Defining Down Worship

There is a lot of talk floating about the internet on worship. I will throw my voice into the mix: I am saddened at the way we in the “relevant” world have defined-down worship to merely “singing.”

Last Sunday I went to a very nice church full of very sincere people. The liturgy (because all churches have their own liturgy) was 4 songs, a prayer and a sermon followed by the liturgical dismissal, “See you next week!”

Three of the four songs were contemporary songs written for performance (i.e. bad for group singing). The one song that lit the congregation up was the point in the medley in which the popular and modern “Beautiful” morphed into “How great thou art.” I wondered if the worship leader connected the dots that the one song to which all hands were raised and all voices joined was the one with theological content in a singable arrangement. Ironically every word of the worship leader’s pastoral prayer assumed a room with only one person in it (“I, me, mine, Lord”) and yet there was a long and strong push during announcement to join groups in order to “become a community.” I wondered if the church’s leadership had any awareness that the lack of connectedness and an ecclesiology oriented exclusively around the individual are related.

We desperately need to remember the roots of our faith. The first Christians converted the known world in 3 centuries. They did it with a seeker-insensitive worship pattern (still used by 2/3 of the Christians on the planet),  sacrificial care for the least and last, and an unwillingness to stop sharing the Good News of God’s love in Christ, and inviting people into the multi-ethnic, multi-class body of Christ.

It doesn’t have to be a choice between a great band singing unsingable songs or being trapped with an organ and an archaic hymnal. Worship could be a recovery of the ancient pattern of Christian worship, artfully and powerfully done, with music that is culturally appropriate to the context you are in.

To do something that radical, though, would take a radical re-orienting of our American individualism. The whole purpose of the ancient liturgy is to conform the body of the Church to a Scriptural pattern of life. The liturgy presumes what the original hearers of the New Testament knew: that most of the “you’s” in the text are really “y’all.”

The liturgy can be nuanced, but leaders should not be rewrite it at whim for the same reason we should not rewrite our wedding vows to “personalize” a marriage-the power of the marriage is specifically the surrendering of ourselves to a greater vision. The same is true with the liturgy – It stands coherently together and has 20 centuries of validation in the lives of countless millions of saints.