Originally penned on 8/30/2015. Due to the controversial nature of this topic I have sat on it for nearly two years. It’s time to post it and begin the discussion as carefully as I am able.
UPDATE: Be sure to read the comment stream on this post and look at Screwtape’s reaction.
I am in a congregation that I love, serving youth and young adults that I love, living in a neighborhood that I love, and in a denominational synod that I love.
What is missing from that wonderfully blessed situation?
I have experienced contemporary worship since I left for college in 1987. I know all the words to every Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, Amy Grant, Rich Mullins, etc. worship song. Nobody can say I don’t know the contemporary music associated with contemporary worship. I am also familiar with Episcopal (1968 – 1987), Baptist (UT 1987 – 1992), LCMS (1992 – 1997), Methodist (1997 – 2004), and LCMS (2004 – present) theology, hymnody, and worship styles. And by visitation, I have seen Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Assembly of God worship services as well as the myriad of student worship gatherings for the Baptist Student Ministries, the Wesley Foundation, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and CRU.
I have become convinced that these worship methods are strongly targeted to the emotional side of Christianity. I have been told many times by well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ – layman, laywomen, elders, and pastors that “churches with young people have these types of services”. I have observed this as well. But I have also seen that the laypersons’ Biblical literacy, apologetic ability, and knowledge of the basic theological tenants of the Christian faith are in a pathetic state of decay.
These two trends are related.
“What you win a person WITH, is what you win a person TO.”
– Ravi Zacharias, Christian Evangelist and Apologist
No matter what congregation you are in, pay attention to the next worship music “set” and you will see “the buildup”, “the climax”, and “the afterglow” with an occasional echo of the climax and afterglow. It is a very effective emotional technique. It produces predictable results for those who are drawn into the experience. They get lost in the experience – some laughing, some crying, some simply drowning in the endorphins.
I understand. The world is a crummy, fallen, and heartbreaking mess. We are crummy, fallen, and heartbroken. We need an escape. We need to feel absorbed in the glory of our Lord and what He has done for us. We need to forget the world and our sinful selves as we rest on the Lord’s atonement.
However, escapism doesn’t help me truly deal with Monday-Saturday issues. The Sunday morning high helps me cope. I might even get a midweek booster shot on Wednesday nights. But being won with emotionalism, I am left with emotionalism.
(Please do not dismiss my next few points because of any prejudice on your part against words like Liturgical or Episcopal. That is called the Genetic Fallacy and it prevents you from listening to my POINT because you disagree with my BACKGROUND.)
My earliest worship experiences were in St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, TX. This church uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and the liturgical portions were exactly the same Sunday after Sunday. Yet, it was deeply moving without being escapist. I learned to read the big words in those prayers as a child. I learned what inestimable meant. I learned what presume meant. I learned that I was a miserable sinner. It seemed fitting to have a formal “you” (Thou, Thy, and Thee) which was used for God (and God alone since we do not speak this way, today).
What made this worship meaningful to me? I wasn’t sure. After a few years in the Baptist church at UT I began to miss it. I was afraid my longing for it was merely nostalgia for my childhood. Then, I visited the Lutheran Church with my girlfriend (later we were wed there). I heard similar prayers and similar portions of the service with the same strange names – Agnus Dei, Te Deum, Hosanna, etc. Something clicked. I thought growing up that the liturgy of St Andrews was written in 1928. It was not.
Fast forward in my search. Seeing the same portions in the Lutheran and Episcopal service meant the service predated the split between those two. Later I saw the same upon visiting a Roman Catholic church, meaning the service predates the Protestant-Catholic split in 1500 AD. Imagine my surprise when I visited my Greek Orthodox friend’s church and saw the same portions of the service with even the same words in the Kyrie Eleison and Agnus Dei! This predates the East-West split in 1000 AD. I was finally able to pull the thread back to the 70 AD Liturgy of Saint James – brother of Jesus, leader of the first century church in Jerusalem.
- K. Chesterton was paraphrased by John F. Kennedy as saying,
“Don’t take a fence down until you know why it was put up.”
