Worship is not about preference…

Worship is not about preference… September 16, 2015

st agnes

It’s about meaning.

One of the things that I find puzzling about the whole worship conversation is all the put-on sympathy when it comes to worship practice. “You might prefer traditional worship, but I enjoy contemporary. Stop trying to force your preference on everyone else.” But everything we do in corporate worship has theological implications that are inescapable.

When a church holds two services with different musical “styles,” the intention is to cater to various personal tastes in the congregation, but the inescapable reality is that they are also offering different theological meaning. Whether those meanings are right or wrong is perhaps up for discussion, but it is time we moved past framing the “worship wars” as merely a difference of taste, as if we were choosing a flavor at Baskin-Robbins.

Across denominations, there is much diversity in corporate worship practice. That’s okay, and I can find plenty of things to appreciate in many traditions. But there are reasons I’m not Catholic or Orthodox or Baptist or Church of Christ, and those reasons are not simply issues of taste.

They are issues of meaning.

So, when I call myself a traditional worshiper, I’m not just saying something about my taste in music. I’m not saying I hate guitars. I’m not saying I connect with God through organ music. I’m not saying liturgy makes me feel all happy inside.

No. I’m saying what I believe about corporate worship.

I’m saying I believe it’s about being together. The goal of a worship service is not to facilitate an individualistic experience through music or anything else.

Historic Christian worship doesn’t offer that, at least if it’s done well. It calls us together, at least for an hour, to think, to learn, to apply ourselves, to use language we wouldn’t normally use. And it calls us to sacrifice what we often feel is our most intrinsic right, the right to have everything just the way we want it.

I’m saying I believe in drawing from the best of the Christian tradition. I dare say it’s foolish of us to forsake the forms and expressions of those who came before us simply because they don’t resonate with our modern sensibilities. Maybe that’s a reason we should listen to them. To mold us. To stretch us. To bind us together as the holy catholic church.

And as the great hymn says, “And from morn to set of sun / Through the Church the song goes on.”

I’m saying I believe emotions are secondary. Emotions are good. They’re actually very good. The problem is that we’ve decided that happy feelings about Jesus are the ultimate measuring stick of authentic worship. Churches are now stuck on the treadmill of having to provide that kind of experience every week. And that’s a pretty terrible position to be in. As soon as our production value slips, we’re in trouble.

There have been times when I’ve been emotionally moved during a worship service, but if it never happens again, so be it. I’ll still worship. I’ll still believe.

I’m saying I believe some music is more fitting than others for Christian worship. How we do music carries theological meaning. So does the music itself. I appreciate what Kenneth Hull says about this, “When [music] stands alone, its gestures and contours still carry an expressive potential that is capable of cultural and theological interpretation.” This is admittedly a difficult issue, but it’s one we can’t ignore.

I’m saying I believe it’s not about evangelism, at least not the way we’re trying to do it.  The historic liturgical pattern of the church is certainly evangelistic on its own. The problem is what we’ve done with it to try and get people through the doors. We’ve made it nice, accommodating, and generic. Corporate worship isn’t about getting butts in the seats. It’s not about getting people to like us. It’s the unifying, central act of the church. It’s our asylum. It renews and restores and melds us into the kind of church we need to be for the world.

I’m saying I believe our worship has real-life consequences. Lex orandi, lex credendi. As we worship, so we believe. How important are the theological implications in our corporate worship? If this ancient principle is correct, the answer is “pretty freaking important.” And it should make us shudder when we consider some of the things we say, sing, pray and do in our churches. The things that have absolutely nothing to do with the Christian story or the gospel message. The added, periphery crap we get distracted with. The special effects. The announcements (Lord, the announcements). The self-help. The three-points-and-a-next-step sermons that offer relationship advice and talk about how our comfy mattress-God can make us feel better about ourselves.

Worship isn’t about how we feel. It’s not about our likes and dislikes. It’s not about our tastes.

It’s about how we believe.

That’s why it’s important. That’s why we have to talk about the meaning behind what we do in corporate worship. That’s why we must ditch the false egalitarian notion that how we worship isn’t important. We can respect differences in belief, but we can’t deny that’s what’s at stake here aren’t just issues of taste or preference, but issues of meaning.

However we worship, whatever we call ourselves – traditional, contemporary, or anything else – we’re not just saying what kind of Jesusy entertainment we prefer.

No, we’re giving away much more about ourselves.

We’re giving away what we believe about something very important.

How we worship has meaning.

How we worship has consequences.

Maybe it’s time we were honest about it. Quickly. Before the meaning is lost.

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