Sunday, December 03, 2006

More on Worship

I haven't posted much on my blog since my return to Chicago: the reasons for this are many partially I have been struggling to get back into the rhythm of life that I had not had between November 16 and the 26th. I am continually amazed by my struggle with and need for the rhythms of a routine. Then there has simply been the my own attempts to process some realizations that happened while I was away, and I am still wondering what if anything I want to say here in this forum. And lastly my week was very full as I took on a new spiritual directee and the monthly artist gathering I am part of and Reconciler has sponsored met.

The past several meetings of this artist group I have missed and in that time the group has begun to hatch an idea of a larger gathering of Christian artists in Chicago, and one member Jeff has been actively seeking to make this happen to the extent that he has even found a possible location. So, among the things we discussed Thursday evening was where Jeff was at with the idea and what the rest of us thought such an event should look like. In the discussion there was some mention of "worship" and that the central component of what Jeff and the group were looking at for this gathering of artists was a places for musicians to jam and have a time of "deeper worship".

This focus on "worship" seemed a little odd to me, and very evangelical. So, I asked Jeff "Why this focus on worship? Why have this gathering of artist be focused on worship?" Jeff's answer was that from his preliminary talking with people about this it seems to be what people wanted and it was the type of thing a similar gathering of Christian artists in New York were doing. I let it go for time being, though I did say that what they were describing letting musicians jam and be more experimental than they could in church wasn't worship from my theological perspective. We moved on and clarified some other things about what this might look like and what it would look like if it was less music centric. (it is not surprising that this is the emphasis since I am one of the few non-musicians who is part of the group.)

Eventually my friend Grant asked me what my understanding of worship was that would exclude something like what we were planning from being "worship". I answered that I understood Christians worship as not centered on an experience but centered on the recollection, remembrance, re-presentation, and proclamation of the salvific acts of God in history, ultimately in Jesus Christ. The responses to this I found fascinating. One response was, so according to your view worship is "liturgical. Or, So is there nothing experiential to Christians worship? Or, so worship is just about the death and Resurrection of Jesus?
I won't attempt to reconstruct where the conversation went from there, but leave you with some of my own realizations.

I realized that I believe Christian worship to be inseparable from Eucharist, and once you define Christian worship as Eucharistic and as centered on a recounting/re-presenting the acts of God in history, one is directed towards liturgy or what is described as more "high-church" in Protestant contexts. "Praise and Worship" forms of Christian worship are centered on the experience of the individual believer in a group of Christians and thus de-centers God's Salvific acts in history in favor of God's saving of the individual in the present. What God does now is more important than what God has done. This is not about whether what God has done is still scene as foundational, or essential for what God does now, but the focus is shifted away from what God in Jesus Christ did towards what Jesus does for me now. Of course Jesus could do nothing for me now if he didn't accomplish something then. Thus in this evangelical context "deeper" worship isn't encountering and re-presenting God's great act of salvation in Jesus Christ, but experiencing God/Jesus now in an emotional experience of "worshipfulness".

All of this means that for many if not most evangelical churches who still hold to some form of "word" and "table"(even if the "table is rarely part of the regular worship service), contradicts the theology of worship centered on experience. Evangelical theology of worship contradicts the theology of the remnant form of these churches worship. Thus, those more prone to emphasize experience or emotion find this remnant form of the liturgy unsatisfying (and to some extent they are correct, since they have torn the liturgy not only apart but torn it away from its moorings in the tradition). Charismatic worship has a differing problem, it has left aside the form of the liturgy of the Church entirely in favor of a form that emphasizes the experience of worship and of encountering God now in worship, but without the form of "word" and "table", the sermon, and communion fit awkwardly into this experiential liturgy. How does one preach when scripture no longer has a prominent place in the liturgy, when our prayers are not informed by the Psalms, and we have not sat under the authority of the Word of God? And how does communion flow out of this experiential liturgy when communion in its very form as preserved for us in the Gospels isn't centered on my experience of God and Jesus and what they have done for me this past week, but on what God in Jesus Christ did? As far as I have seen it is tacked on somewhere in the service (sometimes before the sermon sometime after) and is awkwardly contextualized as a means to experience Jesus. Though this had already happened in evangelical church's as well as communion became a time of personal reflection an individual act more than a corporate act of the church. Both charismatics and evangelicals have deep difficulty explaining how their forms of communion are theologically consistent with Paul's deep seriousness about communion and how it should be administered.

In the end I have realized that my theology of worship is not evangelical, and I think "the worship wars" are the eventual and necessary outcome of an incomplete rejection of the Liturgy of the Church by Protestants, where my affirmation of worship centered on the re-collection of the mighty acts of God as the primary purpose of Christian worship become reduced to taste and thus the provenance of the "cultured" and inaccessible to the common people who must have a more popular form of worship, centered on experience. But from my view and how I understand how worship has been understood in the church is that Christian worship unlike Gnostic worship, is never centered on an experience.

However, experience is at best a by product of true worship and encounter and is not something one attempts to engender in the gathered people of God. Rather the Church comes together to re-present what God has done in the last day, the eighth day, which transforms us into Christ. Praise and prayer are important aspects of this but not to the exclusion of hearing and eating: "word" and "table".