The passage he was paraphrasing is:
“There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.”
What IS Worship?
At this point, it is appropriate to ask “What is worship?”
- Is it a purely escapist emotional experience, a few readings, a message, and some cut-and-paste parts from a loose order of worship?
- Is it a stiff and stodgy recitation of words written by the forefathers of our forefathers?
Let’s take a detour from opinions and go to the actual words of divine scripture.
From the Blue Letter Bible website
Worship in Hebrew (shachah, Strongs #H7812 is translated in the following manner: worship (99x), bow (31x), bow down (18x), obeisance (9x), reverence (5x), fall down (3x), themselves (2x), stoop (1x), crouch (1x), misc (3x)
Outline of Biblical Usage
- to bow down
- (Qal) to bow down
- (Hiphil) to depress (fig)
- to bow down, prostrate oneself
- before superior in homage
- before God in worship
- before false gods
- before angel
And in Greek (proskyneo, Strongs # G4352 is translated in the following manner: worship (60x).
Outline of Biblical Usage
- to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence
- among the Orientals, esp. the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence
- in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication
- used of homage shown to men and beings of superior rank
- to the Jewish high priests
- to God
- to Christ
- to heavenly beings
- to demons
Jesus linked service to worship in response to Satan’s temptation. The word for service he used is letreuo, Strongs #G3000 in the following manner: serve (16x), worship (3x), do the service (1x), worshipper (1x)
Outline of Biblical Usage
- to serve for hire
- to serve, minister to, either to the gods or men and used alike of slaves and freemen
- in the NT, to render religious service or homage, to worship
- to perform sacred services, to offer gifts, to worship God in the observance of the rites instituted for his worship
- of priests, to officiate, to discharge the sacred office
It is clear to me from the outlines and the usages that worship is about bowing down, prostration to God, and service to Him and His wishes.
There is no hint of an emotional high. That does not mean it is emotion-free.
I have often been moved to tears through the words of the various liturgical settings in the Lutheran Church and still when I go back and visit my childhood church home. The distinction is this. The words moved me to tears, yet they were not designed to move me to tears.
The words in that service were not written to move me through any emotional arc. My emotional connection to them is rooted in what they move me to say about myself, what they move me to say about God, and what God has to say to me in His Word.
In “wordy” worship, I am being won “with words” and thus I am won “to words”.
When I need mid-week strength, I don’t need my worship song playlist. I can be fed with the pure Word of God – strengthened and uplifted by the encouraging scriptures that have been incorporated in the order of worship and committed to memory by a lifetime of recitation.
“Come unto me all who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
“It is more blessed to give than to receive”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son, so that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.”
And on, and on. (These scripture passages are at the beginning of Morning Prayer.)
One last point
Worship is about sacrifice, and sacrifice comes in many forms. For worship, we sacrifice sleep on the weekend, we sacrifice time, and we sacrifice our resources. Why is it when it comes to worship that we refuse to sacrifice our opinions about what matters in worship? Instead, we insist that WE are right and that OUR wishes are the only ones that will “keep the church alive” or will “bring in young people”.
It is unreasonable for me to ask YOU to sacrifice your opinions, wishes, desires, and yes, even emotional needs.
Unless a compromise can be found, I will do the sacrificing. I will continue to stay in a congregation that I love, serving youth and young adults that I love, living in a neighborhood that I love, and in a denominational synod that I love.
But when the cacophony and emotional arc begins I will sacrifice my preference and my need of meaningful and familiar words and hymnody. There will still be parts of the worship service that speak to me, in the readings, the sermon, the confession, absolution, words of institution, and the creeds. But even if the familiarity is taken away through weekly re-writes, I will continue to see this as my prostration, my worship, and my drink offering to the Lord. And if I get too hungry for the old words, I can always pull the LSB or Book of Common Prayer off the shelf at my house and have my own worship “service” alone with the Lord.
I do ask that I not be insulted by calling my worship “dead”. It is as alive as my Savior Jesus Christ.
Moving Forward with Hope
I appreciate our Pastors’ interest in opening the door to a discussion about worship. I would like to keep the ball moving.
