Tag Archives: order of worship

Religion/Ritual bad, Relationship good? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 2]

26 Mar

Is religion automatically bad?  Some Christians are very anti-religion because they feel it goes against the concept of relationship.  But does it? 

Read James 1:26-27, and you’ll see James suggest that religion is not only a viable way to view our connection with God, but that God approves of religion that has a heart for social justice and righteousness. 

Before we study this further, it could be helpful to define the term that James uses. What is religion? The word “religion” is defined as:  appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers.”[1] That definition is somewhat different from what we normally think of when we view religion negatively. We think of a ritualistic approach to worshiping God, an approach that is called “dead” or “rote” or “empty.”

Have people ever said to you, “you are very religious”?  In our society, the people who say that usually don’t mean “you are practicing empty rituals”.  They usually mean that you are pious, and maybe even that you have a close relationship with God, or that they wish they could live that way, and that is a good thing.

When we hear someone say to us, “you are very religious,” we might inwardly (or also outwardly) bristle at this suggestion because we evangelicals have made such a big deal of emphasizing that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.  We can react quickly back, “I do not have a religion, I have a relationship!”  But I would suggest that we hold our tongue.  The people we are talking to might have very little idea of what we are taking about: a religion vs. relationship.  They almost certainly didn’t mean to suggest that we are practicing an empty, dead ritualistic approach to God. 

Instead they probably observed our relationship with God, assumed that it is religion because that is how they conceive of Christianity, and thus they were actually complementing us.  So a proper response on our part, when someone says, “you are very religious” would be to say, “Thank you.”  That kind of gracious response is much more likely to open the door to a conversation about faith in Christ, than if we were to respond curtly, “UH…NO!  I do not have a religion.  I have a relationship.” 

Instead, allow yourself to live with their viewpoint, and take their words as a complement, say “Thank you,” and pursue a line of discussion that is gracious and generous and kind, talking about how Jesus has been so meaningful and life-changing and that you have a real friendship with him. 

The other side of the coin is that a ritualistic approach to Christianity is not necessarily wrong.  That is what James is referring to back in James 1.  As Christians we actually do have a religion.  A religion is simply a word that refers to the set of practices that we engage in.  Think about what you do when you gather for worship with your church family. You sit in a room, practicing gathered corporate worship together.  Jesus even commissioned his disciples to regularly practice rituals like gathering for prayer, teaching, communion and baptism.

Many people in protestant evangelical churches might respond, “But we are not at all like the liturgical churches and all their rituals.” 

That is the impression that we have of ourselves.  That we are completely different, and we are right, and they are wrong.  I totally disagree.  Let me explain.  Yes, our liturgy is different than their liturgy. 

I remember when I was on sabbatical and went to the Orthodox church, and it felt like I was a on a different Christian planet. Nearly every surfaced is covered with religious art called icons, and their worship service could be described as highly ritualistic.  But you know what?  Every church that I visited on sabbatical had their own liturgy.  We do too. 

Liturgy is a term that pops up in the Bible here and there, and it simply means “the work or service of the people.”  This is why we call our gatherings “services”.  Used in relation to worship services, “liturgy” carries the idea of what Christian people do, the work we do, of worshiping God.  When it comes to liturgy, there is no one right way.  High liturgy, which features lots of rituals, can minister deeply to people, enhancing their relationship to God.  No doubt, Faith Church is much more on the side of what is called low church, involving less ritual.  But we still have plenty of ritual too.  We don’t print it in a bulletin, but when I preached this sermon, I asked everyone present to describe the order of service we typically use, and they were able to list it out. That order describes our liturgy, our ritual.

But here’s the important thing to remember about our ritual, our liturgy: it is designed to enhance relationship with God!  So both are true, Christianity is a religion, and a relationship. 


[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 530.

Experimental Worship? – 1st Corinthians 14:26-40

10 Sep

I have read that early Christian worship was influenced by the order of worship in Jewish synagogues.

The picture that Paul gives us in 1st Corinthians 14:26-40 (and in all of chapters 11-14, really) is a very disorderly kind of worship as practiced by the Christians in the city of Corinth.  I introduced this concept last week here. In the beginning of chapter 11 and later in 14, he talks about how disgraceful their women might have been handling themselves. We talked about that extensively here and here. In 11:17, about their practice of the Lord’s Supper, he says “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.”  He describes his concern further as stemming from disunity and selfishness, which we talked about here and here.  In chapter Later on in chapter 14 he gives the impression that people were misusing spiritual gifts, placing speaking in tongues on a pedestal, using it harmfully. And now Paul concludes his long teaching about their unruly worship services by saying that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

I agree.  But aren’t you missing something Paul?  What about the order of worship?  No comment?

