On Worship “Style” – a virtual conversation

anton Dwight P. from Minneapolis gave a thoughful response to my recent post about welcoming, relevant, contemporary worship.  Here’s my response with his comments in italics.
Dwight: I’m a high-church, bells-and-smells, pipe-organ-demanding, historic texts hearing Lutheran. And from that perspecive, I think you either make or report in your post at least four assumptions that continue to need examining (and that I believe to be false).

Chris: Hey Dwight, thanks for reading and responding to my post. I appreciate your comments. I’m convinced that liturgy and worship are not bound to music or cultural styles embodied in the hymnbooks of the past century, even as I embrace the basic shape or outline of liturgy as expressed in those books. So, in response to your comments . . .

Dwight: First, that "growth" is what the church is about — or even that it is a good thing. (Even when it is cast as "serving" or "reaching out to" more people, I am suspect.)
Chris: Growth, in my opinion, is a legitmate goal for our churches, not only because many of our churches are closing or shrinking, but also because growth seems to be a natural result of the Great Commission.

Dwight: Second, that what you call "contemporary" (bands and such) is somehow more welcoming than the rich deposit of the past. (In my congregation, we use bells, smells, pipe organ, full vestments — and we are known as one of the most welcoming congregations in town, except by some folks who do not like the way we worship.)
Chris: Good point. I don’t think that "contemporary" is inherently any more welcoming than any other well-done worship style, but I do think there is a value in re-thinking the cultural idioms we use in worship. Many of our currently beloved traditional forms (from the SBH or LBW to 19th century hymns to particular vestments to certain architecture) are products of the last 200-500 years, some perhaps with older antecedants. It’s not as if Jesus sang "Beautiful Savior" with his beloved lips. That hymn is a product of its time, but some might argue that we’re in a new time which calls for new expressions of faith. (There’s a baby and bathwater argument to be had here, too).

Dwight: Third, that "welcoming" means adopting the tastes, values, etc. of the ones you’re welcoming — i.e., changing into something else for the sake of the newcomer. (Parker Palmer describes "welcoming" as making a place for the visitor or seeker within the gathering — but not loading him/her with the responsibility for determining what the visited are to be.)
Chris: I think that traditional churches can be welcoming, as can be churches that embrace a new or "contemporary" paradigm. Everything from signage to bulletin notes to greeters to people in the pews who help guests find their page in the book or bulletin contribute to a welcoming church. However, I think that the worship itself can be welcoming if it is done in a culturally relevant way (to the Greeks a Greek, to the Jews a Jew . . .).

Dwight: And fourth, that one can make an easy transition into new technologies and styles without changing the substance. (I think the meaning of the liturgy is much more complex than observing the traditional "shape" and having communion even regularly. I think the whole business about "shape" is bogus — it’s an abstraction from what is necessary for a Christian congregation to do anything: viz., get together, hear the Word, celebrate the meal, and leave. The serious questions reside in the details — e.g., what word do they hear and speak?)
Chris: Your question is relevent whether we’re talking about liturgy adorned with smells and bells or with cymbols and multi-media – and I’m not sure that the pipe organ or "thees" and "thous" somehow insure the purity or propriety of worship.  The serious question of what Word is heard and spoken is critical for both "traditional" and "contemporary" worship, and neither "style" has an advantage in my understanding.

BTW, I’m a genuflecting, sign-of-the-cross-making kind of guy. My wedding was based on the Book of Common Prayer with some touches from the Lutheran Book of Worship. The service began with a declaration of our intentions, and then my wife and I entered the church together behind a procession of the cross, torches, the Bible, etc.. Eucharist, an offering for the poor, several hymns, etc. were part of the service. It was a great, liturgical celebration.

Well, there we have it.  If there is an argument that 18th or 19th century linguistic or musical styles are inherently more liturgical than any contemporary style, I haven’t heard it or been sold on it. Until then, I’m excited by the prospect of liturgical worship including/embracing new and contemporary cultural idioms.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

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