Beyond Sermons and Songs 2: Further Thoughts on Worship and Liturgy

Pastor, author, and professor David Fitch has responded to the discussion he began about the pitfalls of experiential worship. To read more about worship and ministry in a postmodern culture we recommend Fitch's provocative new book The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism, and Other Modern Maladies.

Hey all, thanks for this lively conversation. I'd like to take the opportunity to repond to some of your comments concerning the validity or lecture hall and rock concert style worship.

Some have said that what we need is "line by line" preaching. If by the "line by line" study of the Word of God you mean expository preaching, I do not wish to deny the importance of preaching, perhaps even expository preaching. However, if the peaching becomes simply truth propositions inductively sliced and distributed to autonomous isolated minds sitting in the pews taking notes on how to improve their lives (even their Christian lives), then to me this is not worship.

It is the distribution of information as another form of goods and services to consumers who are not changed by God's Word but only seek to use His Word to achieve their already decided wants and needs. This is what I am calling the danger of "lecture hall" worship. Would you at least concede that this in fact happens in many of our evangelical churches, esp. mega churches of our day?

To those who think we're over criticizing worship ... I think we need to rethink the format of many of our contemporary worship gatherings which rely on a long set of rock concert songs to elicit a good "worship experience." If this is another form of a "feel good pep rally" whose hymnody is not substantive enough to shape one's orientation towards our holy, almighty and sovereign God, then this worship inevitably turns narcissistic and fails as worship. To those of you complaining that we have once again criticized someone's worship, would you not at least concede that some evangelical worship falls into this category? That we then at least need to talk seriosuly about this issue in our worship?

There is certainly a sense in which all of life is worship. On my own blog I have argued that a "good party" can be a liturgy that shapes us in response to God's grace. I agree that liturgy is not limited to Sunday a.m. But I believe the postmodern writers powerfully argue that our selves (our subjectivities to use a good postmodern term from linguistic philosophy) are being shaped by cultural forces, discourses and ways of seeing. Therefore worship becomes the place out of which I as a Christian am formed towards His glory from which my life can be centered in my relationship to God in Christ. I can then go out and live the rest of my life out of that orientation. To me then it is simplistic to say all of life is worship.

Displaying 1–10 of 13 comments


January 02, 2006  9:08pm

OK, but Jesus was about building a community, not individuals... Part of the American lie is that "religion" is personal. Read the Bible, everything God does is about communities, peoples and nations or all creation. Jesus took a bunch of nobodies, himself included and convinced them they were somebodies and not just any somebodies...Children of God for Pete's sake. So, if the liturgy isn't forming a community and helping nobodies realize that they are children of God - and therefore already part of the Kingdom of God (so live like it, already) then it really doesn't matter what style the service is. Peace and blessings, A child of God.

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Dan McGowan

December 29, 2005  8:55am

I, too, enjoy what Nathan had to say on this topic... and I guess I might take it a step further to suggest (and, really, to insist) that worship, like anything else in life, comes down to personal CHOICE to worship our God, regardless of what is being offered on the platform as our MEANS of worshiping Him. I serve as the music and worship director for a large church in the Denver area and I have been growing so weary the last few years (after having served in churches in this role for nearly 25 years) of the never-ending stream of selfishness that fills the pews of many churches with congregants demanding that the music be this or that - or they will leave! Give me a break... honestly! It is time for us to realize that worship costs something - and what it costs is far more than many of us are willing to pay... because it costs us actually giving up OUR COMFORTABLE WAYS of "doing church" for the sole purpose of actually encountering the Lord Jesus Christ. I agree with Nathan that this encounter occurs with both organs and guitars, choirs and praise teams, solos and grand orchestras. It has nothing to do with whether or not your church is singing the latest "WOW Worship" hits, or a song penned by Fanny Crosby - - or even a song penned by a faithful, unknown servant in your church who happens to write beautiful songs of worship! I say 'it doesn't matter' - but, in many cases it DOES matter - and that's the point! More to the point: It SHOULD NOT matter.... but it does. And until it doesn't, we will continue to debate as to what constitutes "acceptable" worship to God on an external, stylistic plane.

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Nathan Woodward

December 22, 2005  11:12pm

Roy, I'm not sure how yearning to become transformed into Christ's image through offering ourselves to him is "self-serving." Forgive me if that's not what you were saying, but you seem at first to be arguing against evaluating worship on what it does to us. That sounds good, but I'm not sure that communal worship is for God's benefit. After all, God's doing just fine. Does he really need our cheers? Worship is for us–it is the place where we declare ourselves subjects of the King of the Universe, as he has created us to be. We do benefit from offering ourselves to God, because in doing so, we embrace his calling and purpose for our lives. God intended us to enjoy his presence, yes? That is what the Garden is. Now, if our times for worship become about enjoying ourselves apart from God's purposes...then we have a problem.