Some objections to deal with up front.
The retort that people fall into a rote recitation is often used as an argument against using the service book for worship, but this is a problem with the worshipper not the words. Leadership should always encourage the congregation to engage the mind and heart when reading responsively.
The same observation can be made of people in praise services checking their phones or standing bored with their hands in their pockets during music sets. It is not consistent to use disengagement as a criticism of any form of worship.
The real issue for us is that there are two preferences in one congregation.
The following suggestion would breathe new life into our congregation, because it is something that people have been asking for since 2005. For over ten years, many of us have been asking for a service that allowed us to know exactly what we were going to be doing and saying on Sunday morning so we could throw our full attention into worshipping our Savior.
- 8:00 AM Divine Service Setting 1 – 5. No video support is needed or desired because it is distracting. The LSB is sufficient for this service. (There are audio files of organ accompaniment for every LSB hymn.)
- 9:15 AM Sunday School
- 10:30 AM Sunday Morning Worship
This should not be seen in a negative light. This should not be seen as a defeat or capitulation to those immovable traditionalists. This should not be seen as creating two congregations. There are already two groups attending one service on Sunday morning and two different sets of voices on each type of music.
This should be seen as proactive service of the needs of those who need structure to their worship. This will also provide an outreach opportunity. I predict that the 8 am service will bring people in. I do not know of any no theologically conservative churches in Huntsville who have structured worship on Sunday mornings. Why can’t we provide this for the community? It is an unmet need that we can fill.
If you are worried about structured worship producing dead Christians, then I hope to allay those fears with my very life.
To worship one way or another is a matter of preference on BOTH sides. Please acknowledge that my preference is no less holy than someone else’s.
“19 Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), 21 and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, 25 not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ” [Hebrews 10:19-25 HCSB]
Flexibility in this area by providing two worship forms on Sunday morning will greatly “promote love and good works”, and will express the concern we have for people who are “staying away from our worship meetings” (physically or mentally).
Please receive this long text with the grace and love that went into writing it. I hold NO ill will, nor do I want a worship war. I want peace in the congregation, and I want to proclaim Christ’s love in many ways each week.
Brother, your article is full of logical fallacies. You denigrate modern worship as simply producing an emotional arc or high, then you argue for liturgy because it causes deep emotion within you.
You ascribe YOUR deep emotion to the words within, yet you offer no rebuttal or proof that it’s not the words of modern worshippers may have the same effect.
Your passing graze at word origins and meanings, to you, seem to be trying to say that worship does not speak to emotion – yet to me, the very words you use speak of a deeply emotional experience. Proskyneo, to bow before and kiss the hand/ countenance of another…why would one be moved to do so without profound respect, love, awe, etc.
You are right to point people towards the Word. You are also right to desire our response, musicality otherwise, to be worthy and truly representational of the awe inspiring mysteries of our faith. While we cannot approach scripture in the profundity and beauty of our writing…we should be striving for it.
But I would argue that in all of these points were we agree, they don’t rule out forms of modern worship.
Music is just a construct, a vehicle that adds another layer of expression to language. In truth, it varies very little from Bach to today – same tuning, same theory and harmonic progression, same measured phrases and same cadences. Only the instruments have changed.
I have been a hymnodist an litergist for 30 years, and love the old forms and language of worship. I also love modern worship…when wielded correctly by discerning pastoral leadership. And therein lies the crux of the matter, in my experience. Whether ancient or modern, those planning and leading us into the presence of God can do so with Spirit led wisdom and God’s Levitical anointing…or with motives and understandings that are not of God.
I truly place the failure of either at the feet of leadership. That, and at the feet of selfish worshippers unwilling to offer up their sacrifice of praise regardless of forms. In my experience, worship can be bother transcendent or God-awful regardless of style or form of content..
I leave you with these words from modern worship artist Audrey Assad (adapted from earlier writings) in her song “Spirit of the Living God” –
O Spirit of the living God,
Thou Light and Fire Divine!
Descend upon Thy Church once more
And make it truly Thine.
