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Archive for March, 2007

Whether or not your church claims to follow a liturgical tradition or claims to be non-liturgical in its worship, there is a common denominator which both groups claim.  Worship for both sides of the liturgical divide is found in re-telling of the Great Story, the story of God’s plan of salvation.  Both the liturgical and the non-liturgical traditions see the essence of Christian worship as being a re-creation or a re-capitulation of the drama of God’s redemptive work in human history.

Those who claim to be non-liturgical see this drama take place in the songs of praise and the message during worship on Sunday.  For those in the non-liturgical traditions who are more conservative or fundamental in their approach, this often shows up in the expectation that the pastor present the Gospel message clearly and issue an altar call at the end of every message.  The story should be re-told in such a way that people respond to it by “walking the aisle”, “placing your faith in Jesus” or “making a personal commitment to Jesus.”

Liturgical traditions see the same drama of God’s salvation history in human events play out in their worship services.  The key difference being the response is not merely to the preaching of the Gospel message, but also to the symbolic recreation of God’s gospel in the Eucharist or Holy Communion.  The expectation is still to walk the aisle, but in the liturgical traditions, that aisle walking commitment is to partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at the communion rail.

Obviously there are other differences between the two groups in worship that have to do with other commitments to theology, hermeneutics, and tradition.  Yet for both groups, the essence of what it means to worship is to respond to the reality of God’s story in human history.  Both see their end purpose in getting people to respond to the Gospel.  They merely use different means to accomplish that end.

However that drama of the Gospel is increasingly being replaced by other considerations.  Worship is becoming a performance art that is to be judged on its aesthetic appeal.  In many ways worship is now judged like a movie or a stage play, box office, acting, costumes and direction.  Story line plays a role but increasingly less attention is paid to it than to who is in the movie and is it visually appealing.  (As a current example of this in movies, notice the reviews of the wildly successful movie 300.)  In worship, this is absolutely detrimental to the whole purpose of gathering as God’s people.

For the non-liturgical traditions, this shift towards performance is best expressed in the drive for “excellence in worship. That was the line that was being discussed when I was in seminary.  The idea was to excel at putting together a worship service and to do so consistently so the people would come back again and again.  Thus pastors felt a pressure to “hit a home run” every Sunday, while choirs and worship teams practiced and practiced until the tiniest musical flaws were eliminated.  The move toward performance worship created what several recent authors have described as a slick, stage-driven style worship.

Unfortunately, my friends in the liturgical church tradition don’t get off easily on this point either.  They may have been at it far longer than the non-liturgical traditions have even been thinking about it.  In the liturgical tradition this kind of performance art elevates the trappings of the service over the drama the service is supposed to represent and re-create.  Thus there is more concern over the quality of the vestments, the amount and kind of incense in the thurible, when bells are rung and with how many shakes of the acolyte’s hand, and the rubrics in the Prayer Book or Missal, than there is over the story of the Gospel being told in the service.

What is lost or played down in both traditions is the Gospel story itself.  The heart of both traditions is the re-telling of the Gospel.  When worship becomes performance oriented, the Gospel, even if loudly proclaimed in pulpit and at altar moves to second place.  The most important story of all history becomes a mere vehicle for the performers of the story and those who want to watch them.  We need to rekindle the inner fire that the Gospel is more important than the performance of its story.  Both traditions have much to offer the Church, but without the Gospel being the core, heart-felt reality, those traditions are all a show more driven by how the story is told, than the truth being told in the story.

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Somewhere in my lifetime, something was lost in Christian worship.  It is hard to put one’s finger on it and say “Aha!  That’s it!”  But it seems to be something that is fundamentally at the center of what worship is for Christians.

Among North American evangelicals an ethos has developed which seems to say that worship is supposed to entertain the people so they will come back for more.  We are trying to fill needs that would otherwise be filled by listening to talk radio, going to concerts, movies, theater, or even the local pub for conversation.

We tell ourselves that we need to have top-flight preachers who can hold people’s attention.  People whose words effect life-change in those who listen to them.  We prefer a band whose music and singing is pitch perfect, whose stage presence and ability to understand audience response causes our emotions to well up inside our hearts.  We want drama that is just as good as anything on the stage or silver screen.  We’re interested in actors and writers who can convey the whole range of human experience to us as if we had never seen it before.

One of the newest things in the North American evangelical experience of worship is to promote conversational teaching experiences as well as intimacy in worship.  We don’t want to be preached at anymore, we want someone to talk to us.  In some places, the message is even deleted from the service in favor of an open dialogue with the congregation, a back and forth conversation about a particular topic.

To be sure this promotes a relational feel to the service.  It helps us to feel connected to the person who is leading the teaching and creates an intimate atmosphere.  Intimacy is further promoted and developed by turning the lights down.  Some have said this makes people feel more spiritual.  I’ve heard others say it helps men to feel more comfortable.  Still others have said it gets people to lose their inhibitions about singing or raising their arms in public.

I wonder if these are the right motivations for God’s people to have when they assemble for worship.  I even question if these are the right motivations we should have when looking for ministry leaders or setting the vision for our church ministry.  I question that because they seem to be centered around us and not God.

I think this is what has been lost and is quite possibly the reason for the growing shallowness of the evangelical church in

North America.  The numbers may be great, but we haven’t led them to any place that is better than what they couldn’t find elsewhere.  We spend great amounts of time in church talking about God, but somehow we fail to introduce people to Him.The mystery and awe of meeting God is gone.

We no longer see Him high and lifted up on His throne with the smoke filling the Temple as Isaiah saw Him because we’re too busy making things run right so the people are entertained and will come back next week to hear the message and support our ministry.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the one-size-fits-all solution for this situation.  I do know that God longs to meet His people in worship.  Jesus Christ didn’t come to earth and live as a human being to entertain the crowds with His teaching or His miracles.  He came to introduce us to the Father by announcing the nearness of the kingdom of God on earth.  When we worship, we should know we are in God’s presence.  Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ opened the doors of heaven for us to enter the throne room of God.

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Why am I adding to nearly infinite numbers of blogs out there?  Haven’t we had enough?  Isn’t it time to surrender?  Doesn’t the Bible say something about the making of many books which has no end?  Yes, Solomon wrote that in Ecclesiastes 12:12.  Doesn’t it also say that where there are many words transgression is nearby as well as a command to keep words to a minimum because a fool’s voice comes with many words?  Yes it does, those are found in Proverbs 10:19 and Ecclesiastes 5:3.

Yes the Bible says all those things and whether or not we’ve had enough remains to be seen.  So hopefully I will restrain myself and keep the foolish words to minimum.

I’m starting this blog to help me sort through the issues of what it means to be a part of God’s people in the 21st century.  I wish the title rhymed better than it does but it hit me like a flash and stuck.  The words came to me one night as I stared at the ceiling pondering some things that I thought were missing and disconnected between God, my life and how I respond to God.

First, we all have a background story that helps determine where we’re coming from and the shape of our lives.  This is true for us as individuals and as corporate entities like big business or the Church.  Yet our society tends to leave the past in the dust.  Maybe it’s just me, the history buff and college history major, but the old axiom seems quite true, “those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”  Thus the past includes the present as it shapes what we observe in the events of the world around us.  I’m hoping to explore some of that personal and corporate history in the Church as part of this blog.  This is History.

Second, we live in a world that increasingly calls itself post-modern, presuming that we have moved beyond the modern world.  In fact, I think the case could be made that we are living in modernity 2.0.  Whereas modernity was marked by a search for logical, linear, and rationalistic answers to life’s questions, post modernism claims to have moved beyond that search to claim there are no logical, linear or rational answers to life’s questions.  Both seem to appeal to a mindset that appeals to absolutes grounded in human thinking.

Would it not be better to adopt some humility and admit that absolutes are best grounded in God who is both knowable and unknowable by our finite minds?  He is knowable to the extent that He has revealed Himself.  He is unknowable in that we cannot fathom His fullness with our finiteness.  There is always more to God than what we can see.  This is Mystery.  I’m hoping to use this blog to explore what it would means to seek God in all of His transcendent mystery.

Finally, knowing God, even in part, requires some kind of response from us.  We were meant to know God not just intellectually or rationally, but in three-dimensions.  The case could even be made that we were meant to know God in five dimensions, the basic three of this physical universe, plus the dimensions of time and spirit.  Responding to God in those five dimensions of life could reasonably be called worship.  Worship has many dimensions as well, most obviously what happens in church on Sundays.  This is Liturgy.  I hope this blog will be a place to learn from a wide-range of worship traditions that would help us all become better worshippers of the one true God every day of the week.

It’s called History, Mystery, Liturgy.  I invite you to join me on this journey and I pray God will get the glory for this conversation.

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My own.

I’m still figuring out WordPress and the whole blog/blogging thing.  We’ll get this place open for business as quick as we can.  But it may be under construction for a while yet, while my learning curve goes from vertical to merely sharply upward.

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This may take a while…we’re building for the glory of God.

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The Hard Stuff

Welcome to WordPress.com.  I’m sort of here.  Now what do I say?

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