Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

Well, I figure it’s time for an update.

I couldn’t have asked for things to go any better. My wife (hereafter referred to as “C.”) confessed the other night that she has really come to love going to the Anglican church, even though she’s still not totally “natural” at the liturgy. She really enjoys the teaching and communion every week and has come to appreciate the more reverent style of worship.

The kicker for her (and me) is the effect it’s having on our kids. They seem to be learning so much more in Sunday School than they were at our previous church. We’d ask them after church what they talked about and they never could tell us. Now they excitedly tell us all kinds of things from Bible stories to things about the church year to asking questions about the Eucharist and how the bread is Jesus’ body and the wine is His blood. It’s really remarkable.

Another effect related to the kids is that while they do leave during the processional hymn to go to children’s church, they come back right after the sermon to be with us for the liturgy of Holy Communion. This is I think the most meaningful thing to me and I’m not sure I really knew how much it would mean to me. While they do spend some of the time drawing on paper, when we say the prayers, sing The Lord’s Prayer (I love singing it. The liturgical music is beautiful), sing the Sanctus and kneel for confession and the Eucharistic prayers, we involve them. My older one is starting to learn the singing parts and listens during the other parts. It blesses me so much to not only worship in front of my kids as an example to but begin worshiping with them. And while they aren’t old enough to receive Communion, they do come up with us and kneel and receive a blessing from the priest while me and C. receive the Sacrament. It’s really a wonderful time for us.

On top of all this, we’ve been attending a Sunday School class and have been invited into a community group that meets in homes every other week. And true to form, everyone has been extremely warm and welcoming. I feel like we’re really starting to fit in and get to know some people. These rich, beautiful people have blown away every preconceived notion me and C. had about such folks. It’s really extraordinary.

C. remarked to me the other night that she just wishes she’d have known 2 years ago what she knows now. She wishes we would have not waited to start attending. So, we are in the process of joining the church officially. Being from more informal churches, the process is a little more structured that what we’re used to (basically a handshake and coming down front after the service)…a 6-week adult catechism class and then being officially received by the Bishop when he visits later this year.

Thank you so much for your prayers and continue to pray for us as we dive in more and more. Also, though I know he doesn’t read this blog, thank you to Mark Galli for writing the book Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. It’s such an easy to read book and has done wonders to help C. understand the significance and symbolism involved in the various aspects of the liturgy and feel more comfortable. I read it a year or so ago and loved it myself but I think it’s been a Godsend for her.

I’m not done blogging, so this isn’t a goodbye post. The journey is really only beginning.


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I just finished the book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea by Alister McGrath.  First of all, I highly recommend the book.  It’s an excellent treatment of the issues surrounding the Reformation and all its major players from Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer and others.

One of the things it talked about was how Protestantism, outside of the Lutheran and Calvinist camps especially, as been so remarkably adaptable to different times, different countries and different cultures.  For sure, there have been eras of missteps in missionary efforts where too much emphasis was placed on transplanting a Western European style of Christianity into countries where the cultural norms and such are vastly different.  But the overall history of Protestantism has been one of amazing malleability.  And to most Protestants, this is a sign of it’s vitality and a source of great strength.  Aside from being centered around a sermon, you can encounter scores of different styles from country to country or even within one city.  You might walk into a Baptist church that’s very “countrified” with Southern Gospel style hymns and right down the road walk into another with all the high church pomp and circumstance you’d see in a Catholic service.  And right down from that would be one with a kickin’ rock band leading worship, congregants in jeans and t-shirts and the pastor sporting a faux-hawk.  And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the predominantly African-American congregations.

On the other hand, worldwide, Catholic and Orthodox churches are largely the same.  This was especially the case prior to Vatican II and the Mass being in the vernacular.  You could go anywhere in the world and the Mass was spoken in Latin and was in the same form.  Even with the vernacular, because the form of the Mass is consistent, most experienced Catholics can follow the service fairly easily even with the language barrier.  And this consistency is viewed by Catholics as a sign of strength and vitality as well.  They feel they adapt in more subtle ways to each culture (such as Mass in the vernacular) but that the more consistent liturgy and emphasis promotes unity and cohesiveness in the Church.

