Lecture 15: Video Discussion 1
Lecture: Video Discussion 1
A. Ancient-Future Faith
Robert Webber has thought a lot about these issues of worship and we will listen to one of his videos, Ancient-Future Worship. There are two tapes of which we will only watch portions of them. He has a book called Ancient-Future Faith where he expands beyond these tapes. He thinks that as the church moves into post-modernity or as the culture moves into post-modernity, this huge cultural shift in the world makes the season ripe for going back to this ancient catechumenate where people are coming into the faith with no or little background in the faith. I am not as convinced of that as he is. He and a lot of authors paint with a larger brush than I would in this idea of post-modernism. Most of the world is not post-modernism. Many places of the world are still pre-modern. Many of the descriptions and categories that we would describe as pre-modern are still what characterizes much of the world. Many cultural pockets, even in America, contain other cultural realities which contain more significance than what post-modernity would. Still, for example, the issue of race in many settings and other ethnic factors would be more significant in the cultural mindset of a people than any ism that may be sweeping the world. So, I don’t like taking too strongly all the emphasis on mega-cultural shifts and painting the world with that broad brush. But, beside from this, I think he has some interesting and thoughtful ideas; some very provocative and some I don’t agree with at all.
B. The Content, Culture, and Structure of Worship
At this point, he has offered a definition of worship which is the celebration of God’s mighty acts in history culminated in the work of Jesus Christ. He deals with worship under three different heads: content, structure and style. The content of our worship is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is non-negotiable. At the end of that discussion, he turns to a music pastor who talks about how he keeps the content of the worship in view in determining the music that will be part of the worship. After this, we will go on to the structure and the style. I actually thought that his definition of worship and his discussion of the content was sort of the weaker part. What he says about structure is very interesting which may help us in thinking about issues of the elements of our worship experience. In regards to preparation, my preference is for having a beginning culture of silence so that you can prepare your hearts. Most churches first gather everybody together and then focus on holiness. Another significant issue is in regards to experiences in other evangelical churches when people attend those churches. As an experiment, put your visitor’s hat on and visit different churches. I think there needs to be some holy discomfort in worship. He addresses the unholy sinful discomfort that we cause by not caring enough. One of the issues here is that he accommodates more than I would to the marketing culture. We need to cultivate a culture of hospitality and instead of thinking that it is somebody else’s job, realize that it is ours also. This is a great application of this Matthew 25 ministry which talks about feeding people and showing hospitality to others. There is a Greek word that shows up in the Bible, philoxenia, which is the love of strangers. This is one of the key ministries of the church. Every week, we have somebody that comes to us for the first time; our biblical obligation is to be hospitable in welcoming and accommodating them.
This is an element which most of our churches have, with some considering it an important part of what they did. The leadership has to believe in an idea enough to work with it and believe in it. This is such a critical ministry, we don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that anybody could do it. This is the same as for Sunday School, thinking that anybody can handle the youth. This is just too critical. People need to be culturally tuned in to be greeting people. This is a gift and an important ministry. I am concerned with what we call fellowship in our churches, often doing more harm than good. What some label fellowship, having coffee after the services, but many go to their little clique instead of moving around and meeting people and many are left out in the cold. Even in a meal, people gather together with their friends. I would preach and teach on this point regularly; it isn’t going to happen automatically for we are all insecure. This would be a great theme for worship that would include a nice drama. The ministry of hospitality is everywhere in the Bible. In one church that my wife and I first attended, the pastor asked someone to take us to dinner. This is what the pastor did regularly. He would have newcomers to stand up and ask someone to invite them to lunch. That was bold and provocative, and it worked. As our society in North America become increasingly more multicultural, there are increasing opportunities for hospitality and for witness.
