Anyone who knows me knows that my positions on any given subject tend to morph over time. We're not usually talking about wholesale changes, but definitely the tendency to drift from hard-and-fast to loose-and-open. The most recent and radical example of this is my position on using "contemporary" worship music in church.
You have to first understand that I grew up playing classical piano and taking enough music theory to be a relatively hard-core aesthetic elitist. I did some varisty sports in high school, but most of my extra-curricular energies were spent in choirs and such. Don't get me wrong, I like The Doobie Brothers, Sting, James Brown, etc., but have generally thought of certain genres as being too "amateurish" and individualistic for throne room worship. Enough of the I, IV, V, chord progression already.
While I still think a lot of pop Christian music is amateurish, overly individualistic, lacking in content, sappy, etc., I have had several revelations. First, most of the hymnody in the Presbyterian-Reformed tradition is crusty, stale, boring, unsingable, overly individualistic, and plain bad music. Sure, there is good stuff that we should hang on to and perpetuate. But a lot of the stuff "traditional" / "liturgical" churches try to sing is just literally stuck in its own time-bound culture. In American Presbyterianism, most of the hymnody comes from the glory days of Presbyteriansim about 100-200 years ago. It may have been the high-water mark of the tradition in America, but its failure to flex with the culture is a symptom of its disease - and a reason for its demise.
Let me try to explain. One of the reasons "Evangelical" churches using pop music are bigger and more active than traditional "Reformed" churches is because their music is culturally accessible. More people would come to and grow into liturgical and Reformed churches if they could connect with the music. Visitors and neophytes simply cannot digest an anachronistic 4-point harmony written in 1820 with an organ or lame piano in the background. This becomes a huge barrier to them dealing with the ministry of word and sacrament. I challenge you. Go to the average traditional worship service and contrast it with a bigger Evangelical church with a "band." I GUARANTEE you that the worshippers in the Evangelical service are more joyful, engaged, and emotive than folks in Reformed churches. Guarantee it.
We have to get over the impulse that pop music or even jazz in church is somehow beneath God. Yes, we should be intentional and strive for excellence, but no genre has a corner on holiness or propriety. It takes wisdom to discern what is out of bounds, but it also takes wisdom to know what can be included for the sake of edification. Simplistic thinking about this matter will not serve the church well.
As for me, I've joined the band at church on an intermittent basis. Hard to believe, but true. It is stretching, but a lot of fun and a blessing.
Last weekend I was in San Antonio, TX, for a business trip. I missed church in the morning because I was in transit, but I had the afternoon to myself. Since I had no commitments I decided to explore downtown - and as I did I stumbled upon one of the historic churches / cathedrals in the center of the city. It seemed very good and right to go in to spend time in prayer, so I went in to grab a pew and a kneeler and get to work...
Little did I realize that I had stumbled into five o'clock Mass. Rather than turn tail and run I thought it would be fun to at least observe since I don't often have that opportunity. Within minutes I was more than a spectator. What struck me first was the cruciform layout of the seats. The pews were arranged in the shape of a cross and the Table was at the center of the cross. "Cool," I thought to myself. Then we were called to worship by this young woman with the most angelic voice I ever heard. This was followed by Scripture readings, a confession of sin, beautiful hymns (not the stale 18-19th century crud in the Trinity Hymnal!), a recitation of the Nicene Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. I recognized I was being swept into this but remained pretty skeptical until we came to the Homily. Surely, I thought, they would stumble here. They didn't. The young Hispanic Priest preached a very fine sermon from The Gospel of Matthew. Very fine.
And so there I was, in a Roman Catholic church in San Antonio, TX, with a decision. Do I take the eucharist or not? I realized that if I could say the same creed, prayers, and worship the same Lord, not partaking would be an act of high-handed sectarianism. I wondered if they would want me, a Presbyterian guy, to come to the table. Would it be okay? What should I do? I frantically grabbed at the literature in the pew and came across this statement in their worship bulletin:
"Guidelines for the Reception of Communion - For Fellow Christians"
We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this eucharist will draw us closer to one another begin to dispel the sad divisions that separate us. We pray these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ's prayer for us "that they may all be one" (John 17:21).
That was all I needed. I got up and celebrated the eucharist with my brothers and sisters in the Roman church.
Go ahead. Call me an ecumaniac. Guilty as charged.
I live at the world-epicenter of Evangelical "seeker-sensitive" worship in Orange County, California. The whole area is "Purpose Driven," if you know what I mean. That is interesting enough to experience, but what I find equally intriguing are the Reformed anti "seeker-sensitive" churches I have attended. They are so seeker-insensitive that even I leave church with a rash!
This all begs the question, "who is worship for?" It seems everyone is split into one of three camps - worship is either, a) for God, b) for Christians, or c) for seekers / non-Christians. Historic / traditionalist / Reformed churches tend to choose options A/B, charismatic / pentecostal churches trend toward options B/C, and Evangelical / baptistic churches are increasingly settled on option C. This is why baptistic / Evangelical churches are "feeder" churches to other traditions - and why other traditions experience little or no conversion growth.
I am convinced that biblical worship is actually for God, Christians, AND seekers. It is for glorifying God through our praise, prayers, communion, and giving. It is for Christians who need to be renewed again to the Gospel by confession of sin, the cleansing and consecration of the Word, the communion with God and neighbor, and the commissioning of God into the world. But it is ALSO for the non-Christian seekers who are converted by the preaching of the word and call of the Gospel in the midst of God's redeemed people.