And this adaptability vs consistency thing doesn’t just apply to different cultures and countries now.  Outside of high church Lutherans and Anglicans, Protestantism is nothing if not willing to change.  No matter what era Protestantism finds itself in, there seems to be a near constant desire to change and seek to be “relevant.”  This is especially true of the last 30-40 years or so, since those first hippies started coming to Christ during the Jesus Movement, but whether it was John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney and Dwight Moody, the rise of Pentecostalism or the New Calvinists, this is has been a hallmark of Protestantism.

Catholicism (and to a similar degree Orthodoxism) on the other hand has been marked by its ties to history and (little “t”) tradition.  Some of the rites, creeds, prayers, music and other facets of Catholic worship have been around since the earliest days of the Church.  Many others have been in consistent use in Catholic services for centuries.  There’s a connectedness and a feeling of being anchored in something bigger than oneself but more importantly, bigger than “right now.”

To be honest, I’m torn over which is the best approach.  I’ve mentioned my feelings numerous times…how I lament the lack of historicity and the sense that we’ve lost something in all this manic striving to be culturally hip and relevant.  I find a depth and richness in traditional, liturgical worship that just seems lacking in much of contemporary styles.  But at the same time, I realize that everyone is not like me.  No matter how much you explain to some people the richness and deep meanings of the liturgy and its ancient roots, they don’t get it.  And it’s not that they don’t get it because they are non-Christians unattuned to the things of God.  These are wonderful, growing, sincere believers in Christ.  They might be able to appreciate elements of traditional worship from time to time, they prefer the more casual, modern style.  They feel like they connect with God on a more personal level in that kind of setting and that their relationship with God is much better partly because of the willingness of churches to loosen up and not be bogged down with attachments to songs and styles and cultural trappings that are no longer a part of modern life.  I even felt that way myself at one point, but as this blog attests, that’s changed with me.  It doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a well-done modern worship service, I just have different tastes and different things that matter more to me.

What do you think?  There are pros and cons to both approaches I believe.  What is more important…cultural relevance in worship style or a connection to the past and our Christian brethren from times gone by?  As long as the Gospel is being taught and people are being discipled and matured in the faith, should the form in which those things are conveyed matter?

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There’s an excellent discussion over at iMonk’s site about liturgy.  I wanted to highlight one response from a Baptist minister in particular because he comes from a decidedly “non-liturgical” background.  I’ve said similar things in describing why I like liturgy to my anti-liturgy friends but he does an even better job.  Go check the full post at iMonk’s blog though to see the responses from the Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic contributors as well.  Here’s the snippet I liked the best:

I think I’d want to start with the inevitability of liturgy. Here is something I’ve learned after a lifetime spent in churches that pride themselves in being free of liturgy and dead ceremony (terms used interchangeably in some places): the premise is absurd. There is no liturgy-free worship, and the monikor “non-liturgical” makes about as much sense as “government intelligence.”

The same churches that will ostensibly operate beneath the feigned guise of “free” worship or “Spirit-led” worship will inevitably, predictably, and without fail fall into a liturgy that is so set it makes the Greek Orthodox look like wild-eyed Pentecostals on speed. I’ve heard Baptist deacons anathematize written prayers only to turn around and say the same prayer over the offering plates that they were regurgitating back when Herbert Hoover was in office (i.e., “Father we just…”, “bring into the storehouse…”, “our tithes and your offerings…”, “bless the gift and the giver…”, with about 10 more “just’s” and “umm’s” thrown in). I’ve seen the same Baptist people who mock the formulaic worship of the liturgical churches respond to small changes in the customary bulletin layout with a venom that makes Genghis Khan seem like Stuart Smalley. I’ve known pastors in churches which chide the physicality and symbolism of liturgical churches almost get martyred in the center aisle for suggesting that the flag be moved from the sanctuary, or for putting their Bibles on the communion table, or for projecting a song instead of singing from the hymn book. The same Baptist who will condemn the Catholics for their relics will threaten to murder you in your sleep if you move the black-and-white picture of Miss Bussie from the display cabinet in the foyer. I’ve met more Tetzels in Baptist land than outside it.

