Friday, August 21, 2009

"Here We Are To Worship" - another reminder

How do we worship? From time to time, we are compelled to grapple with this word, especially when we start to question the purposes behind why we do certain things. For example,
  • Why must there be electric guitars in the band?
  • What happened to traditional hymns in a 'contemporary' service?
  • Why are some modern choruses so catchy and moving, and yet seems theologically shallow?
  • Should we employ new technologies in worship services?
  • Can the congregation worship eloquently, without having to hire a professional worship leader?
  • How do we design a worship service that caters to a multi-ethnic, multi-age and and multimedia-intoxicated society?
Brad Harper and Paul Metzger shines the light back on the age-old quarrel between 'traditional' and 'contemporary' forms of worship. In their latest article, "Here We Are To Worship," published in ChristianityToday (Aug 2009), they remind us how important the role of cultural awareness is. They begin by highlighting Regent-College's John Stackhouse's article "Memo to Worship Bands" as proof that the debate is still alive and sometimes highly charged. They point out 6 peace-making principles that should calm the most radical 'contemporary' worshiper, and to assure the ever resolute 'traditional' member. Essentially, Harper and Metzger believe that the understanding of the culture is critical in order to bring a worship 'truce.' Briefly, the 6 pointers are:
  1. All liturgical action is culturally conditioned.
  2. The relationship between liturgy and culture is theologically framed by creation and the Incarnation.
  3. Integrating liturgy and culture requires us to be critical of our own cultural context.
  4. The extremes of either complete identification with or rejection of a given culture should be avoided.
  5. Worship must reflect common elements of the Christian tradition through the unique expressions of a particular cultural context.
  6. The liturgical actions of the church—including proclamation of the Word, common prayer, baptism, and Eucharist—are among the "universal" or common factors in the Christian tradition.
My Comments
The key question asked by the authors is:
"Do changing worship forms adapted from popular culture facilitate an authentic encounter with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit as described by the Scriptures and understood by historic Christian orthodoxy?"
They answer this question in 6 ways above. These 6 'affirmations of worship' were drawn from John Witvliet's "Worship Seeking Understanding." While all refers to culture, the first three relates liturgy with culture. The fourth warns against extremes of acceptance/rejection of culture. The fifth insists that tradition be included in any cultural adaptation. The final one maintains the 'must-have's in any worship service design. By noticing how much additional coverage the authors put toward #3 and #6, we can roughly surmise that the authors are seeing cultural adaptation from a 'tradition' (not traditionalist) mindset.

CRITIQUE: I am disappointed that Harper and Metzger did not talk more about the Holy Spirit, despite putting the 'Spirit' as a sub-heading in their article. In fact, they focus so much on 'culture,' ' symbols,' 'liturgy,' 'forms' and 'styles' that all the attention seems to be on the 'visible' work of human hands instead of the 'invisible' prompting of the Holy Spirit. For this, I believe this article is handicapped severely by the lack of a Pentecostal perspective: experiencing God, not by mighty traditional hymns, nor by powerful contemporary songs but by the Spirit of God.

POSITIVES: Nevertheless, there are some good points. For instance, the authors highlight once again, the need to include good tradition. This reminds me of the difference between tradition and traditionalism as aptly summed up by the famous words of Jaroslav Pelikan:
"Tradition is the living faith of the dead,
traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.
— (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition)
In other words, we should not be too quick to banish the word 'tradition' from the vocabulary of the most ardent contemporary activist. Distinguish the good and the not-so-good. Do not throw the proverbial baby out together with the dirty bathwater. Eventually, the authors come to a middle ground with the infamous 'yes-no' answer. What is the value of reading this article? It all boils down to one word. It is not 'truce.' Neither is it 'balance' in terms of "sometimes we sing hymns, sometimes we sing choruses' in a 50-50 proportion. It is certainly not "yes-no.' Quoting the theologian Marva Dawn (another Regent professor), the real reminder to all traditionalists and contemporary-ists when it comes to worship is that E-word: 'Education." I could not agree more.


No comments:

Latest Posts