One of the reasons Reformed churches don't grow without so-called "transfer growth" is because they don't get this at all. Here are my suggestions for Reformed folks to consider as they wrestle with the threefold "audience" of worship:
Music is H.U.G.E. - It is okay to contemporize old texts into more popular / accessible music. It has taken me a long, long time to come to this. You have to realize I am a classically trained pianist for over 20 years, so I have a huge elitist-classicist streak running through me. I play Rachmaninoff and you don't, so hear me out. If the music itself (not the words) is so arcane and alien to seekers that they can't connect to it without a life-time of exposure - you've got yourself a whopper of a problem. Go ahead and put the powerpoint and projectors up. Put the 30-year old blue hymnals with yellowing pages down. You can sing meaty / ancient texts and even Psalms, but you should make the tunes accessible for your cultural context. Make it your top priority.
The sermon should not be the climax - A Gnostic lecture-hall is not what worship is all about. The sermon is one component of the whole liturgy, not the single pivot that everything else emanates from. Unless you're Tim Keller, keep it short - under 30 minutes. There is just no need to go 45 minutes to an hour. The law of diminishing returns is one you can take to the bank. Please!
Keep the table at the center - The whole point of the Gospel is renewed fellowship with God, neighbor, and the world. Don't leave the whole point of the Gospel out. Put it up front and center and celebrate in a big way. People will get it - they really will.
Pay attention to visual circumstances - We don't worship with blindfolds on, but I think most Reformed people think we might as well. We're flesh and blood and our visual circumstances impact our attitudes. You want to eat a 5-star dinner at the greasy spoon? Didn't think so.
Well, I could write more, but this was just my way of passing Saturday morning while the kids watch cartoons. Peace!
I. Where we are (vs 18-22) A. Not at Sinai (commencement) B. Come to Zion (consummation) II. Who we are with (vs 22-24) A. Angels B. God the Judge C. Spirits of just men made perfect D. Jesus the Mediator III. What is happening (vs 24-29) A. Sprinkling B. Speaking C. Shaking D. Receiving "Therefore... serve (Gk. "latria" = worship) God acceptably with reverence and godly fear..." (Heb 12:28)
For more on the heavenly pattern and context of our corporate worship, be encouraged by this brief article posted at the OPC website: "The Heavenly Pattern of Worship"
I am posting this because there has been some interesting dialogue in my recent blog on a case for the church year. The issue being punted around revolves around the so-called "regulative principle" of worship (RPW). The RPW basically states that anything not expressly commanded for worship in Scripture is forbidden. According to the RPW we must pray in worship because it is commanded in Scripture, but we must not do skits in worship because they are not commanded. Historically, the RPW stands over-and-against the so-called "normative principle" of worship, which holds that anything not expressly forbidden in worship is permissible. So according to the NPW, skits in worship are not expressly forbidden and are therefore allowable.
The RPW / NPW categories are helpful and do raise some very interesting issues concerning how we should worship. I am persuaded by the RPW, but over the past several years have seen that these categories alone cannot begin to shape liturgical practice. For example, I have heard a host of RPW guys talking about the "elements" of worship (prayer, preaching, sacraments, singing) as if they have no relationship to one another. They are like ingredients you put in salsa - the order you put them in doesn't matter. As long as you put them together you have salsa.
What I think most of the RPW guys miss is that corporate worship has a heavenly context. When we meet together to worship we come to Mount Zion (Heb 12). The people of God are called / gathered before His throne to be renewed by the Gospel. By the power of the Spirit we are indwelt as the Temple of God, offering spiritual sacrifices, as a holy priesthood (1 Pet 2:5). When you see that this is true, worship becomes far more than a mere combination of "elements." You see that OC Temple worship gives us a pattern for NT liturgy. You see that the Scriptural glimpses into heaven guide our practice. When God gathers His people to His House, we are renewed to the Gospel:
Called to Worship
Confess our Sin
Cleansed from Sin
Consecrated by the Word
Communion with God and Neighbor
Commissioned into the World
I affirm the RPW, but the Reformed tradition has a long, long way to go in recapturing the reality of worship's heavenly context. My methodology is to work towards this liturgical maximalism (within the constraints of the RPW) as much as possible.
I have to admit that I cringe everytime I hear a pastor misquoting Christ's words of administration saying, "Do this in remembrance of me." The Greek text simply doesn't say this. In fact, it says, "Do this as my memorial." The difference is huge.
What is the difference, you ask? The difference is that when we hear, "Do this in rememberance of me," we hear, "remember me in remberance of me." Sit down and think about Jesus. Retreat intospectively and subjectively assess whether you are partaking worthily. Be contrite as you curl up into your fetal position remembering what Jesus did for you.
This is emphatically not what Jesus said. He didn't say to remember Him in rememberance of Him. No, we are to DO this (celebrative act of feasting with God and our brothers) as His memorial. When we celebrate the Eucharist (literally, "thanksgiving" dinner), God remembers us. He remembers not to forsake us because we have been reconciled in His Son. He does not break covenant with us because Christ's death is once again "proclaimed." (1 Cor 11:26)
You may ask, "But God doesn't need to be reminded!" I respond, have you read Genesis 9:15? The rainbow in the sky isn't for us to remember God's promise of preservation, but for God to remember His promise of preservation. Yes, your Sunday school teacher taught you incorrectly about this. Take a look and see.
When we take the Lord's Supper, we are engaging in a rite that reminds God of His promises to His people in Christ. Yes, it is for our nourishment and encoruagement, but it is not primarily about our introspection. It is about God's extrospection - His outlook on His people. We can rejoice around a meal in which we feast with God as His friends and family. We don't do it to remember Him, but for Him to remember us.