The only difference between the “non-liturgical” churches and the “liturgical” churches is that the former’s liturgy is (1) present but denied, (2) inherited instead of intentional, (3) culturally defined instead of ecclesiologically mandated, and (4) largely pragmatic instead of theological.

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A recent dustup on another blog inspired me to post something about this notion of repetitive or recited prayers. Typically, a certain canard gets thrown out when discussing liturgical worship with certain evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants. Catchphrases like “man’s traditions”, “dead ritual” and “repetition” are bandied about. You could set a sundial by this entirely predictable phenomenon. It centers around Christ’s commands regarding prayer.

But let’s examine the verse in question where Jesus talks about prayer, specifically repetitive prayer:

Matthew 6:7
“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

The ESV does a slightly better job in my opinion of conveying the meaning of the Greek in this verse:

Matthew 6:7
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

The Greek word translated as “vain repetitions” or “empty phrases” literally means “to stammer.” It calls to mind more of what you’d imagine a Buddhist monk doing during Eastern forms of meditation such as humming or repeating this one syllable over and over again in an attempt to empty their mind completely. This is obviously not the idea behind Christian prayer and meditation. In Christian prayer and meditation, we’re actually doing the opposite…we’re filling our minds with something such as passages of Scripture, thoughts about some aspect of God and His character, recalling His wondrous works or His promises, focusing on events in the life of Christ (the Incarnation, the Passion, His death and resurrection). These are all good things.

But sticking just to this notion that repetition itself is forbidden in Scripture…it’s completely off base. For instance, take Psalm 136:

Psalm 136

136:1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
4 to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew [1] Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
17 to him who struck down great kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
18 and killed mighty kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
20 and Og, king of Bashan,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
21 and gave their land as a heritage,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
22 a heritage to Israel his servant,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 he who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Twenty-six times the phrase “for his steadfast love endures forever” is repeated. There are other Psalms with similar repetitive patterns. Then there is this passage from Revelation:

Revelation 4:6b-8
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
(emphasis mine)

Are these living creatures that “day and night…never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” engaging in vain or meaningless repetition? Because we’ve already established that they are engaging in repetition. If God had something against repetition in prayer or worship, then He should banish these creatures from His presence right away so as not to contradict Himself!

The takeaway is this: Jesus did not condemn repetitive prayers. He even gave us one that we frequently repeat in church every Sunday known as “The Lord’s Prayer” (or for you Catholics, the “Our Father”). Repetition is not the problem, meaningless or vain repetition is the problem. Simply babbling a bunch of nonsense or repeating words over and over as if they are some sort of Christian equivalent of “abracadabra” that gets you what you want is the problem.

Don’t be put off or concerned about the misuse of the passage in Matthew if you like to use prayer beads, employ prayer books such as the Book of Common Prayer, follow the Daily Office or participate in a Liturgy of the Hours. Obviously, the content of the prayer is important (none of that mindless humming, people) and just as important if not moreso is the intent of the heart in praying. One can turn anything into meaningless repetition (even The Lord’s Prayer or a psalm) if they absentmindedly mumble their way through it thinking that merely uttering certain words scores brownie points with God. Spontaneity is not the hallmark of true prayer and worship. Meaning what you’re saying when you pray is where true prayer begins.

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If you don’t read Amy Welborn’s blog, you need to start. Especially now. I’m amazed at her bravery as she blogs through the aftermath of her husband’s unexpected death. It’s really powerful, emotional, cathartic and redemptive. This little part at the end of today’s post stuck out to me. I agree with the sentiment at any time or season of life, but seeing what she’s going through now only reinforces it.

