Friday, August 12, 2011

Christian Worship

Hrre's my next stop on my wish list for the curriculum:

1. Pastor, Church, and World
2. Cultural Contexts of Ministry
3. Bible as Scripture
4. Introduction to Theology
5. Missional Church
6. Congregational Leadership

So Christian Worship is next.

When I think of worship, I think of offering ourselves corporately up to God in praise and giving of ourselves in a community event set apart for that purpose.  I think of God sanctifying such an event by giving such a community a sense of his presence so that such an event is a participation in heavenly adoration and is in communion with the saints of the ages.

So Christian worship spans both space and time.  It is an event in the Christian story in which past, present, and future are united, in which heaven and earth are united.  It might profitably involve the head, but it is first experiential and affective.  And God sets the agenda.

I like the phrase "ancient-future."  On the one hand, worship is about a specific group at a specific time experiencing God and offering itself to God, so there must be a present dimension.  If certain songs, music, Scriptures, actions better facilitate that experience of God, so be it.  We also remember that emotion is not necessarily experience of the divine.  An enjoyable or entertaining service is not necessarily a divine one, but surely you will enjoy a true worship service.  Does the emotion merely make me feel good or is it divine encounter?

On the other hand, Christians and Jews have been doing these events for a long time.  The "ancient" continuity  can provide a depth of encounter that an enculturated and passing popular form rarely has.  We call some of these practices sacraments.  We give thanks in communion.  We bring new worshippers into the event through baptism.  We pray as Christians and Jews have always prayed.  We sing as Christians and Jews have always sung.  We hear a "third-level" word from God (Jesus being the true Word, Scripture being a witness to Jesus, and the sermon being a presentation of the witness to Jesus).

We offer the sacrifice.  God sends the fire.

Any event whose purpose is to offer ourselves to God can be a worship event, so it seems conceivable that a service that involves evangelistic elements could be a worship event.  But surely the focus of worship is God rather than the outside world.  We may turn to those "outsiders" in our midst at some point during the service, but the service is not about them.  In the event we are facing God as a community of faith.  Others are welcome to watch and, hopefully, to join.

The form is both unimportant and important.  It is important because the form facilitates the encounter.  Whether we like it or not, we do not experience God in a vacuum.  The strings of our subconscious will not play every tune.  It is unimportant because, while it may facilitate my encounter, it is not so important what it is from time to time and place to place.

So there is not "one form" or "one order."  Bring in all the senses.  Bring in all the people.  Use ancient practices.  Use creatively new ones.  Blend them together.  Start another venue with a form that helps a particular group better "come into" the presence of God.  But also help a group offer new parts of themselves by giving up their selfish, exclusive clinging to their style by giving some time in worship to others in their midst who worship differently.

So don't be a worship Nazi.  Your form is not the only one.  It doesn't have to be done this way or that way. But there's nothing wrong with the ancient way--it's only empty formalism if you let it be.  And there's nothing wrong with the "new way"--if it truly facilitates a divine encounter.

1 comment:

FrGregACCA said...

"And God sets the agenda."

Yup, but it is past tense. God has already "set the agenda". It is called "the rule of prayer" and all the pre-reformed liturgical traditions are witnesses to it.