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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“vulgar tongue,Ã¢â‚¬? they were opposing the highbrow Roman Catholic culture that sent the message to the people that the things of God were Ã¢â‚¬Å“other,Ã¢â‚¬? 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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“NoÃ¢â‚¬? 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, GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 2:9Ã¢â‚¬â€œ10)?
* When Jesus says that people judge the outward but God is looking at the heart, does that mean that as long as women donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.