Monday, May 01, 2006

Contemporary Reformed Worship? - oh my!


So again, I'm questioning how "Reformed" I am when I read a book like With Reverence and Awe that seems to be a little too... how shall I say this - narrow-minded in its scope? Now, to be fair, I did not read the entire book. I'm working on a paper for my "Worship in the Reformed Tradition" class where I have to come up with a proposal for a Pastoral Nominating Committee who's looking to create an "alternative worship service" so that they can reach the young members of their community. So, this book is just one of a number I've consulted in writing this paper, and I haven't had the time to read it from cover to cover. But I was surprised with the - how shall I say this - animosity it seemed to have for other traditions and worship. I mean, I felt like these authors believed they had a pipeline to God and that they knew EXACTLY what should and should not be done in worship. Every other tradition is whacked and only the Calvinist-Reformed have got it right.

Now, I completely agree that God is the initiator and primary focus of our worship. But, I guess not following all five points of "Calvin's" hallowed TULIP, keeps me from buying hook, line and sinker, what Hart & Muether are selling. And it begins with their interpretation of Total Depravity. What it seems like they are contending for is a return to OT worship where we have a specific set of rules that we cannot step beyond, because we are completely debased creatures, given to all kinds of lies and idolatry. But if I read the NT right, I see that believers are given the Holy Spirit, which will lead us into the way of truth. We are also given freedom - from bondage to the law of sin and death. We are NEW - the old has gone, the new has come. While we cannot earn God's grace and favour, we are able to step out and do good things for him - bear good fruit, according to the Spirit, which does not contradict the written Word, but bears witness to the Living Word - Jesus.

I also agree with Hart and Muether that theology informs worship practice and that the two go hand-in-hand, which just affirms in me that I cannot hold to everything that everyone (or at least some people) claims is Reformed. I believe that since the church is ALWAYS REFORMING according to Scripture (and might I add the Holy Spirit, because it is the Holy Spirit that allows us to interpret Scripture) we must contend that the gospel is continually being translated, in new contexts and we should not claim to simply force one context - that of 16th or 17th Century Western Europe, on every other context. If worship is to be done in Spirit & Truth as Jesus claims, and the Bible does not give us specific liturgical forms, it seems to be that we are given the monumental task of ordering worship according to Scripture with a certain diversity! Just as we have translated the Greek, Hebrew & Aramaic texts of Scripture into hundreds if not thousands of languages worldwide, so too must we interpret worship - always directed to God, always as a response to God's intiative and always seeking to conform to the Spirit's guidance.

This is why I liked So You're Thinking about Contemporary Worship" which just so happens to be written by a couple of Disciples of Christ - who just so happen to understand themselves as descended from the Reformed Tradition as well. I appreciate so much of what that book says because it acknowledges the fact that worship is based in context and that our context is changing, and we need to be aware of that, interpreting worship for our new context as it arises. Now, I don't agree necessarily, that the worship of the Christian community is to be overtly evangelistic - geared more to the seeker than the believer (that's not exactly what they say anyway) but I do believe that those outside of the community still need to have worship made available to them - just as Jesus drove out the money-lenders from the courts of the Gentiles, so we need to be careful to keep in mind those who come from outside our midst - seeking the God who is ALWAYS seeking them. I also love the Disciples' emphasis on the Lord's Supper - which I'm beginning to believe we should be practicing more regularly - every Sunday? Anyway, I commend this book to you if you're thinking about "Contemporary Worship" (whatever that means).

I however, must remain in the tension between these two places - Reformed, but not stagnant - theologically minded, but not narrow-minded - with Reverance and Awe to God, but not creating a god of any tradition.

And it is with this that I continue to formulate a proposal for "Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church" - Kudos to those that catch the significance of my fictitious church in Punxsutawney...


Collin Brendemuehl said...

Interesting thoughts. Thanks.
Style of worship is an important tradition for many. How about more thoughts on the character of the worshipper? Would be great to read.

Jeff said...

I wonder if you plan on becominf a Presbyterian pastor. I attend a Presbyterian chruch in Toms River and yearn for them to incorporate a true contemporary service on Sunday. Right now we have a"blended" service on Saturday. Also, there are very few churches in our neck of the woods that have contemporary services which, by the way, is the fastest growing form of worship...