The book I chose to read is “Discerning the Spirits – a guide to thinking about Christian worship today”. In the introduction, the authors state: “The main project of this book is to set a context and recommend a tone in which healthy decisions about worship may be conducted.” They are not advocating a particular approach to worship (knowing that every approach has its strengths and weaknesses), rather they encourage us all to discuss and argue (but not quarrel) about worship issues in a Christ-like manner: with respect and tolerance, humility, candor, hospitality, and forbearance. There are no easy answers, but there are some answers. These struggles play out in individual congregations, but have important ramifications for the faith as a whole. Rancor saps energy from the true purpose of church. We need to learn the fellowship of relationship as seen in the Trinity - a oneness in the unity of purpose – to move away from ‘self’ and personal preference.
It is time to move the discussion forward. In an era when Christianity is being increasingly marginalized, I am still amazed to hear judgmental wrangling by Christians regarding each other’s worship practices. Left wing/right wing, Catholic/Protestant, evangelical/mainline, Western/Orthodox, liturgical/non-liturgical, contemporary/traditional. We need to see that every tradition of worship expression has good things to offer to us all. While we all will have our own ‘emphases’, we need to expand our vision of God by learning from one another. This diversity of expression is the language of postmodern Canada.
Worship stands at the intersection of church and world/ Christ and culture. We have to be able to demonstrate to the world that Christianity leads to solutions, not divisions. We have to be counter- cultural, not anti-cultural. The first thing we need to learn to do is to be able to meaningfully talk to each other, despite our differences, regarding ways to help our 21st century worship be meaningful and transformative for our congregations (as well as for those not yet in the pews). The rest is in God’s hands.
Book Review: Discerning the Spirits. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. and Sue B. Rozeboom.
Allan C. Groen, M.Div., S.T.M.
The text in boxes [edited to bold-italic text] contain reflections that occurred to me as I read.
To summarize this book, I would say it provides a basic perspective for understanding what the changing world of worship is all about, its history, the cultural setting, and liturgical principles in theological perspective.
1. Introduction: to have wise, prayerful, loving and civilized conversation around what is happening in how churches worship in our day.
a. The past few decades have seen swift changes in how congregations spend their Sunday morning worship hour together.
b. The book is nearly a decade old, and may not entirely reflect what is now taking place.
Contemporary worship has not only brought new kinds of music and hymns, but has also had a major impact on how pastors preach.
2. Chapter 1: The Things of the Spirit
a. To know which things are of the Holy Spirit requires discernment
b. What is valuable in CW and its critique of tradition?
c. What is valuable in the tradition that needs to be maintained?
d. Sharp disagreements arise. But we are, or should be, united with basic, common confessional statements: incarnation, trinity, crucifixion, resurrection, etc.
e. We need Christian character to allow the community to thrive.
3. Chapter 3 sets the background by pointing out the great diversity of changes churches are making and their motivations. Some of the motivations are:
a. To make services accessible to those who are not Christians.
c. Praise and worship
d. To find liturgical expressions that reflect local color, and make worship more popular
e. Contemporary worship evolved from many sources:
i. Mass evangelism,
ii. small group movements,
iii. house churches
iv. Southern gospel
v. African-American churches
vi. Jesus people—Maranatha music
vii. Willow Creek
viii. Hillsongs Music
f. Features of Contemporary Worship
i. Use of new technological tools
ii. Worship teams
iii. Worship emcees
iv. Seldom use sacraments, Bibles, pulpits, baptismal fonts, crosses etc. avoided
v. Make worship ‘authentic’ ‘accessible.’
i. For evangelism
ii. To make gospel accessible to non-religious
iii. To respond to felt needs.
iv. Encounter with God
4. Worship takes place in specific cultural settings. To what extent can they adapt/adopt local language and music? Is everything acceptable?
a. Definition; culture: “the dynamic totality of our habitual, or nearly habitual, ways of being and doing in the world.”—p. 56.
b. Cultural adaptation is:
iv. Risky: are we being faithful to the gospel?