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December 22, 2005  11:06am

(See my previous post) Sloppy definitions of worship inevitably lead to sloppy worship. Jesus said that any person who loves anyone (obviously including anything), including their own life, more than Him is not worthy of Him (Matt. 10:37ff.; Luke 14:26ff.). Thus Jesus defined the criteria for loving Him, and equally for worshipping Him, since they are inextricably melded together. Our love/worship must not be tainted by a hidden self-serving agenda to enhance or improve ourselves. No true worshipper in the Bible worshipped God with a eye toward themselves, but were totally focused on Him because He Alone is Worthy. If we say that "Changed lives are the key to evaluating worship" the massive evidence unearthed by Barna, Pew, Gallop (and many others), shows that nearly all American Christians behave no differently than the completely unchurched, hence, for most of us, our so-called "worship" utterly fails that test. Members of liturgical churches appear to fare very poorly in the polls and surveys. Jesus said those who worship God MUST worship Him in Spirit (capital "S"; God is not some kind of inwardness, God IS Spirit (capital "S")) and truth (John 4:23, 24). Paul said that "we worship (Greek "latreuontes", from which "liturgy" is derived, so "sacredly serve" might be better, compare Rom. 12:1) in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3). It is through Christ Jesus that all those who belong to Him have direct access in one Spirit (capital "S") to the Father (Eph. 2:18). Those having direct access to God by His Spirit do not need tokens, symbols, rituals, paraphernalia, etc., beyond what the Lord specifically gave us in believer's baptism and Holy Communion. Adam and Eve needed no liturgies or rituals, they dealt directly with God. Enoch WALKED WITH GOD for three hundred years without rituals and God took him. Even while Jesus participated in Jewish rituals, He knew that He Himself was greater than all those symbols and promised that those shadows would end (even be destroyed!) when the True Way of Spirit (capital "S") worship came. Biblical churches founded by the Apostle Paul (who was made a "wise masterbuider" by God's grace working powerfully within him) typically assembled as churches of God in the humble homes of believers to enjoy Spiritual (capital "S") fellowship with each other and with God. Lacking religious paraphernalia, etc., in no way hindered their ability to be everything God wanted them to be. Do we not appreciate Christ's incredible invitation that we come directly to Him and God's promise that we would find Him if we seek Him with all our hearts. The promises of God are not good-sounding empty platitudes, but speak of ultimate reality. Why would we interject rituals, symbols, tokens, etc., between ourselves and Him Who is our life. We should be opposed to all such distractions. It is very difficult not to bring up the charge of "ecclesiastical deism" against such practices. We are not arrogantly pontificating, but making a plea for Christians to take God at His Word. The mildly belligerent tone of this post is unfortunate, but we must begin to hold the feet of professing Christians to the fire of God's Word. The way out of the current morass is the same ONE as always - we must seek and follow Jesus Christ, directly beholding the Image of God in His Face, without any ritualistic, symbollic, liturgical veils inserted between us and Him, Whom to know Personally is eternal life.

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Mark Goodyear

December 22, 2005  8:20am

I love this site. Great thread. It reminds me of Bezalel at the end of Exodus. God calls him to build his tabernacle. Or more accurately, the pieces of His tabernacle. Bezalel's craft becomes his act of worship, and he helps create a place of worship for all Israel. But Moses finishes the tabernacle. Bezalel and his men only make the pieces. Bezalel has one role, Moses has another. Both acts of worship lead to the creation of a place where God will live on earth. Folks, we are that place. The tabernacle prefigured the temple. The temple prefigured Jesus Christ. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so that the church would become the body of Christ. This body gathers several times each week in many places to worship God. During worship God equips us. God encourages us. God changes us everytime we meet Him–whether in the gathered church or the scattered church of our daily lives. Like Bezalel and Moses we all have different jobs. If you want to deconstruct the church, you could say we carry different pieces like the Kohathites. God has called me to worship through drama and choir and writing. I love the hymns. I love a good repetitive praise song. But these things are only one tiny piece of God's tabernacle. We all carry different pieces, and we are all still priests. No matter how different my piece is from yours. No matter how different my church and denomination is from yours, all Christians are priests. God calls us to bring our different pieces together. That's worship. When Moses put together the pieces of the Tabernacle, God's glory came down. The men who created the tabernacle in worship could no longer touch it. Worship is dangerous. Worship brings God's glory down to earth. And it destroys our sinful, earthly lives.

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Jay Hodges

December 21, 2005  9:08am

Amen to what Nathan just wrote. Worship (however we define and practice it) should be at some level an interaction with our holy God. We would be hard-pressed to find an instance in Scripture where God's people interacted with Him and were not changed in some way by the event. So if we are supposed to be touching God's heart with our worship, and we are supposed to be touched by Him as well, then there should be some obvious signs in our changed behavior and thought patterns. Without this "fruit," there must not be any real change going on; therefore, our worship must not be working properly, whatever the style. Changed lives is the key to evaluating worship.

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Nathan Woodward

December 20, 2005  2:38pm

I appreciate everyone's depth of thought here. What is the gathering of believers for? I think to exclude either divine influence or human influence leads us to an incomplete view of a worship service. Certainly, liturgy is a set of structures and practices for ordering worship, given to us by centuries of the Faithful whom, we believe, were given the same Holy Spirit that indwells us. Simply being ancient doesn't make them more or less valid. On the one hand, they are compilations of centuries of wisdom and practical refinement, and on the other they run the risk of becoming stale or irrellevant. It would be tragic to ignore liturgical tradition altogether, because of the richness contained therein, but it would be wrong to insist on a one-size-fits-all solution. I think we do best when we explain with humility why the way we do worship speaks to us, how it challenges, shapes us, moves us. It is the testimony of God's work in us, which is itself an offering of praise and thanksgiving. Consequently, I don't think liturgical worhsip is any less "experiential" than charismatic worship. When most effective, liturgy trains and corrects us to deeper commitment to Jesus. Isn't this the same goal as most "contemporary" evangelical services? Can we really question the depth, sincerity, or cause of the emotion that people show in what David calls a "rock concert worship experience?" The only way I know to evaluate a structure or set of practices for corporate worship is to evaluate the spiritual health and growth of that worshipping community. If we do not go away changed from our communal worship, then it isn't adequate, regardless of what we did.

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Dave Poedel

December 20, 2005  8:57am

I just discovered this thread and find it encouraging. Perhaps the real issue is: what is the purpose of gathering as a community? In my evangelical catholic (Lutheran) tradition, the gathering is called the "Divine Service". The Orthodox call it the "Divine Liturgy". The emphasis is on the "Divine", God Himself. We gather to be ministered TO by God Himself! The triune God feeds us through His Word and sacrament. Hence, the Word and Sacrament are the norm. We, having been called, convicted of our sin, absolved of that sin, fed with the Eucharistic sacrament, and gathered together then respond to God through our prayer, praise and offerings. With that foundation, there is considerable freedom as to the form and structure. I find the structure, or skeleton of the Western Mass to be useful and time-proven. The ordinary responses and components can tolerate a variety of musical styles while keeping the words intact. The hymns or songs should really reflect the theology of the tradition. If I do use any of the "praise" songs that are popular today, they are chosen carefully and balanced with hymns with some "meat" doctrinally. I have watched, with delight, the rediscovery of good Liturgy, while at the same time watched in horror as my own tradition abandons the same to adopt what the non-Liturgical churches are now recognizing as weak and superficial. God has a sense of humor, I pray!

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December 19, 2005  8:05pm

I have had some freinds leave Evangilical churchs to go to something more anchent and letergical, I have had friends come from Catholic churches to leave "dead orthodoxy". I think Modern worship services are to pragmatic for sure, and there is something to be said for going at bit more litergical. But the preaching of the word should always be paramount. Sola Scriptura!

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Roy Jackson

December 19, 2005  2:48pm

For what are we seeking? Do we actually think we can improve on Jesus Christ? For over a thousand years Israel had liturgies, worship ceremonies, meaningful rituals, and solemn assemblies, including sacred music, ALL GIVEN TO THEM DIRECTLY BY THE ALMIGHTY. Do we honestly think we can concoct anything better than God gave them? But the irrefutable testimony of sacred history is that none of these things conformed them to God's will - they wore out even His perfect patience - so He poured out His wrath upon them, destroying temple, liturgies, "worshippers" and all, on more than one occassion. Worship is "the highest form of Love that is reserved only for Deity." It may be expressed in many ways but cannot be expressed at all by those who do not obey God. Jesus said those who love Him obey Him and those who do not obey Him do not love Him (John 14:21-24). No descendant of Adam naturally loves or obeys God (Rom. 3:10-18; etc.). If we would love God and so be able to worship Him, we must receive the ability to love from Him. This is why Jesus said we MUST be born from above. We must have a heart transplant that is the work of God's Spirit within us - this is the creative work of God. The ritual, ceremonial, liturgical activities God gave Israel were but "shadows" pointing toward the "Substance" which is Jesus Christ Himself, crucified on the cross and living within us by His Spirit. There is absolutely no deficiency in Christ. Why would anyone turn away from Christ to go back to mere shadows and symbols and symbollic actions? "Test you not recognize...that Jesus Christ is in you - unless indeed you fail the test?" (II cor. 13:5). When you have received the Best your search is over and you never thirst again. Why do you seek the living among the dead? Seek Jesus Christ for He is alive and no one who calls upon Him will be disappointed.

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