I was also grateful for liturgy – Catholic liturgy, although it is certainly characteristic of almost all liturgy, by nature – that lets me be. That prays and sings and chants of God’s love and mercy, of repentance and forgiveness, of justice…and gives me the freedom to enter this place in whatever way I choose. That does not manipulate me or try to direct my emotions. That does not demand that I respond with a certain level or type of emotion. That does not make myself and my life the center of the drama, but rather points me relentless, but compassionately and authentically, towards Christ. And allows me the space to listen…and respond, out of freedom, in my own way, on my own time. To listen.

She’s on my blogroll list, but here’s the link too: Via Media

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The kids were sick this past Sunday and it was my turn to go to church, so I took the opportunity to go to the Anglican church. I needed some liturgy in my life.

Anyway, as I was in the service I was struck by how ruled by feelings I can be. The main part of the service, the Eucharist, was wonderful as always. But the rest of the service was less inspiring. First, the organ at the church they are using until their place is built has stopped working, so it was piano only (and they indicated that’s how it would be in the new building since they won’t have an organ right away). Then, I didn’t know any of the hymns and they weren’t particularly good (Anglican hymnody pales in comparison to that of the Methodists to me). And finally the main rector wasn’t there this week so there was a guest speaker. He was ok, but frankly, I’ve become quite used to hearing excellent teachers on Sunday mornings.

So I was sitting in the service, sorting through my feelings. I worry sometimes that I over-romanticize things, then get tired of it or bored when the reality doesn’t live up to the ideal in my head. Here I was in exactly the kind of church I’ve been dying to go to and everything was seemingly conspiring against me to make it less than inspiring.

It troubles me that I’m like this. And I’ll admit, it’s not just a concern for me with Anglicanism, but with any thoughts of becoming Catholic. I don’t want to feel this way. This is a big deal to drag my wife and family into a tradition that is foreign to them and totally different from either of our immediate family. It can’t be done on simply matters of taste and preference, which can then be so easily affected by the lack of an organ or second-rate hymnody. It’s got to be about something deeper. And I also understand that worship ultimately isn’t about me, it’s about God. I do benefit and receive many blessings from worshiping God, but the main reason for being there on Sunday mornings isn’t for me to get something, it’s for me to give something.

And on an intellectual level, I know that if I become convinced that certain beliefs are true and are important, and I know that the church I’m attending doesn’t believe that way but another option in town does, then I should start attending the church that teaches correctly. This becomes an even bigger deal if I become convinced of the claims the Catholic Church makes because it’s not just a matter of this doctrine or that one, but it’s a matter of believing that it is the Church that Christ and the Apostles founded and that it has been given the authority to interpret Scripture and determine correct doctrine and practice. If I’m convinced something of that magnitude is true, how much do my feelings on how inspiring the Sunday service is really matter? “Not much” is my educated guess. But it depresses me to think that I’d be locked into a style of worship that really isn’t open to debate the way it is in Protestant circles and because of my ephemeral feelings, I may grow bored with.

Maybe you think I’m worrying about nothing, but this is the way my mind works. I’ve jumped on trendy things in the past and have a natural bent toward things that are different from what most of my family or friends are into. Then about the time they begin to come around on it, I’ve moved on to the next thing. To some degree I wonder if my dalliance with Calvinism was that way. I was so convinced it was the right view of Scripture and salvation. Now, not so much. Would it be like this for this liturgy or Catholicism issue? Because that’s a whole lot of pain, stress and upheaval for something that could change in 5-10 years.

