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Exploring the Worship Spectrum

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Overview

What does worship look like? Is there just one truly right way to worship? Are there any wrong ways? To what extent should our unity as believers manifest itself in unified public worship? Sadly, disagreement over how we should worship our loving God has sparked some most unloving attitudes among Christians. Exploring the Worship Spectrum seeks to correct this. It provides a forum for presentation, critique, and defense of six prominent worship styles: *Formal-Liturgical -- Paul Zahl*Traditional Hymn-Based -- Harold Best*Contemporary Music-Driven -- Joe Horness*Charismatic -- Don Williams*Blended -- Robert Webber*Emerging -- Sally MorgenthalerThis unique format allows those with a heart for worship to compare different perspectives and draw their own conclusions on what the Bible teaches. It engages the reader's faculties of critical thinking in a way that allows him or her to understand the various approaches to worship, carefully evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and make personal choices without adopting a judgmental spirit.The Counterpoints series provides a forum for comparison and critique of different views on issues important to Christians. Counterpoints books address three categories: Church Life, Exploring Theology, and Engaging Culture. Complete your library with other books in the Counterpoints series.

Details

  • SKU: 2370003191127
  • Title: Exploring the Worship Spectrum
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Release Date: May 11, 2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Category: CHURCH LIFE
  • Subject: Christian Church - General
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Chapter Excerpt


Chapter One

FORMAL-LITURGICAL WORSHIP

Paul F. M. Zahl

It was during Dr. Bedell's ministry and well into the 1860s that the Church of the Ascension was called the "Low Church Cathedral," because, while its pulpit stood for a broad evangelical Christianity, it was marked by unusual fondness for good music and for a dignified service. -James W. Kennedy, The Unknown Worshipper

I believe in Bible-based verticality, which is another way of saying formal-liturgical worship. There is nothing like it for taking you outside your problems and also bringing you back to them a renewed person, better able to cope and to endure. Bible-based verticality is a glorious thing. This chapter seeks to offer its principles, its roots, and its virtues. It also seeks to parry some familiar objections to it.

Formal worship means dignified service that is not governed by the spontaneity of the moment or the spontaneity of the officiant. It means service in a form, within a mold. It is not off the cuff or as mood would govern. Rather, it accepts the constraint of a consistent and predictable pattern.

Liturgical worship means prescribed worship, service that is required for a given occasion. So if it is Sunday, you have a required act of worship for that day. If a baptism is to take place or the sacrament of Holy Communion is to be celebrated, you conduct the service according to a previously set format. You do not make it up as you go along.

Thus, for example, Episcopal ministers and most Lutheran pastors approach Sunday without giving particular thought to the shape of the service itself. It is formal (i.e., in the form given in a prayer book) and it is liturgical (i.e., set, depending on whether the service is to be one of the two sacraments or whether it is to be Morning Prayer, a service purely of the Word). There is freedom in worship within a form, just as J. S. Bach worked within specific musical forms like the cantata and the Mass, just as Shakespeare worked within the sonnet and Giovanni Bellini within the sacra conversazione and the triptych. Form is able, somewhat counterintuitively, to stimulate fineness and quality, even innovation and renewal, in the context of traditional givens.

At the same time, formal-liturgical worship rules out the approach that makes it up as you go along. It is true to say that a high percentage of nonliturgical, nonformal churches ad-lib from Sunday to Sunday. You are not able to know from week to week whether it is going to be a mother-daughter service, a stewardship service, an evangelistic guest service, a youth Sunday, or a Scouting Sunday. F. Scott Fitzgerald was not the first American novelist to write about Americans reinventing themselves. But thousands of churches reinvent the service, or appear to, every Sunday. That, at least, is one burden this writer, as a minister of a liturgical denomination, does not carry.

We are concerned here with formal and liturgical worship. We are thereby also concerned with vertical worship. Vertical worship looks up first, before it looks out. It is transcendent before it is horizontal. It is faced north before it looks around. This means that it is not pastor- or preacher-centered. It is, or ought to be, Word-centered. It is not "man/woman"-centered, nor is it concerned, in the initial situation, with community. It does, almost always, engender family feeling. The worship of which I speak is, to use the expressive German, senkrecht nach oben: straight up and down, looking right up.

The first principles, then, of formal-liturgical worship are its setness, its givenness, and its direction. It is not informal, it is not nonliturgical, and it is not horizontal. Nor, however, is it cold. Nor is it confining. Nor is it excluding, or non-user-friendly. How can this be?

LEX CREDENDI LEX ORANDI

Formal-liturgical worship must be based on the truth if it is to endure. In fact, if it is not based on the truth, it will finally fall down in pieces on the ground. If vertical worship is not rooted and grounded in truth, specifically Bible truth, then it should not stand. It should "morph" into casual and horizontal worship. The reason why many evangelical and/or Protestant Christians have rejected liturgical worship over the centuries is that they have associated dignity and formality with unbiblical Roman Catholicism or Anglican Catholicism or just high churchianity that seemed to exist at the expense of Christianity.

The Latin phrase that covers the philosophy of worship I am presenting here is this: lex credendi lex orandi. That means: What we believe determines how we pray. Quite a few liturgical scholars and theologians today want to reverse the order and write: lex orandi lex credendi, or how we pray (i.e., worship) determines what we believe. There are even some writers who claim that our belief systems come after and follow from our language of praise, whatever that is. This is an entirely opportunistic view of worship, which subordinates truth to practice. Lex orandi lex credendi must be completely rejected.

