Some thoughts on worship

I like the worship service at our new church. I like the harkening back to older, more formal liturgies. I like that we have prayers that we read together and songs that we sing to each other. I like that we come forward for communion. I like that the preaching elder wears a robe. In many ways, the liturgy at Providence is pretty much the way that I’ve wanted to see for quite some time.

That being said, I also find myself wrestling with other issues. I would like to be involved in a church plant in the University East neighborhood, which has a very different mix of people from those who currently attend Providence. Is this style of worship going to be the most appropriate for this hypothetical church? The underlying principles still apply, certainly. But, if worship is to be in the language of the people, is my church’s liturgy going to be in their “language”?

Also, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere (like here and here), I’ve also begun to push back against the “high/low” culture divide by refusing to acknowledge that “high” culture is necessarily superior to “low” culture.

And now, quite helpfully, Pastor Tim Bayly has posted some thoughts on worship at his blog. Some standout quotes:

When the reformers confessed that Scripture and worship should be in the “vulgar tongue,� they were opposing the highbrow Roman Catholic culture that sent the message to the people that the things of God were “other,� that they were disconnected from their own lives and required those desiring true godliness to leave the world and enter the monastery. The reformers said “No� to all this, instead dignifying the common life of the common people, whether that life was marriage and family life, work (the dignity of all callings Luther taught so vigorously), or language. Remember how the reformers stood behind translations of Scripture into the lingua franca and worship in the vulgar tongue?


Only later did scholars find that, actually, the Greek of the New Testament was not a special language, but the common or vulgar language of the street. What a radical discovery! Now we know it as Koine Greek and we learn that the Holy Spirit did not, in fact, pass by the commoners, but rather the elite, when He inspired the books of the New Testament. Surprise, surprise!

So it must be that the Holy Spirit has other priorities than finding what we would take to be the most fitting aesthetic or linguistic vessel for His truth. Or, to put it another way, His criteria are vastly different than ours and may include a language choice that will enfranchise the disenfranchised…

As usual, God’s thoughts are much lower than ours, and His wisdom much more foolish than ours. In fact, His son was born in a garden shed at the back of a trailer park.

I’m not prepared to accept that “low-brow” worship is better than “high-brow” worship. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean that you’re free from the idolatry of money. However, Pastor Bayly’s concern about idolizing the “high brow” is well-taken. Maybe we need to let down our hair and embrace the low culture around us more than we are.

To that end, I will merely present some questions from another blog that I read.

* If God is our Father and the church is our family, should we view going to church services as a formal event or a family event?

* If we are to welcome the poor and socially outcast, does a dress code essentially push such people away from church?

* If people become overly worried about their appearance instead of their heart, are they like the Pharisees that Jesus chastised for only washing the outside of the proverbial cup?

* Is the church building somehow a magical sacred space like the Old Testament Temple? Or is it simply a place where God’s people gather that is no more and no less sacred than the homes they live in, now that the Spirit has been released from the Holy of Holies into the whole earth?

* Do we think that Jesus the homeless guy who was born in a barn was dressed up when He held church outdoors?

* Why should we press for formal dress in church when one of the only passages in the New Testament that speaks about what to wear to church rebukes women for dressing up to the degree that they turned church into a fashion show (1 Timothy 2:9–10)?

* When Jesus says that people judge the outward but God is looking at the heart, does that mean that as long as women don’t show up in clear heels looking like they need an aluminum pole to dance around, appearance is really a secondary matter?

* Since we are supposed to be hospitable and welcome people to church as missionaries, does it not make sense to dress like “normal” people rather than make normal people dress up like “church” people?

Again, I am still working on thinking this through, but I figure, why should I be alone? So now, you also have the joy of considering some of these issues with me.

3 responses to “Some thoughts on worship

  • James Lansberry

    I don’t care how many times you raise the issue here, I refuse to consider it. :0)

    Just kidding.

    I’m sure we’ll be kicking this around quite a bit over the next few years. I’m already “letting my hair down” though.

  • Jonathan

    Those are fantastic questions. I can easily see though that the preacher wearing a robe and the people in the pews dressed in jeans is NOT a oxymoron….err, I can’t think of the word I’m looking for……anyway, if you prefer the preacher to wear some dopey robe I don’t see that conflicting with a desire to dress more casually to Sunday worship.
    On the other hand, you don’t want to sacrifice too much in the chase to seduce people into the church, I really doubt not having a polo shirt and a pair of khakis is what is keeping people away on Sundays.
    We are meeting more specially with the Creator and taking the time to look nice is not a bad thing, but a sign of respect it seems to me.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    I’m all about the preacher wearing a dopey robe, and you know that! And, actually, I agree that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between the preacher wearing a robe and the congregation being dressed in jeans.

    I think that a lot of what we’re trying to seek here is how to portray an honest respect for God, both to Him and to those around us. I do think that people are willing to accept a lot *if* they believe that it is an honest expression of the heart. People respect honesty, and God respects honesty.

    It’s when you’re being something that you’re not that the charges of hypocrisy come out, from men and God.

    Continuing to ramble for just a bit, I wonder if part of the problem is that “church” has become a set social occasion, with certain etiquette and rules. As a result, there has been societal pressure to dress and be a certain way for Sunday. Just consider the phrase “wearing your Sunday best”. But is this really rooted in the Bible’s teaching? To some degree, it is, as I believe that the principle is to “bring your best”. But, how much of this is needless social pressure?

    Still lots of stuff to roll around.

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