Sunday, March 18, 2012


Elizabeth Scalia wrote a piece at First Things almost two weeks ago about the dissatisfaction of many older Catholics with mass as it is often celebrated these days. 

My son is on the leadership team at church reading over the comments people have about what we should be looking for in a worship pastor - unable to contain themselves to that question and leaking out into what they want in worship itself (More projections screens!  No projection screens!  Newer music!  Older music!)

Our Bible study friends, who came up in a particular era of evangelicalism, used the term worship to mean "an extended time of praise songs interspersed with extemporaneous prayer," which was always jarring to me, who uses it to mean the entirety of the Sunday service, and even something outside that.

Hearkening back to last night's conversation with our young friends (previous posts), they described preferences and we rolled over other possibilities - eastern orthodox rites, full-volume contemporary, emerging church. 

I have recently come to the opinion that our desired worship style is more a heart language, a mother tonge, which we cannot easily change.  We might intellectually assent that other forms are just as valid, but they just don't do it for us in practice.  They don't work for us as well.  This may be our childhood experience, our post-conversion form of worship, or one we have been in longest, but it is what our heart desires, and we think, our surest way to experience God.  It is not absolutely immutable, but it resists modification.

Whether any of us thinks that is a healthy thing or not, I believe it is a reality of worship, and we might all do better if we recognised that our preference is deep-seated and works for us but not necessarily superior thereby.  Also, that those others are not just being obstinate and unwilling to see that we would find our way much better if they would only give it an honest try, but on exactly the same footing.

I have noted from time-to-time that I seldom find worship all that emotionally moving anyway.  I think it is because I don't have a mother tongue of worship, a favorite heart language that reaches to my depths.  I have a collection of different worship experiences which are just fine but not exciting.  Looking over my mixed worship history, it is hardly surprising.  What would be surprising, in fact, is if I did have some form that really tripped my trigger.

On the other hand, there's some significant advantage in that.  There aren't any forms of Christian worship that don't work at least somewhat for me.  I don't get much of Quaker silence, and I desire it;  I don't get much regular liturgy and I miss it; I like things quite raucous and contemporary at times - much more contemporary than our 1990 version at BCC, in fact; I like black churches, eastern churches.  Pound-it-out late 19th C camp meeting I've had about enough of, but I don't need to avoid it, especially.

For me it's like a filling station.  Some of them have conveniences stores, some don't; some have a Dunkin's, some will pump for you, they bear different brands, they are easier or harder to get to, less expensive or more, with carwash or air or not.  It doesn't much matter to me.  The car needs gas - this will do.

I can get taken out of worship by people doing some part of it very badly.  I don't mean music poorly performed, but arrogantly, force-feeding a congregation what the worship team knows is good for it; or congregations clearly congratulating themselves on how right their worship is - not like those other ignorant people who aren't spirit-filled or whatever.  It takes me a while to get past that.  But if congregations just innocently do what they do because that's who they are, I find I can enter in to that pretty easily.


james said...

To everything there is a season?

I don't know if it is a real difference in volume or in expectations, but drums in an African service don't seem as ear-splitting as an American drum-set in a church band set.

I'm not convinced that the band-centric "contemporary" service is as organic to the culture, or at least to worship in the culture, as the powers-that-be assure me. I base my skepticism on watching how much of the congregation participates. Some of the congregation "rock out" but a large fraction don't even try to sing--and since the songs aren't typically congregation-friendly that's not a surprise.

But I also look for more liturgy and wish there were ways of combining the good aspects of worship from around the body. Though I'm too Apollonian to get much from the speaking-in-tongues-prophecy types.

karrde said...


I think you're right about that 'mother tongue'.

And you may also be right about worship being more than music.

I occasionally remind myself that various kinds of music, expressions of worship, and orders of service are deeply cultural.

that style of worship-music is likely organic among the people who are leading it.

Which may be a problem, if there is a disconnect with the larger body.

Now I'm remembering something...

The church body that I spent most of my youth in had a practice of doing smaller Wednesday night meetings at member homes (under a lay leader, roughly a deacon). The purpose of the meetings was to keep the fellowship strong. Every member was supposed to belong to a tightly-knit small group that met on a week-night, as well as to the larger body that met on Sunday.

Anyway, those meetings were used as training-ground. People who wanted to help with worship-music (or teaching, or related ministry) had to show some level of dedication and success in the small-group meetings. Then they could take part in the worship-music (or teaching ministry, etc.) on Sunday morning.

This was meant to weed out people who were spiritually immature and/or attention-seekers.

It had the effect of cementing a style of ministry-and-music that most of the members of the congregation could happily join.

Interesting...does this mean that various local churches have a Church-Family-Culture?

Marie said...

I think God defines worship, not us.

I find the regulative principle of worship compelling.

RS Gold said...
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Dubbahdee said...

When the regulative principle becomes an idol, it results in a sense of superiority and spiritual smugness (Oh God, thank you that we are not like those ______ who do not know how to worship you in truth like we do...)

When the normative principle becomes an idol it results in a sense of superiority and spiritual smugness. (Oh God, thank you that we are not like those __________ who are so stuck in their ways and who are not free in the Spirit like we are...)

The problem with the "mother tongue" idea of worship practices is once you accept that what do you do with it? Perhaps the model here should be more of a Pentecost model -- in submission to one another we build worship that speaks all tongues so that the glory of God in Jesus is proclaimed. Perhaps then, instead of worshiping our way of worshiping, we can worship the True and Living God.

Yeah, right. Guess we'll have to wait for the New Heaven/New Earth for that to happen.

Dubbahdee said...

Reading my own comment, I sound pretty preachy. Well, you know how it is with me and this topic. Just put a quarter in me and watch me dance...

Still pondering the implications of Worship Mother Tongue here. If true, does this mean we are doomed to a sort of eternal worship tribalism? Can the races ever mix?

Language is not a static thing. Is a WMT able to invent new words, bring in words from other languages and adapt them? Are some WMTs more able to do this than others (e.g. English is great at this).

Can one stretch the metaphor too far?

Texan99 said...

Almost all my experience has been with sedate, liturgy-based Episcopalian services. I sometimes wish for something a little more ecstatic, with black Gospel howling music and clapping and stomping and some extemporaneous witnessing, amen brother, but I suspect I'd find it excruciating, even if good for me.

Texan99 said...

PS, shape-note singings can get pretty intense as a religious experience, even though they're not worship services per se.