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Six Flags Over Jesus

“Yeah, that’s good. I guess I was thinking a little less theologically and more practical philosophy of ministry stuff. For example, missional is the opposite of attractional. The attractional church puts on the dog and pony show to get people in the door. Being a sacramental church seems to free us from the need to put on some other program. I’ve been feeling very whiny lately about the way modern evangelicalism has put a lot of pressure on po’ widdle me to provide a full service church for religious consumers. In a sacramental church I imagine I could say, “Look, I’ll minister the Word and sacraments. Y’know, the stuff that gets you to heaven? You want any of that other crap you can do it yourself.” ”

This was a quote from a Lutheran pastor on another blog. It encapsulates well one of the issues I have with the modern evangelical church model. I’ve been involved with various contemporary evangelical churches for over 20 years now. And as my previous mentions on my religious mutt background attest, they aren’t confined to one denomination or any denomination at all. These churches span the spectrum including Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist (my parents’ church, not mine), United Methodist, non-denominational charismatic and non-denominational non-charismatic. To varying degrees, all of them have a sort of “all things to all people” approach. Now, don’t take that to the nth degree or anything. All of them are solid, Bible-believing churches well within the evangelical mainstream doctrinally. And these churches are run by and attended by many, many people who love God. But their ministry approach definitely reflects this notion.

Here’s the problem: it is an exhausting and expensive model to maintain. Almost every one of these churches have activities and “ministry opportunities” going on all week long. There are home cell groups, men’s ministries, women’s ministries, Bible studies, children’s church, nursery, Sunday Schools, singles groups, divorce care, puppet teams, drama teams, a contemporary service, a traditional service. The sheer amount of manpower to head up all of these things and keep them running year around can be staggering. Factor in that when it involves someone that has the gift of teaching or another specific talent, and that there aren’t necessarily a ton of those people in a given congregation, the burn out potential is rather high for the handful that get called on all the time to run these things.

Then there’s the praise band, the orchestra, the choir, the audio/visual team, the props team. The bar has been seriously raised in this regard over the years. Not only do you need people with the expertise to do all this stuff, but also, it’s not cheap. Lighting, sound gear, video equipment, computers and software…the stuff you find in many contemporary churches rival what you’d see at a rock concert a few years ago.

And what is the effect on the congregants? I don’t want to paint everyone with one broad brush, but this game of oneupmanship between churches (state of the art technology, elaborate children’s ministry classrooms, etc) tends to create a consumerist mentality. We shop for a church based on superficial concerns. Rather than settling into a church where true fellowship happens, we get lured by the sheer deluge of opportunities. Collective activity replaces real community. Cool and “relevant” (the most tired and overused word in Christian circles) presentations and videos overshadow that which has sustained the Church for 2000 years: the ministry of the Word and the sacraments.

Also, the net effect of the money and manpower that it takes to keep all these plates spinning and working to their full potential is that there are a lot less people-hours and dollars going toward the church reaching past its own four walls and just ministering to itself and instead reaching its community. How often do we hear conservative Christians rant against government welfare programs and the taxes needed to sustain them while pulling up every Sunday to a concert hall with a pint-sized Six Flags Over Jesus right next to it?

What if the church focused on having a reasonable worship and educational space that is conducive to the sacred (read: you’re allowed to have it look pretty and have an aesthetic that denotes that it’s a place of worship, not a warehouse, gymnasium or someone’s oversized living room), resisted the temptation to just keep building and building rather than church planting and then focused those resources of people and money toward serving the community they live in? All kinds of possibilities come to mind but some ideas would be: weekly free car repair for single women/mothers, free tutoring services for kids in a disadvantaged area of town, organizing volunteers to help the homeless, linking up with existing ministries like Habitat for Humanity, putting our pro-life beliefs into practice by starting a program and fund to encourage women locally not to abort but to give their child up for adoption (and having many more Christian families consider this other than when they can’t have biological children), organizing and funding free health clinics for the uninsured.

I could go on for days. You could probably think of many others. These are the kinds of things we could be doing…if we weren’t taxing ourselves with programs, ministries and expenses that leave us tapped out both financially and physically. And I will guarantee you, if we started handling church this way, concentrating on being (as the quote put it) missional and sacramental rather than attractional, the reputation of the Church and Christians in this world would be much, much different. You don’t draw people to Jesus by your amazing technology and Swiss Army knife ministry approach. People are drawn to Him the same way they always have been, through love and serving.

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