philosophy of previous times, where the past was seen as being greater than the present. Now, everyone feels themselves better and more enlightened than anyone much older than themselves. The elderly are no longer wise; they’re senile. Send them to rest homes, drug them into oblivion, treat them like children. Traditional medicine? Nothing but quackery and superstition. Never mind that nearly all our useful drugs are derived from traditional medicine. The word ‘medieval’ has become synonymous with ‘violent’ or ‘barbaric’ – this from a century that has birthed more genocides than existed in a thousand years of medieval history.
How can traditional liturgy survive in such a culture? I’m surprised it’s done as well as it has.
Good stuff! I praise God for the blessing this provided me.