For Anglicans-yet it is important for all Christians who value forms of worship-the lex orandi lex credendi falsehood goes back to a "power play" in the 1970s by which the Reformation anthropology and Reformation Christology of the old sixteenth-century Anglican prayer book were muted drastically in favor of a more contemporary picture of the Christian faith and the human condition. Anew and very different prayer book was the result for American Episcopalians. As soon as this prayer book was passed by the Episcopal Church's General Convention (1979), everyone could announce with authority that the prayer book teaches thus and so. But which prayer book? By whose authority? The new one, just achieved? Or the old one, so convincingly and pastorally tested from the 1540s up until the 1970s? And yes, it has come true in experience that twenty-five years of praying the Christian faith in new words and new forms has created a very different church. Those liturgical politicians who piloted the fundamental changes in the 1970s could now observe by the 1990s, with some sad justice: lex orandi lex credendi. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Church people who now prayed Sunday after Sunday without the old confessions and penitential prayers became, well, a lot less penitential.

The fact is, theology has to precede the act of worship. You pray what you believe, not vice versa. It is an axiom here-it has to be an axiom in this consideration of formal-liturgical worship-that truth grounds prayer, not the other way around. Right thinking about God, Christ, and the condition of the human race is essential in forming and creating worship. "The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24).

BIBLE VERTICALITY

What is right thinking about worship? For an evangelical Christian, there can be only one answer. It is Bible-truthful worship.Sola scriptura is the objective measuring stick for the propriety of all prayer, be it adoration, thanksgiving, confession, or repentance. If adjectives used to describe God are not in the Bible or they are inconsistent with Bible attitudes, then they are out. If Jesus Christ is described or portrayed as a woman-although he was tender and solicitous and generative of all good-then those terms are out. Services of blessing for same-sex unions are out. Blessings of the animals, which are still the rage in some mainline circles, are out unless they are shorn of ideas that put animal life on terms of equivalent status with human life.

Right (Bible) thoughts of God, right (Bible) thoughts of Christ, right (Bible) thoughts of the human being-these must confirm the value of all formal liturgy. Where liturgies cannot pass Bible scrutiny, they are worthless and worse than useless.

Here it could be objected that Bible truth is a Noah's Ark concept, which itself covers a multitude of potentially conflicting possibilities. How can one know what Bible truth is when there is evidently more than one "canon within the canon," when it is possible, for example, in the New Testament to find evidence of catholic ideas of ministry right next to charismatic views right next to paedobaptist views right next to free-church views and so forth?

Objectors who say this usually have their own agenda and are pumping for a special view that is found in one or two specific phrases or verses. We ought to subscribe to Luther's maxim on the understandability (what he called the "perspicuity") of the Bible: If you come upon a verse in Scripture that is inconsistent with others on the same subject, always interpret the exceptional verse in light of the more common ones. In other words, always interpret a hard verse in light of easier ones.

When you take Luther's commonsense rule of interpretation, you almost always find that the Bible as a whole is univocal on the big issues: God, Christ, and sin. God is unapproachable and perfect, Christ is his unique Word to us, and human nature is irreducibly flawed, double minded, and deceived about itself. On those three core truths hangs everything else. Thus formal-liturgical worship depends on its fidelity to the Bible understanding of God, Christ, and us. No evangelical Christian can be comfortable with set worship that exists in forms unless those forms are true in principle to the Book.

THE HOLY COMMUNION AS APPLE OF DISCORD

A further, very important element in the Bible-truth foundation for Christian worship concerns the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion, sometimes called the Eucharist. When a worshiping community holds unbiblical ideas of the Holy Communion, which is regarded by almost all Christian traditions as the most solemn act of worship, attempts to represent formal-liturgical worship lead to shipwreck.

To be specific, if the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper are considered to represent God's presence objectively, or tangibly and corporeally, then worship is due them. With that understanding, the ministers of the celebration are charged with a specialness over and above their status as Christian people, a specialness that they would otherwise share in principle with all whom they serve or with all who are present during their act of worship. The pendant to this high or catholic view of the Holy Communion is a high and catholic view of the priesthood.

Conversely, when the Sacrament is viewed as a sign or symbol of that which it represents, then the minister of the altar becomes a presiding elder or "president" (per Church of England parlance). The doctrine of the Body and Blood is the star, the ascent or descent of which determines the status of the ordained ministry. The higher the status of the elements, the higher the status of the clergy. Theater and theatricality follow. It is exactly such theater, or the presentation of surface for its own sake, that Bible worship shuns.

Is it possible in anything like a few sentences to settle the question of what constitutes the Bible truth of the Holy Communion? No. It was the apple of discord during the Protestant Reformation, and since then there has never been consensus among Christians concerning the theology of the Holy Communion.

What I believe we can say is this: Jesus instituted a commemorative meal, which was to become proclamatory in the now and not a dramatic reenactment of a past crisis. St. Paul affirmed that the enacted meal would always "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). At the same time, John 6 interprets the presence of Christ through the bread and wine in graphic and nonmetaphysical terms. Biblical realism requires that we take the Lord's words seriously: "This is my body"-both the verb and its present tense. And yet we are also warned stringently in Scripture against taking the symbol for what it represents (Acts 7:48) and thus laying hold of God and capturing him. God will not be had or held.

All this means that we steer, in matters of the Sacrament, between the Scylla of pure memorialism and the Charybdis of transubstantiation. All the Protestant churches of the Reformation retained formal-liturgical worship, officially at least, and all the Reformation churches without exception rejected transubstantiation. What is required is unconditional reverence for that which the Supper represents and for that which it continues to proclaim. Yet the sign is not the thing signified. The thing signified is spiritual, invisible, and intangible, even elusive. It cannot be pinned down. If it is to be objectified in any form of any kind, it can be discovered in the preaching of the one thing, the recreating forgiveness of sins through the God-man Christ Jesus. That Word gives life to the Sacrament. Without the Word of the Gospel, the Sacrament is sterile and entirely empty.

(Continues.)

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