Archives For Worship

Gimmicks and God

June 18, 2015

From Timothy George over at First Things:

Ed_Young_41Perhaps there is a more excellent way between the do-nothing and the do-anything approach to evangelization. The Christian church has always existed in tension between the poles of identity and adaptability. It can go to seed by swinging too far in one direction or the other. When the church becomes so self-referential, it loses any sense of mission. But when it becomes so assimilated to the culture, it loses the Gospel. In speaking of the fading fortunes of the mainline, historian George Marsden has said, “Liberals have learned that it is difficult for the church to survive, if there is nothing that makes the church distinct from culture.”

But this principle is not limited to one religious tradition. The recent Pew Research Center’s report on the surprising decline among Catholics in America indicates that this is not solely a Protestant problem. And, while evangelical and Pentecostal churches fared better in the Pew study, the danger signs are there for them as well. Accommodation is a two-way street. The Gospel can be lost whenever Christianity becomes too casual and worship is reduced to entertainment, no less than when it follows the siren lure of secularism. Many megachurches have a mini-Gospel where the emphasis is more on attracting people than retaining them for discipleship and service. Mark Noll was once asked whether he thought a campus revival he had witnessed was genuine. He said: “Come back and ask me that question in ten years.”

Two recent books shed light on this theme. In Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, Mack Stiles defines evangelism simply as “teaching the Gospel with the aim to persuade.” The focus should not be on programs or events. Biblical evangelism happens, Stiles argues, not when crowds are attracted to a church for some spectacular experience but rather when the members of the church are sent out into the world to bear witness to Christ.

Brian H. Cosby is a bright young Presbyterian pastor who has thought deeply about these matters, especially about how the church should reach out to the rising generation. In his book Giving Us Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Church, Cosby offers some counter-cultural advice for everyone called to the ministry of the church:

I maintain that the ‘How to’ of being faithful to God in worship and ministry is demonstrated through the ordinary, historic, and apostolic means of grace, particularly, ministry of the Word, prayer, and sacraments.

If God has already provided the ordinary means of growing in grace as we find in His Word, why do we think that we have the right or the greater wisdom to invent new ways through entertainment-driven, success-oriented worship and ministry?

I plead with you not to be tempted with success, professionalism, or the fading fads of our entertainment-driven culture. Rather, pursue Jesus as the all-satisfying treasure that He is and strive to faithfully feed His sheep through the means of grace that God has already provided His Church.

A church based on gimmicks is not likely to develop deep-soil disciples who demonstrate “a long obedience in the same direction.” The question for every evangelist and every church ought to be: “Is the method we are using worthy of the Gospel we are proclaiming?”

Read it all.

John Mark has become a good friend of St. Andrew’s over the years and he always brings the love. He also brings the rock. Tomorrow night, June 6th at 7.30 pm, on his 5th visit to a St. Andrew’s venue, he brings a new band and his new Borderland CD that is earning a lot of attention and praise from critics and audiences alike. We are excited and eager about this concert as it finds John Mark at a highpoint in his songwriting and recording career. At the heart of it all, however, is still the same John Mark who consistently defies easy categorization and maintains a worshipful dialogue with the Almighty.

“With a cracking voice and soaring, fuzzed-out amplification, McMillan stands out as a true worship pioneer,” says RELEVANT magazine of the three-time GMA Dove Award nominee for “New Artist of the Year,” “Worship Song of the Year” and “Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year.” For those following the North Carolina-based songwriter’s steady rise as an artist, McMillan is hailed for his concise, poetic and often “raw” lyrics, with roots in Dylan, Kerouac and Springsteen, but haunted by the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. His voice, as strong as a live oak, is always welcome in these parts.

To register click here.

Join us tomorrow night at 7.30pm in the Historic Church for our Good Friday service.

This year’s Good Friday service will be a presentation of Theodore Dubois’ The Seven Last Words of Christ performed by the Parish Choir and orchestra. This work is a musical setting of each of the seven final sentences spoken by Jesus from the cross. The seven “words” give us our Savior’s sacred parting instructions; messages intended not only for those immediate hearers at Calvary, but spoken to all generations by way of Holy Scripture.

Tragic Worship

April 16, 2014

From Carl Trueman:

The problem with much Christian worship in the contemporary world, Catholic and Protestant alike, is not that it is too entertaining but that it is not entertaining enough. Worship characterized by upbeat rock music, stand-up comedy, beautiful people taking center stage, and a certain amount of Hallmark Channel sentimentality neglects one classic form of entertainment, the one that tells us, to quote theBook of Common Prayer , that “in the midst of life we are in death.”