Fill it with love and joy and power,
with righteousness and peace;
Till Christ shall dwell in human hearts,
and sin and sorrow cease.
Blow, wind of God, with wisdom blow
until our minds are free
From mists of error, clouds of doubt,
which blind our eyes to Thee.
Burn, winged fire, inspire our lips
with flaming love and zeal –
To preach to all Thy great good news,
God’s glorious commonweal.
So shall we know the power of Christ, who came this world to save.
So shall we rise with Him to life
which soars beyond the grave.
And earth shall win true holiness
which makes Thy children whole –
Till, perfected by Thee, we reach
Creation’s glorious goal!
D. L. Williams said:
Hi Scott, thanks for your insight, and even for your criticism where you thought it was necessary. I am glad it was delivered with grace brother to brother.
I agree that I am supporting my request for the liturgy because it is a preference. But i wholeheartedly agree with you that whatever we do Sunday morning MUST be done with excellence to the best of our ability and resources.
You point out one thing that I feared. I do not want to attack “the other side”. I love the praise of our Father and my brothers ans sisters in Christ. I especially love our Pastors and their families. I repent of and harsh tone or words that may be construed as a slight to them.
Regarding the hymn you posted at the end of you comment, it took thought and lots of hard work to wordsmith something so well written. I would love to sing something this deep, which is why I love Watts, Crosby, Flint, Wesley, and Luther hymnody. I don’t claim that they are more holy. But they are excellent. The hymn you posted is excellent too. Much, not all, of the 1,4,5,1 repeated chorus songs are not excellent. But that reflects my opinion and preferences only.
As for the cursory word study, I read every one of those references. I included it only to make the point that worship was bowing and adoring God.
There’s much to say, but I’ll end this comment with a beautiful quote William Temple that Ravi zacharias uses often.
“Years ago, I read a definition of worship that to this day rings with clear and magnificent terms.(1) The definition comes from the famed archbishop William Temple: “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” The more I have thought of that definition, the more I am convinced that if worship is practiced with integrity in the community of God’s people, potentially, worship may be the most powerful evangel for this culture of ours.” -RZ http://rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/worship-on-empty/
Well said! Always hard to argue with Ravi. And my apologies for the typos in my post above – that’s a lot of typing on my iPhone and autocorrect zapped me a few times. And, couldn’t find a way to edit.
Truly, more and more I see the conflict about worship forms and styles being the fault of leadership. Sure, there are LOTS of fairly poor worship songs being distributed and used. There were also lots of mediocre hymns that got written and distributed (I’m looking at YOU, Thad Roberts, Jr.!). But there also tons of GREAT worship songs being written. Use them!
Also, it just seems that the considerations that should be a part of any worship planning are being ignored. Things are being included and wielded in worship for the wrong reasons and with a clumsy hand, it seems to me. Our frustration or disengagement really should not be towards the media, but towards those that should be shepherding both the planning and the actual leading of the service.
I’ve always said that to be included in a worship service, and element must meet three criteria (in addition to being biblically sound) –
– Well written
– Well chosen
– Well done
Well written in that the piece, being music or reading or drama or whatever, is crafted with skill, insight, or purpose.
Well chosen in that the piece serves the purpose of the liturgy or the teaching of the day, and has a high probability of connecting with your congregation. No one should say, “why did we do that?!?” After your done.
Finally, well done, as in the leadership and talent resources of the body will allow the element to be done with excellence and free from distraction.
If something can meet these three values, my experience is that it will effectively serve the purposes of worship you state so eloquently in your first post, and what Zacharias is quoting in his statement.
Unfortunately, this sort of care, discretion and wisdom seems to be falling by the wayside as “pastors of worship” in churches are giving way to the local recording artist who managed to get some significant exposure on his latest recorded EP…
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D. L. Williams said:
It looks like Screwtape is involved, now. 😉 https://apologetics4all.com/2017/07/28/skrewtapes-stamp-of-approval/
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Drew Kostelnick said:
Wow! Thank you! I constantly wanted to write on my website something like that. Can I implement a part of your post to my site?