D. The Architecture
In regards to architecture, it doesn’t have to be an either/or, it can be a both/and. The tape shows us a genuine authentic worshipful experience with these people. But this can become a substitute; the focus can shift into that direction. We always have to be careful to watch our hearts for a sort of reactive theology, like theology that comes from tradition as to what we have always believed. Sometimes it comes from experience and so it must be true. Theology can come from reaction. For example, I used to be in a charismatic church where I saw a lot of bogus prophecies. You can develop a reactive theology from this, to think that none of this exists. Any movement in any of these directions needs to be done carefully and you need to continually reflect and evaluate, making sure that you aren’t substituting the style for the substance. Another thought on the architecture issue; some of the architecture that dominates will cause you to balance things. For example, there is a concern when a church builds a building and wants it to look New England style. They want it to look traditional. Unfortunately, these buildings are horrible for a corporate worship experience. So, we should think about ways that make more of a community experience and balance this with cultural concerns. However, architecture is difficult in regards to cultural concerns. You can talk about it and do what you can do, but it needs to be discussed in humility. The reality in most of the world is to forget it. Most of the world would be happy to have any kind of space. If you are in a place where you can do it, then do it. But, keep in mind the church that we are a part of: the suffering church in the world that is under persecution. Most churches in the world are happy just to have a place to meet. Just be aware that my brothers and sisters aren’t enjoying such privileges.
E. The Processional
I like the idea of a processional as we have just seen. Certainly, on holy festivals, something like this could be done beautifully and artistically. I have come to appreciate the kind of responsive greetings where the leader and the people pray for each other. I wish that our churches had some place comfortable to kneel as kneeling strikes me as a basic posture of prayer and worship. There is a very interesting ancient contemporary prayer of confession. The one that we are used to, ‘create in me a clean heart oh God.’ Within the charismatic church, it didn’t seem authentic to pray a prayer from a prayer book but there was no problem praying from an overhead transparency. I can pray a confessional, ‘I confess that I have sinned against you, oh Lord.’ I can pray that prayer from my heart like any other prayer. There is an introduction of the greatness of God and then a response to that of our confession of sin and the word of assurance follows this. There is an interesting experience that is rooted in the fact that the message of the Cross has been implanted in the person’s mind. The same experience may not mean anything in another culture. J.R. Packer, in a class I took from him on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, said that earlier he was critical about the Pentecostal and charismatic movement, but now so many of my friends have had powerful encounters with God; ‘I may not agree in the way they articulate what they have experienced and they way they theologize what they have experienced, but I can’t deny their experience. I might not call what they experience, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but obviously God has met them in a powerful and profound life-changing way’.
F. Holistic Participation
As a principle, we have talked about holistic participation. I believe that this is potentially very powerful and biblical. If we assume the norm for worship is continuity between the testaments; unlike we are led to understand discontinuity, rather than the reverse. When I see processions in the Old Testament with very holistic, multi-sensory experiences, my assumption is, why not? I think that symbol and ritual are very powerful, but the challenge is to make them filled with meaning. If we suck the life out of them, then we are back to idolatry. But as long as we keep them infused with Gospel life, there is real power in them. Perhaps, you are not as comfortable with this kind of physical re-enactment or progression. You can do this simply through the choice of songs that you are singing. You can start with high praise and then move into intimacy. This goes back to the conversation that we have already had based on the architecture of the tabernacle. Think of this in terms of the elements of designing a worship service where it should always serve the content. The song leader starts with a theme in mind which has already been given by the pastor or speaker. Everything points us in a common direction. We don’t have to do this slavishly, but in moving toward the message, it makes sense in whatever songs and acts of worship we do; the main point should be helping us to be prepared for that message and in somehow enhancing and responding to that theme. I like the idea of a thematic flow of worship whenever possible with everything magnifying that key point of revelation and helping us to have an appropriate response.