It neglects tragedy. Tragedy as a form of art and of entertainment highlighted death, and death is central to true Christian worship. The most basic liturgical elements of the faith, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, speak of death, of burial, of a covenant made in blood, of a body broken. Even the cry “Jesus is Lord!” assumes an understanding of lordship very different than Caesar’s. Christ’s lordship is established by his sacrifice upon the cross, Caesar’s by power . . . .

Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life. It should provide us with a language that allows us to praise the God of resurrection while lamenting the suffering and agony that is our lot in a world alienated from its creator, and it should thereby sharpen our longing for the only answer to the one great challenge we must all face sooner or later. Only those who accept that they are going to die can begin to look with any hope to the resurrection.

Yet today tragedy has, with few exceptions, dropped from popular entertainment. Whether it is the sentimentalism of the Hallmark Channel, the pyrotechnics of action movies, or the banal idiocy of reality TV, the tragic sensibility is all but lost. This is further compounded by the trivial way in which the language of tragedy is now used in popular parlance. As with defining moment and crisis, the words tragedy and tragic are now expected to perform Stakhanovite levels of linguistic labor. In a world where even sporting defeats can be described as tragedies, rarely do the terms speak of the catastrophic moral crises and heroic falls that lie at the heart of great tragic literature.

Yet human life is still truly tragic. Death remains a stubborn, omnipresent, and inevitable reality. For all of postmodern anti-essentialism, for all the repudiation of human nature, for all the rhetoric of self-creation, death eventually comes to all, frustrates all, levels all. It is not simply a linguistic construct or a social convention. Yet despite this, Western culture has slowly but surely pushed death, the one impressive inevitability of human life, to the very periphery of existence.

Pascal observed the problem in seventeenth-century France when he saw the obsession with entertainment as the offspring of the fallen human desire to be distracted from any thought of mortality. “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room,” he said. And: “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”

Today the problem is even greater: Entertainment has apparently become many people’s primary purpose of existence. I doubt that it would surprise Pascal that the world has increased the size, scope, and comprehensiveness of distraction. It would not puzzle him that death has been reduced to little more than a comic-book cartoon in countless action movies or into a mere momentary setback in soap operas and sitcoms. Indeed, he would not find it perplexing that the bleak spiritual violence of mortality leaves no lasting mark on the bereaved in the surreal yet seductive world of popular entertainment.

But he might well be taken aback that the churches have so enthusiastically endorsed this project of distraction and diversion. This is what much of modern worship amounts to: distraction and diversion. Praise bands and songs of triumph seem designed in form and content to distract worshipers from life’s more difficult realities.

Be sure to read it all.

 

Familiarity and Contempt

January 22, 2014

From Carl Trueman:

The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Knox, Cranmer) are scarcely evidence of an age lacking in s/Spiritually substantial men and yet each of them saw formal liturgy — and quite elaborate liturgy, at least by English non-conformist standards — as vitally important to intelligent, biblical worship.

Read the rest.

This past week the Diocese of the Carolinas hosted Ashley Null at St. Andrew’s ~ Mt. Pleasant for a series of talks on “Thomas Cranmer and Contemporary Anglican Worship.”  As you might expect, he was exceptional.

I am happy to inform you that those talks are available for you to watch online.

Enjoy!

Troublesome Waters

July 2, 2013

It’s an Iris DeMent kind of day.  Of course, this isn’t her song.  Rather, it’s a Mother Maybelle Carter classic.  Still, Iris is a gem.  I can’t help the accompanying ‘artwork.’

We were pleased to welcome The Very Rev’d Dr. Christopher Hancock this morning as our guest preacher.

Chris is currently Chaplain of St. Peter’s College, Oxford. In addition to his work as College Chaplain, Chris, a former Dean of Bradford Cathedral and professor of theology, directs Oxford House Consultancy an international agency providing a consultancy service to government agencies, corporations and NGOs in the area of religion, social transformation and contemporary geo-politics. His research focuses on religion and society in Asia, particularly China and India where he is a visiting professor at a number of leading universities. His next book is Christianity & Confucianism: a dialogue between traditions.

The New Yorker Magazine has a fine article on the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer – it denotes and reflects upon the influence of the prayer book on the English language.  Well worth the read.