For older people (I am one of them) adaptations/changes can become painful. Things we have valued in the past are abandoned, and the new becomes more difficult to appreciate.
c. Seeking wisdom
i. From the Word—but it gives little guidance on specifics
ii. From the incarnation: our lives and work are under grace but also judgment. “invites us to be tailors with an eye for what fits.” 89
d. It is messy, we do our best, but we don’t always get it right.
Spiritual Tradition: If we do our work with good intent, God will use it for God’s purposes, even if we have not been so very wise.
5. Ch. 4: Basic issue: how can the One Church live with such diversity?
i. The risk of multiculturalism is that it might Balkanize the church, each group going its own separate ways.
ii. Truth becomes relative: what is true for you may not be true for me.
iii. Niche marketing might accentuate our differences
iv. We end up with churches for different tastes
b. Gaining some perspective: good theological reflections on:
i. The trinity: reflection on the intertrinitarian fellowship
ii. Incarnation: both the grace and the implied judgment
iii. Koinonia and hospitality. A Christian community becomes a safe place for diversity.
iv. Unity as gift and calling “In healthy churches we die to our special interests and rise to the interests of brothers and sisters.” P. 114.
When new ways of singing etc., are introduced, those who leads such change need to invite response from the congregation. My experience is that people all too often do such things without being willing to receive responses. “Like it or lump it.”
i. Worship leaders lead hospitably.
ii. The koinonia includes the great cloud of witnesses, this includes witnesses from previous centuries, and witnesses from around the globe.
There are wonderful resources for worship found in the works of previous generations. Will what we write today last? Very little of it will last.
6. Worship: Telling God’s Story. Worship is narrative engagement with the Triune God. P. 126.
a. Worship protects us against idolatry.
b. We may enter into conversation with boldness, not sauciness.
c. Worship deals with grace and judgments.
d. Praise and Lament both have their place
e. Worship is about covenant renewal, our life in Christ, and the span of history from creation to re-creation.
There is no ruler than can serve to identify exactly what could or should not happen in a Christian service of worship. However, this book contains a good many suggestions that can help us in the process of discernment.
Worship leaders would do well to take the time to read some books such as this to equip them for their work, and they would make fewer mistakes.
Here’s our summary of the Part I of One Bread, One Body. Lots of interesting, practical material for a congregation intending their worship to become more diverse.
St. Andrew’s Book Group
One Bread, One Body Exploring Cultural Diversity in Worship
This section of the book addresses culture and worship. It is a common belief in the US that they live in a “melting pot” where cultures have blended. The author believes that in reality the US is more of a mosaic with many distinct aspects of different cultures side by side. Churches are often centres for ethnic activities and identity formation.
The author suggests that there are 4 ways in which we worship together:
1. Cultural Uniformity assumes those gathered together have common backgrounds. In practice this can lead to vital worship. There is a risk that a congregation’s ethnocentric perspective can limit its worldview. It may not prepare participants for a diverse society. It becomes a refuge.
2. Cultural Assimilation assumes a dominant cultural perspective for all participants regardless of their background. Often these congregations are sensitive to the needs of the surrounding community and welcome the community on Sundays if they can assimilate. There is often an inconsistency between the “welcome to all” and the non-verbal cues.
3. Culturally Open Worship differs from cultural assimilation by the degree to which those with different cultural perspectives are included in the decision making process.
4. Cultural Partnership has no clear majority that dominates and the cultural diversity reflects the surrounding neighbourhood. “Christ, the imaginative artist, creates a mosaic out of the disparate cultures of the world”. This way of worship offers rich possibilities.
The author suggests congregations find themselves on the above spectrum before trying to implement changes.
It is suggested that all of us have bias and prejudices. We have bias from our cultural upbringing but a healthy bias acknowledges other views. Prejudice results from the assumption that our way is the only way.
Interaction of Worship and Culture
1. Transcultural - some aspects of worship transcend culture. Some examples include baptism, communion, the Lord’s Prayer, observance of Lent & Easter.
