Deeper? or Different

4 comments Written on August 20th, 2008     
Filed under: Core Values, Liturgy, Style of Worship
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Sometimes people are critical of preachers, songwriters, worship leaders and certain churches for trying to be relevant and missing the deeper relevance of tested, published, traditional, enduring liturgy. You might want to read this CT article .

I understand the author’s preference and concerns.

What I don’t understand is this. The critique sidesteps the number one reason for using a newer worship language in the sanctuary. The number one reason for using newer songs and language in the sanctuary is: intelligibility.

Here’s the argument that favors new language: “We want the congregation to understand the gospel message, and we want the congregation to be able to participate. In order for this vital communication and participation to occur, we must use language that average (in this case) Americans can understand and use. This might mean: popular music, visual media, topical sermons set in series’…”

You know the argument; you’ve seen the list. If the argument for using tested language and patterns is rooted in OT and early Church practice (see Webber), the argument for using popular forms is rooted in the pattern and practice of Jesus as described in the four gospels.

Yes. Jesus attended synagogue and festivals. He also proclaimed the gospel in, as the author of the CT article might say, “contemporary casual” settings. He brought good news, drew a crowd and formed disciples in a contemporary, casual way. His used symbol; he invoked ancient words; but his overall approach was, no doubt, quite new.

Being one who appreciates both approaches to gathered worship, I have some questions:

  1. Is the “relevance” the author suggests really “deeper?” Or is it simply “different” from its implied counterpart—“contemporary casual.”
  2. Is “contemporary casual” patterned on the Jesus-led gathering? Or is it just a shallow reason for churches to sell out to popular culture?
  3. Or… Are we (leaders and churches) competitive and rivaling siblings whose mother thinks we’re all smart and beautiful?

How do you feel about this?

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4 comments “Deeper? or Different”

Great article! My response is to say it isn’t an “either-or”
situation but “both-and”: each approach to worship has its strengths and things to be aware of that can be inherently problematic. For years I have been committed to worship that seeks to encompass both. Yes, I know there are potential difficulties with that also, but my commitment is because I feel so strongly that both approaches have great value and we cheat ourselves when we limit ourselves to one or the other. It is important to seek to be intelligible (which I like much more than “relevant”) but also to keep some sense of what has been meaningful and intelligible in the past. Jesus met people where they were, gave the Sermon on the Mount out of doors to the group that had followed him. But he also went to the synagogues and read from the Torah and shared. It was “both-and” NOT “either-or.” There is a richness from tradition, and a freshness from that which is new(er). Liturgy and tradition help us to “stay on track” in many ways, and new forms of worship and song help us to think about God and our relationship with Jesus in new (often deeper) ways.

I have recently learned of Worship magazine, from the Reformed Church, and have been tremendously inspired by many of the articles in it. It generally lifts up a more traditional style of worship than our church typically does, but I hope to incorporate some of the ideas from it. Likewise, as I have been increasingly exposed to more contemporary expressions I have been personally challenged in my relationship with God (and the daily living out of that relationship) in wonderful,deepening ways.

So I say “YES!” to liturgy and tradition, and “YES!” to
intelligibility and new forms. I want all God has for us – and I want Him to have all we can respond with.

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I read this article when it was first posted on the CT website; thanks Katie for bringing it to our attention again. And thanks, Pat for your comments too. I also have been committed to a “both-and” approach to worship. Even so, I have to acknowledge that liturgy has at least one important built-in advantage: richness of content. We know that when we use liturgy it will always say something meaningful; that’s how it has stood the test of centuries. Unfortunately, we can’t always assume that about the latest worship song, video download, or published choir anthem. There is a lot of stuff out there that is just churned out because people will buy the latest thing, and much of it, to be honest, is junk! But there are also plenty of great new songs and worship resources out there if we are willing to be open to them. So it is our responsibility as worship leaders to sift through what’s available to discern what resources are appropriate for worship: those that are biblical, substantive, edifying to worshipers, and excellent in our offering to the Lord. Liturgy–along with the Word of God–gives us a good standard by which to judge other expressions, not only in its complex theological expressions like the Nicene Creed and Te Deum, but also in simpler expressions like the Kyrie Eleison and Sanctus.

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Pat and Randall. Do you think enduring liturgy (let’s assume it’s really really good stuff like a Wesley hymn) always communicates? In Randall’s words: “it will always say something meaningful.” Or is it possible, due to culture/communication, that great liturgy that’s stood the test of centuries may say or mean nothing/little to some folks? Let’s assume these folks are Christians.

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Fair point, Bosco. The difference is one of pstioion. I’m not involved in the leading of the service, and therefore am privy to neither the planning meeting nor the de-brief.However, as a participant of the service I’m still responsible for my attitude. I could sit in a perfectly planned, smooth running service, but if I’m only half-heartedly going through the motions, I’m not engaging in worship. On the other hand, I’ve been in services where everything seemed to go wrong, yet by choosing to not let those things be a distraction to me, and keeping my attention on God, I’ve come away feeling like I’ve had a profound worship experience.You’ve given me some good food to think about what the true nature of worship is.

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