Friday, September 05, 2008

Tradition, Progression and Justice in Worship

Vance said of my last post regarding worship

'But what bothers me the most is a sense of irrelevance and disconnectedness from the world that I feel in most churches. Maybe that is just the nature of the narrow way, but somehow I think our fellowship should be future pointed rather than past pointed. It feels to me that most churches are trying to preserve a worldview of science, culture, philosophy, and an attitude towards God that doesn't work anymore.'

Thanks for that thought,
Here is what you have encouraged me to think about.

Relevance may be the key concept for us here. Is the church meant to be 'relevant'?
That may seem like a strange question because the obvious answer is 'of course'
that is what most churches report they want from their preachers and sermons, relevance.
We want to understand the revelation of God as it applies to our lives today, in our context, so that we can live faithfully and be an effective witness. That reasoning I understand and suppport.

So if relevant means understanding the word of God so that we can apply it to our societal and cultural context and be an effective witness, than I say relevance is an important goal for our worship.

But Paul said in Rom 12:2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

I think this may move us toward a good working definition of 'relevance'

Our worship must be relevant in such a way as to guide us in to transformation from life as the world (culture and society) define it, into life as God defines it.
In other words, the goal of following Christ is to be Christ-like. The goal of worship is not to simply mirror popular culture so that it becomes more accessible, but to lead us into rejecting what is considered popular and might just be the opposite of what Christ expects from his disciples

That is my contention with much of what is happening in worship. that it conforms to the ways of the world. Large screens like a movie theatre. Bands like at a bar or a concert. No more robes on the pastor, just jeans and a hawaiian shirt. Play down the religious symbols. Take out the traditional parts of liturgy, like the Lord's Prayer and the Gloria Patri.
Traditional worship makes people uncomfortable and is foreign to them. And we want them to come to church.
Many do not understand these elements of worship and so they are 'irrelevant'

But in the scripture above, Paul is not calling us into a comfortable relationship with Christ. We are not to conform (which is comfortable) but instead to be transformed (which is to be different, and that is decidedly uncomfortable . we are meant to be different from the world and worship is meant is meant to be different from the world around us, critiquing that in the culture around us that goes against the Kingdom Christ brought in his life, death and resurrection. Worship meant to make us uncomfortable in the world, so that we will live differently. We must be uncomfortable in order to see the world a different way, to catch a glimpse of the kingdom so that we can know the dangers of conforming.

Church that gives away SO much to be popular and comfortable soon, in my opinion, looses its power to witness to the larger world.
Praise hymns themselves. Not only do they not really teach us anything about the faith. they are completely individually oriented, internally focused... its just about 'me' and Jesus. And finally, these praise hymns are not created with any lasting power. They are like cell phones and computers, created to be purchased today, tomorrow obsolete because another new song has come out, so that we will purchase another one. It is that impermanence, that disposable ethic that worries me most, even though it is relevant. The ethic of disposability is what has created such dangers for the natural world around us. Ton's and Ton's of trash build up for the sake of convenience and disposability. When things are disposable, soon people are disposable (read the first chapter of Esther to see disposable good and disposable people). Even marriages are disposable and babies too.
the church needs to be a witness for the value of people, marriages, babies. We must stand against this disposable ethic instead of conforming to it, yes, even in our music we make that witness.

Hauerwas maintains that the point of the church is not to be successful or popular, but faithful. What are we being faithful to if we we are jetisoning all those things that make us unique and teach us how to be non-conformists?

This isn't to say I'm against relevance or innovation either.
I like to play my guitar in worship, which really isn't a part of my tradition
(it actually is a part of some traditions, including the african american tradition as I understand it. Guitars being the only affordable and accessible instruments for many African American churches in the days soon after slavery when they were still not allowed in the wealthy white churches)
and I like to find hymns that are written with contemporary language and themes.
I grow tired of the 'blood' hymns as they espouse an understanding of atonement that I cannot affirm. I grow tired of hymns that have antiquated language 'Here I raise my ebenezer' What does THAT mean?

this is where Justice comes into play.
Look to Is 58.
that is all about worship.
israel is asking God why they are faithful in worship, in prayer and sabbath, and yet God does not seem present and available to them.
God launches into a critique of their worship. it isn't relevant. by relevant god means that worship does not shape the lives of the worshippers outside of the temple. They use each other cruelly. they amass wealth for themselves and ignore the poor. The share fine meals and let others go hungry. Relevant worship according to God, changes us from self-centered individuals to community oriented people. Worship makes them feel good for a while and then they can go out and act however they want. This sounds too much like praise music to me. I have just had a moving and cathartic experience of singing 'Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you're my God...' but then, have I volunteered at a soup kitchen, simplified my life by donating the clothes that I speant hundreds of dollars on and then didn't wear. Have I sold my SUV and bought a hybrid, have I done anything differently in the world?
Relevant worship, according to God opens our eyes to the emptiness of material wealth, and to the plight of those who cannot even attain the most basic of needs. Worship was meant to highlight the sins of society and strengthen those gathered to live just lives. when they did live just lives, their worship was relevant.

This is the way i propose to navigate the 'worship wars' between tradition and contemporary. And it aint easy. There are few traditional hymns that pick up peace and justice themes. There are few praise songs that do so either. I am constantly searching for hymns with justice themes written to traditional hymn melodies and to contemporary hymns that are written with a certain 'pop music sensibility' that still proclaim the faith.

thanks vance for your response and I hope you will continue to challenge me to think further

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