2. Contextual – all worship is contextual, reflecting the specific culture found in a congregation or community. If we become too myopic we risk prejudice.
3. Countercultural – there are aspects of all cultures that run contrary to God’s plan for us. Congregations need to find which aspects of culture strengthen the community and which may be contrary to God’s plan. Also, do some aspects of worship exclude some of the community due to age, gender, socioeconomic status or race?
4. Cross Cultural – this stresses the importance of different elements of culture (music, postures, etc.) and that they should be respected when used in other places in the world.
One of the purposes of this book is to help congregations achieve a cross-cultural style of worship. Every congregation has their own style, which needs to be considered. Members need to look at music, greetings, vestments, the use of silence, symbols, the names of worship space, etc. Often the non-verbal parts of the worship are the most important. These may include the instruments used, silence, whether children are present during worship, and oral or written aspects of the service.
Different cultures, communities and congregations have different sense of time. This can be seen in the length of the service, short or long. Also, some cultures have a linear sense of time while others have a cyclical sense of time. With a linear sense of time there are aspects of worship to be accomplished with an appropriate timetable. With a cyclical sense of time, community building is often more important than a timetable. One example of this is with repetitive music that repeats until the community feels moved to something else.
There are many variables in our worship styles that may invite or inhibit others worshipping with us.
“A More Profound Alleluia. Theology and Worship in Harmony.”
Leanne Van Dyk, Editor.
By: Brigitte Mueller, January 8th, 2012-01-08
This week, we celebrated the feasts of Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord, but many Orthodox Christians in the world, and also in my town, celebrated Christmas according to the Julian calendar. In speaking to an Orthodox friend, I asked this friend what the Orthodox Christmas greeting was (since we all know the Easter greeting) and he taught me: “Christ is born!” and the response is “Let us glorify him!” -- How beautiful this is! --For every other day of the year the greeting is: “Glory be to Jesus!” and the response is “His glory is forever!” My friend bemoaned that it seems that we Protestant Christians cannot seem to learn these other greetings. He said: Imagine if we could great each other this way all the time! What beautiful greetings!
Indeed. This little exchange with my friend encapsulates for me what “A More Profound Alleluia” is about. The aim of the book is to establish a deep connection between liturgical worship and theology in order to make both deeply meaningful, also intellectually, for the individual, the family, and the worshipping community. The books seems to me to be an attempt at correcting what has become seen as a shallower, dumbed -down expression of the faith both in worship and theology. We do not hear much about what is felt to be dumbed -down as the book does not dwell on this. The area of the hymns chosen for the service is obviously one in which it is felt important to used our very best resources.
The relationship between worship and theology and how each informs, affects and reinforces the other reminds us of the famous dictum: Lex orandi, lex credendi. According to our trusty Wikipedia this “relationship between worship and belief is an ancient Christian principle which provided a measure for developing the ancient Christian creeds, the canon of scripture and other doctrinal matters based on the prayer texts of the church, that is, the Church’s liturgy. In the Early church there were about 69 years of liturgical tradition before there was a creed and about 350 years before there was a biblical canon. These liturgical traditions provided the theological framework for establishing the creeds and canon.”
We see, therefore, that hymns and prayers preceded the creeds and the canon, and when we think about it, this is how we often learned the faith from our families, that is through oral story telling, the night -time and meal-time prayers and songs we learned, even as very little children or infants. In addition to the fact that liturgy is ancient, basic to the faith, has been passed down from the very beginning and has a vital interplay with theology, it also functions as a unifier in ecumenical efforts. If we can go back and agree on the prayers and hymns, we may be able to sharpen our theological understandings in a way that makes them actually broader and more inclusive. To get back for a moment to the Orthodox and their lovely Christo-centric greetings, apparently the Pariarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople quoted this phrase on the occasion of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI: “in liturgy, we are reminded of the need to reach unity in faith as well as in prayer.”
In my opinion, this is the thrust of the book. In order to examine various liturgical moments and how they relate to faith and doctrine, several different writers with different backgrounds and interests juxtapose various elements. The result is a book which is more of a mosaic than a didactic or systematic treatise on the subject.