Suppose you find yourself, in the late afternoon, in one of the English cathedral towns—Durham, say, or York, or Salisbury, or Wells, or Norwich—or in one of the great university cities, like Oxford or Cambridge. The shadows are thickening, and you are mysteriously drawn to the enormous, ancient stone structure at the center of the city. You walk inside, and find that a service is just beginning. Through the stained glass, the violet light outside is turning to black. Inside, candles are lit; the flickering flames dance and rest, dance and rest. A precentor chants, “O Lord, open thou our lips.” A choir breaks into song: “And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise.” The precentor continues, “O God, make speed to save us.” And the choir replies, musically, “O Lord, make haste to help us.”

The visitor has stumbled upon a service, Evensong, whose roots stretch back at least to the tenth century, and whose liturgy has been in almost continuous use since 1549, the date of the first Book of Common Prayer, which was revised in 1552, and lightly amended in 1662, three hundred and fifty years ago. The Book of Common Prayer was the first compendium of worship in English. The words—many of them, at least—were written by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury between 1533 and 1556 . . . .

Cranmer had been a Cambridge scholar (he had held a lectureship in Biblical studies) and a diplomat, before being plucked by Henry VIII to be archbishop, and he almost certainly did not imagine that he was writing one of the great, abiding works of English literature, what the historian Diarmaid MacCulloch calls “one of a handful of texts to have decided the future of a world language.” But the acute poetry, balanced sonorities, heavy order, and direct intimacy of Cranmer’s prose have achieved permanence, and many of his phrases and sentences are as famous as lines from Shakespeare or the King James Bible. People who have never read the Book of Common Prayer know the phrase “moveable feast,” or “vile body,” or the solemn warning of the marriage service: “If either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it.” The same is true of the vows the couple speak to each other: “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.” The words of the burial service have become proverbial:

“In the midst of life, we are in death. . . . Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy. . . . Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body.”

Despite the quality of language that strikes us nowadays as majestic and grandly alienated, the words of the Prayer Book are notable for their simplicity and directness. C. S. Lewis called this quality “pithiness”; I would add “coziness” or “comfortability.” The Prayer Book was a handbook of worship for a people, not for a priesthood, and its job was to replace and improve the ancient collective rites of worship that bound people together in the English Catholic Church. The marriage service, for instance, was a medieval liturgy that long predated the final form it found in the Book of Common Prayer. It availed Cranmer nothing to invent a liturgy that threw out that history and erected a verbal screen or altar between the priest and his congregation. Cranmer’s prayers use ordinary phrases and familiar Biblical similes.

Read the rest.

James Smith has a great answer:

This overreaching of the “all-of-life-is-worship” principle is part of a bad habit we picked up after the Reformation: the tendency to reduce worship to expression. After the Reformation, and especially in the wake of modernity, wide swaths of contemporary Christianity tend to think of worship only as an “upward” act of the people of God who gather to offer up their sacrifice of praise, expressing their gratitude and devotion to the Father, with the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Obviously this is an entirely biblical impulse and understanding: if we don’t praise, even the rocks will cry out. In a sense, we are made to praise. The biblical vision of history culminates in the book of Revelation with a worshiping throng enacting the exhortation of Psalm 150: “Praise the Lord!” But one can also see how such expressivist understandings of worship feed into (and off of) some of the worst aspects of modernity. Worship-as-expression is easily hijacked by the swirling eddy of individualism. In that case, even gathered worship is more like a collection of individual, private encounters with God in which worshipers express an “interior” devotion. It is precisely this model that prizes “authenticity” so highly.

The same expressivism is behind those versions of the “all-of-life-is-worship” principle that sees gathered Sunday worship as basically optional. It is a “Reformed” version of the “spiritual but not religious” canard that waxes eloquent about the “church” of nature and the sacred experience of a mountain sunrise.

But throughout the course of its history (including the Reformation), the church has always understood worship as more than expression. Christian worship is also a formative practice precisely because worship is also a “downward” encounter in which God is the primary actor. Worship isn’t just something we do; it does something to us. Worship is a space where we arenourished by Word and sacrament—we eat the Word and eat the bread that is the Word of life. This understanding of worship is equally central to the Reformation heritage, and it is at the heart of John Calvin’s legacy.

If we fail to appreciate that Word and sacrament are specially charged conduits of the Spirit’s formative power, it would be easy to imagine that worship can happen just anywhere. On the other hand, if we appreciate that Christian worship around Word and table is a unique “hot spot” of the Spirit’s wonder-working power, then we will also appreciate that the sanctuary can’t be replaced by just any other space in God’s good world, for it is in the sanctuary that we are made into a people of praise. In communal worship we receive the unique promise of the Spirit that is tethered to Word and sacrament.

Make sure to read the rest of the article.