G. Contemporary Worship
In watching something like this, you look for the principles that may be of most use to you. Cultural is such a difficult thing and this kind of experience is culture-bound in some ways. Architecturally, there are some cultural boundaries here that will not apply elsewhere. Some of the music that was contemporary is no longer contemporary. It does provide heart language for people from some generations, but not with other generations. Webber is actually echoing the charge of a lot of people who would say the whole concept of contemporary worship is a misnomer; it’s not really contemporary as it is music of the sixties and seventies with the casual atmosphere that began to sweep America at that time. The idea of contemporary now, may be too challenging to keep up with. I believe you should consider both aspects instead of an either/or. The ministry of the Holy Spirit can be just as powerful and significant in the planning, if we allow that to be present and significant. But even when we have laid our plans and done our thing, I prefer a setting in which we allow opportunities for the Spirit to redirect us if he so desires. I am concerned about a lot of the practical realities in a lot of churches where there is such a limited time for the Holy Spirit to work in us. Many churches work under even more difficult restraints in regards to time where planning has taking over everything. We are usually for too bound to time in most of our situations. One Nigerian priest serving in a Catholic congregation in the States said that he had trouble with these time limits that people and the American culture sat. Back home, he said, it would be a two-hour Mass with people hanging around all day afterwards.
H. Practical Issues and Cultural Pretence
God is going to going to look ultimately at the hearts of the worshipers and we should too. Key practical issues, don’t dress in such a way that it distracts anybody or that it draws attention. For example, in the summertime, there should be more propriety in covering up more of your flesh not thinking that you are going to the beach or something like that. Perhaps some biblical principles about modesty and appropriateness should be considered. Otherwise, I think we really get into issues of culture again. It is difficult to build too strong a biblical case; you can get into culture or some kind of analogies. I really hesitate to turn those things into law as it sometimes can do more harm than good. I’m concerned that we become so casual that it becomes irreverent and inappropriate. But the opposite, sometimes I’m concerned that we are all putting on a show on Sunday. We come together driving up with our expensive cars and our pretty clothes; we greet each other with pretty smiles. But in fact, before this, there was all chaos and disharmony with our family relationships and even in the house. We have cultivated this culture of pretense where on Sunday’s we look our best. I wonder whether that makes it difficult for us to obey something like James 5:16; confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. We are so used to putting on our best front. It doesn’t have to be this; but it could be. Think about the issue of accessibility and hospitality. What if somebody doesn’t know that our culture is a Sunday best culture and someone shows up at our door with me looking like a Matthew 25 kind of person. If we are not continually teaching our people about this; it could be another place where the visitor is alienated even before services start. And instead of preaching a message which is Jesus takes us as we are; we are preaching a message by implication, ‘you have to clean up to come to Jesus.’
This argument can also apply to the leaders of the church in terms of expensive suits and ties and the way they are dressed. In some of the more reformed circles, they went to robes for the opposite reason. It was to display simplicity and cover up the dress that people wore. The problem becomes in taking something that is a kind of cultural reality and stamping it with biblical authority. We can do this in many different ways within the ritual activities. In church practices, it is so easy to have a cultural stream with biblical elements that get merged after so many years. We sometimes forget as to what is what. It isn’t wrong to have cultural practices, you can’t be unculturable. It is when we make what is culture or tradition have equal authority with what is biblical. The whole role of culture is much greater than we will ever confess. It has much more of a grip on us than what we think are biblical convictions. So there so much more culture in there than what we will admit to or ever be able to acknowledge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we need to be discerning. In any given culture that we are in, there are idols that need to be confronted. There are isms that need to be challenged. In our contemporary North American experience, these are some of the realities; too casual, too individualistic, too meaningless. So, I think that is appropriate; my only concern is that we turn something which is not clearly given to us scripturally, we turn it into scriptural authority by our practices and thus communicate something entirely different unintentionally. This doesn’t have to be an either/or; we can do the both/and kind of thing here where the majority of people of the church are in the habit of dressing as nicely and reverently and properly as they can.
But we also train them to be full of compassion for those who come in from outside. This is both an interesting and yet complex issue; this is again, another place to apply this meet me where I am, help me go where I need to go. We want to be as accommodating in welcoming to visitors and seekers as we possibly can be. But as we grow in Christ, our own experience will sort of push us along. Perhaps we will think more reverently than we have before.