Book summary and reflections on:
Part of our mandate at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and in this series of books, is to make the connections between worship and the various facets of Christian thought and life explicit and instructive in ways that promote deeper and more vital worship practices. This particular volume highlights arguable the most important connections that need to be made for worship to be well grounded—namely, the connections between our liturgical actions and our understanding of the God we worship. After all, as D.A. Carson has observed, “worship” is a transitive verb. What is important is not that we worship, but rather that we worship God. (p. Ix)
Immediately we are told that traditional patterns of hymnody offer a rich resource for both worship and theology. What might be surprising is that many hymns in this pattern have also been written in recent history. Each chapter of the book contains one or more hymn texts also for this reason: “Indeed, hymn poems are a wonderful resource for devotional use by individual use by individuals, families, groups, and congregations. Worship leaders should consider recommending one hymn text per week for private or group reflection and then singing the hymn in worship as a simple way of connecting private and corporate worship."
This is an amazingly simple idea, yet, excellent in my mind. If we could agree on certain texts for devotions and memorizing and worked on this together, we could accumulate quite a treasure for our families and congregations. Various other benefits of understanding hymns well are highlighted here in the preface.
The introduction stresses that worship is a Christian activity of the highest importance, as in it we are fed by the good food of word and sacrament. “Worship is for Christians both ‘primary school’ and ‘graduate school’—a place where we are always learning the basics of how to be in true relationship to God and yet also reaching for the advanced skills we need for obedient and faithful Christian lives.” A Lutheran might put this sentence a little differently, but the idea of “primary school” and “graduate school” at the same time really hits home to me. What we sing and what we teach our smallest children should nourish us all our lives through, in the deep joys and sorrows of life, even death. As Luther said about the catechism for example, even the most experienced professional theologian needs to ground himself in the basics every day. And those are the greatest who can know and teach the catechism well. Our basic teachings, prayers and songs, are the school of learning how to live and how to die—a very profound Alleluia, indeed, so help us God.
One of the contributors, Don Saliers, specializes in the theology of Karl Barth. He notes that “the dependence of theology on worship runs so deep in the theology of Karl Barth that ‘critical theological thinking is secondary and therefore derivative of the first-order theology shown in praying to God.’ The image of first-order theology as prayer captures the mutual relationships explored in this book. It is the conviction of the authors that the theological implications of worship and the worship implications of theology are worthy of careful reflection. “
I, myself, have never heard of “first-order theology”, nor prayer belonging to this category. The reason for this might be because I am not a student of Karl Barth, but rely on Luther most of the time. But this statement makes some sense to me in my own way of thinking. While “critical theological thinking” might be something like a systematic theology, prayers might be something more like the Psalter, the original prayer book, which consists of so much poetry and sighing of the heart to God both in praise and deep need. The feelings and thoughts of the psalms are accessible to all of us who pray. Thus we are joined in a common humanity and as a congregation in our orientation toward God in our daily experiences.
This makes me think of something else: on the internet I often have conversations with people who are lapsed from the faith or even have become ardent atheists or anti-theists. Some meditate in the way of different Buddhist schools, etc. Even here we have a connection with prayer. At times, when I speak with them, I come to the point of prayer and say something to the effect of: I cannot imagine life without prayer, without thanksgiving, without making intercession, without asking for forgiveness, without asking for help and guidance. The non-Christian then usually says that they can’t imagine it either, only they feel they don’t actually need anyone to pray to. This is obviously where we part ways. Whom we pray to is exactly what matters. Whom we worship is of the essence if he is the living God who has revealed himself, who has loved us and redeemed us and made the way open for prayer in the first place. But still the fact that we have the need for prayers of the same kind, is something primal and basic to human beings. In any case, I am guessing that something like this is implied in “first–order theology”.
Submitted by Brigitte Mueller, Bruderheim AB
In the preface to the series of articles we have a statement of the purpose of the book: