Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Better is one day

Concerning a recent issue, a reader asked:

“…is it tradition we are talking about or is it more the era from which our "older" worship came? Didn't most of it's influence come from Puritan and/or European methodology from the 1600's and 1700's? Is that necessarily the tradition of the Gospel or more the tradition of the century from which the revivals came?”

I'm neither a liturgist nor a musicologist, so I can't even begin to tell you where Protestant "old fancy" music finds its roots. However, one major theological difference between contemporary Evangelical worship (CEW) and more traditional worship is that, in the former, worship is seen as the forum in which we invite God to meet us, whereas in the latter, it is viewed as the setting in which we trust God invites us to meet Him. A lot of CEW looks and feels like a performance - and I don't mean that in a snarky way - because it is seen as a performance. The underlying assumption of a lot of CEW is that we are the performers and God is the audience. We love to be like David, worshipping in our spiritual underwear. But in our frenzy to worship the Lord, we too easily forget about Anna and her much simpler worship of God (cf. Lke 2:36ff).

An older - and I'm inclined to say better - understanding of worship sees God as the active performer, while we are but the recipients of His grace made present for us. The aim of CEW is very often to create a place for God to move freely among us. Ancient Christian worship, by contrast, recognizes that God hallows space for Himself and invites us to walk, kneel, and bow before Him with holy fear and dumbstruck adoration. CEW often aims to build a campfire of praise around which we can all sit and sing along with God. Ancient worship, on the other hand, recognizes that God Himself is the holy fire around which we gather as His Shekinah glory fills the tabernacle. CEW is like a meal to which we invite God. Ancient Christian worship recognizes that God Himself is the meal. “Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you.”

Don’t get me wrong. I do not mean to denigrate CEW. I think it is an awesome force today for stirring people in their fear and love for God. If you’ve ever seen me worship with CEW, you know I have praised God exuberantly. My point is simply that, to adapt something Peter Kreeft said, just as fire needs a fireplace, CEW needs to explore the hearth of the ancient life of worship out of which it was born.

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