Saturday, July 22, 2006

[THO] Worship I

After reading some of the comments on my post regarding the best liturgical invention, I can't stop thinking about the particularity of worship I am most comfortable with. So I would like to maybe share a bit on what makes that worship, especially the songs of worship, so special to me. Because this is something I've been involved in for many years I will also throw out some of the things I've learned about leading congregational and small group worship (both have their own particularities). I realize fully that worship is a very personal affair, and that corporate worship is very personal to the communities of faith in which they arise. But I believe there is a mandate within the Christian tradition to develop good worship practices that work well for your community. There is no "right" and "wrong" way to worship, there are better ways for sure as anyone who has experienced painful liturgy will attest. Those things come with practice and I would dare to say that with practice and sensitivity any liturgical format can be done in a way that promotes worship.

So let us start with this mandate to develop worship as Christian communities. Why should we be concerned about the development of worship in our communities?

Many of us want to romanticise a particular era or style. I don't think any of us are immune to this tendency, but it is worth noting. If we were to do a survey of the worship/liturgy of the Church we would notice that although there are some common elements (Eucharist for example) throughout and also some changes. Jasper and Cuming offer a wonderful survey of liturgies throughout the earliest days of Christianity up until the Reformation. (Prayers of the Eucharist, 1975). What is most striking about this survey is that the liturgy is appropriated into a variety of contexts, nothing is set in stone. Sure as the communities grow the liturgies capture more and more of the formalities, but that is a feature of large congregational worship versus small community and house fellowship worship. The more people in the mix the more work to make something that is good for everyone, or at the very least has entrance points for everyone to potentially take advantage of.

The Gospels also reflect the particularity of worship in four different apostolic communities. These communities championed different aspects of Christ's incarnation, seeing these aspects as most relevant to their worship. Of course my assumption here is that the gospels are primarily liturgical narratives intended for corporate worship. So the Marcan community recognized the humanity of Christ, while the Johannine community celebrated the mystery of Christ, Matthew celebrated the Messianic promise fulfilled in Christ and Luke celebrated the Lordship of Christ. Sure there are overlaps but each reveals an essential aspect of the incarnation (often aspects but I am generalizing to keep it simple).

So it seems clear that history bears out a mandate to do worship that is both faithful to the God who is worthy of worship and faithful to the community that longs to worship God. It is not fair to say that this changes in generations, rather it is highly contextual. One should not expect the same liturgy in an African Pentecostal community as one would find in an Asian Baptist community or even a Dutch Reformed community. Indeed some of what it takes to craft worship for your community is having an openness to other experiences seeing why that liturgical form connects with the community that embraces it.

It is these connections that I will turn to in my next post on this subject.


byron said...

Love to hear your thoughts on criteria for (self-)criticism of worship practices: how can we evaluate (in order to improve) our practices? Perhaps something to include in this series.

One of Freedom said...

Byron, I think those criteria have to fall into two categories. Those that are particular to the faith community and those that are particular to the Church. I'd really have to think about that, but I suspect that it will be as problemmatic as that saying, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity", a nice saying but it just doesn't work in the real world. Who defines the essentials? It is an interesting problem though.

Bamba said...

Hey Frank great thoughts on worship. I never really thought of the gospels as liturgy. I will have to think about it some more. One thing that I don't hear much talked about worship is how worship of God is tied into how you and I treat each other. We all love a Holy Spirit rockin service. Which can be done with all sincerity. I have just come to a place in my walk in that I am more convinced that my worship that is lived speaks louder than my worship that is sung.

One of Freedom said...

Great to see you here Bamba!

The gospels can each be tied to a particular Christian community (or communities) that preserved the testimony of Jesus. These were primarily the stories that animated their worship. Nowadays we kinda look at the bible as if it were an apologetic tool, something used to try to convince others about Jesus. But this would have been quite a foreign idea for the early church. These texts were sacred to the communities and preserved the stories that anchored their faith. They are meant to be read aloud as part of our worship.

Last night I preached from the gospel of Mark, chapter 6 where Jesus sends the disciples off in the boat and later freaks them out walking on the water. I love that passage because it is purely for us as Christians, it tells us so much about the character of the God we follow. And it reassures us that even when we have hardened hearts God is willing to get in the boat with us and take us where he is going. To me that is a liturgical message, God incarnated in our midst, turning our hearts towards God and directing us towards the future.