A woman who was visiting a liturgical service kept punctuating the pastor's sermon with "Praise the Lord!" Another woman finally turned around and said, "Excuse me, but we don't praise the Lord in the Lutheran church."
A man down the pew corrected her. "Yes we do; it's on page 19."
The conflict between form and freedom is not new, and we have both sides in our congregation. Some wish we would throw out the liturgy so we could be free to "move with the Spirit." Others are tired of innovations and want to return to the good ol' days when they knew what was happening and could follow the bulletin play by play.
Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? Yes! Order and ardor can be happily wed. Truth is canonized but not style. The issue is not structure or freedom, but Spirit. God has no preference for formless spiritualism or Spiritless formalism—he rejects both. Spontaneity offers no innate advantage over liturgy. Liberty is where the Spirit is, not where the preacher has thrown away his notes.
Protestants have traditionally been better workers than worshipers. Pastors may spend fifteen hours on sermon preparation and fifteen minutes throwing the service together.
God wants worshipers above anything else. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, "He seeketh such to worship him." Karl Barth wrote, "Christian worship is the most momentous, the most urgent, the most glorious action that can take place in human life." If we agree, then it must not be "the things we do before we get to the important stuff."
One glimpse into heaven reveals that it is of eternal significance. The whole Book of Leviticus was written to teach a nation how to worship, an acknowledgment that at the center of life is the worship of God.
Like other Christian disciplines, worship requires balance. Here are some the areas we try to handle appropriately.
Balancing Praise and Worship
Our family went to see "The Glory of Christmas" concert at the Crystal Cathedral, and it was glorious! Dr. Schuller asked that applause be held till the end of the performance. After every marvelous piece of music, complete with drama (live camels and flying angels included!), my four-year-old daughter clapped vigorously. She knew it called for a response, and I could not convince her that silence was more appropriate (much to my embarrassment). With all respect to Dr. Schuller, I think Naomi was taking her cue properly from a joyful heart, not the rubrics of the evening.
Reading about the worship of Israel convinces me that God is no grouch. Dancers, singers, and instrumentalists combined to make worship a time for rejoicing: "Four thousand shall offer praises to the Lord with the instruments which I have made for praise" (1 Chron. 23:5).
One of the men in our church said, "I used to think Cecil B. De Mille was overdoing it—trumpeters on this wall, heralds on that wall, and a chorus in every corner. But after reading the Old Testament, maybe he was downplaying it! I'd love to see a service with processions, banners, colorful vestments, and antiphonal singing."
David declared it legal to shout to the Lord; Pentecostals have gradually made it more acceptable.
And yet after entering his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise, there comes a time of needful quiet—worship. "Know ye that the Lord is God" is best done in silence. "Be still and know that I am God."
One of the Hebrew words for worship means "falling on one's face." Prostration before God says we are seeing something of his greatness in contrast to our frailty. In worship, Isaiah's "Woe is me" is more appropriate than Peter's "It's sure good to be here."