What is worship?
In a comment on another post Roger Saner wonders “if Christianity is going to be split amongst those who believe the one true Gospel of Jesus (which is about repenting from your sins so that you’ll be saved from the coming judgement) and those who believe that G-d is at work restoring all of creation.”
Western Christianity has long been split over that; David Bosch called the two parties “evangelical” and “ecumenical”, and there have been other names. That particular split was one of the main reasons I left Western Christianity and became Orthodox. As Fr Alexander Schmemann points out so convincingly in his book For the life of the world, it is surely both.
But there is another split that probably impedes communication between Christians of different backgrounds and traditions, and that is the understanding of worship.
The Internet Monk wrote recently:
Does anyone- I mean, really, seriously- have any idea what is actually happening within the worship culture of evangelicals?
We have, within a matter of 50 years, completely changed the entire concept of what is a worship service. We’ve adopted an approach that demands ridiculous levels of musical, technical and financial commitment and resources.
We have tied ourselves to the Christian music industry and its endless appetite for change and profit.
At the recent Amahoro conference there was an item on the programme labelled “worship”, but it somehow never seemed to happen. There was a band apparently practising in preparation for the worship, but the worship itself never seemed to actually take place. It was only later that I realised that, to the organisers of the event, what I took to be the band practising was the worship. It only really clicked when I saw this Stuff Christian Culture Likes: #85 Leading worship barefoot:
… that I realised that the band was the “worship team”.
And, as the Internet Monk goes on to say:
The reformed- of all people- have led the way in this revolution. I attended a seminar last week where a room full of reformed were instructed in why the optimum worship leadership option was “the band.” Not the choir, the worship team, etc. But “the band.” Does anyone realize what that means for public worship?
Diversity, generational compatibility, even simplicity are all being blown up. Worship is now a major audience event, led by skilled entertainers, aimed at a demographic and judged by the audience reaction.
God? God has been moved around to be things like a reluctant Spirit we sing down with our songs or a divine innovator always blessing as much radical change as possible.
Apart from anything else, this creates a barrier of communication. I will now have to mentally translate “worship” into “musical entertainment” when I see it written or spoken by evangelical Protestants.
I can see how it happened.
Thirty or forty years ago in Western Christianity, as in the East, worship was accompanied by music. In the West instruments were often used – pipe organs, electronic organs, pianos and what-not. Sometimes guitars and drums. Sometimes a full orchestra. In the East, singing was, and still is a capellla (guess where the word capella comes from).
In evangelical services there was often a kind of pre-worship singsong, to get people warmed up. They sang favourite hymns and choruses, partly as a practice, partly as a community sing-song. When the charismatic movement burst on the scene, there was a new emphasis on praise and worship. In Anglican churches affected by the charismatic renewal there was a “time of praise and worship” at the beginning of services that could last from ten minutes to an hour or more, where people would spontaneously praise God, pray in tongues, sing in tongues, or someone would start a song and others would join in.
I’ve been absent from that scene for more than twenty years, so I missed the change. The name “worship” has stuck, but the actual element of worship has disappeared, and what has replaced it is a form of musical entertainment.