In verse 26 he describes how “everyone” was involved, which I find very helpful.  Worship should not be a spectator experience where only a few paid professionals do the work.  The smaller the group, the more easy it would be, I suppose, for everyone to be involved.  But what if a church has 100 people in the audience?  What if they have 10,000?  What are some ways that we can have worship services that are more participatory?  Do we have to stop having large group worship services?

We also need to note what Paul felt was important about the purpose of worship.  Sure we worship to glorify the Lord.  I have a feeling that Paul assumes that. Notice what else he says in verse 26.  All the ways everyone participates in worship (singing, teaching, etc) should be done “for the strengthening of the church.”  That raises a couple questions in my mind:

How do we help strengthen the church if we just sit there during worship?  Is giving and singing enough?

What about the sharing of tongues and prophecy and revelation that Paul mentions?  Have we cut them off?  And if so, is it wrong?  To consider the possibility that it might be wrong, consider Paul’s closing comment in verse 39: “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”  Should only the pastors be eager to prophesy?  Paul certainly didn’t limit prophesy to the paid professionals.

“But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

I for one am glad that Paul or any other apostle didn’t give us a specific order of worship that we had to follow.  Maybe it would make things easier if he did. I have the sense that it is much, much better for us to implement principles as we see fit.  As the comment discussion bore out in last week’s intro post, it seems to me that different churches with varying approaches to worship can be a very healthy expression of God’s Kingdom.  We are unique people with so many kinds of personalities.  We love to express ourselves in many ways.  And it is okay if we are different.  Thus is it okay if some churches are more intellectual in their worship, if some are more emotional, if some have the same order every week, if some mix it up.

A few months ago I was talking to a visitor to Faith Church, and he asked what kind of worship service we have.  Was it traditional, was it contemporary?  I said “We call it experimental.”  He got a really strange look on his face.  At Faith Church we like to change things up from time to time.  We stopped printing an order of worship a long time ago because we wanted people to stop focusing on words on a page, and instead to focus on worshipping God that morning.  We know that people can still worship God by looking at a printed order of worship in a bulletin, but we made the change anyway as a small way to symbolize the attitude that we believe is central to experimental worship: humility.  At the heart of experimental worship is a belief that we do not have worship figured out.  Instead we see ourselves as learners.  We look to many traditions, many sources for teaching about how to worship God. By containing ourselves to only one style of worship, to only one order of worship, we felt that we were potentially missing out on learning a wider richness to the concept of worship.  That’s why we’ve had Church Has Left The Building Sundays, Silent Sundays, Artistic Sundays, Worship in the Park, and more.

EXPERIMENT-facebookWe know that experimenting can run the risk of coming off as gimmicky.  We’re okay with that. Our heart is anything but trying out something for kicks and giggles.  Instead, we are passionate about learning more and more how to worship God.  We committed to doing things in a fitting and orderly way.  We know we have much to learn and we’re eager to experiment more so that we can learn more!

Sure, on most Sundays, if you worship with us at Faith Church, things will feel pretty much the same week to week.  But as you look back over the course of a year, you’ll see that we have experienced worship in a variety of ways.  We’re still looking to experiment!  So if you have suggestions for us, please comment below.

Do we need an order of worship?

5 Sep

Raised in a Conservative Baptist church that practiced a style of worship very much influenced by the frontier free worship tradition, I will never forget two of my first experiences with liturgical style. The first was at a mainline Presbyterian Church in New Jersey where my mother’s sister and her family attended. After quite a few series of standing and sitting for unison prayers and creeds, all of which I was very unfamiliar with, I said “This is crazy!” a bit too loudly and received a stern look from my parents. About six years later, now a college student and bit more mellow, I attended a cousin’s wedding in an Episcopal Church. One feature of the ceremony was communion, first for the couple and then for anyone else who wished to participate. My dad decided that our family would not participate. I remember feeling quite relieved as this church’s sights, smells and sounds were very foreign to me, and thus uncomfortable. I didn’t want to have to experience its venture into the sense of taste as well. What if it was…(gasp)…wine! But I suspect my dad had us abstain due to theological reasons, feeling we shouldn’t align ourselves with the Episcopal Church.

As I reflect on these two occurrences and many subsequent forays into different Christian liturgies, it is clear that the corner of the world of worship that I grew up is just that, only a corner, a small expression of a much larger body. It is interesting how quickly we can assume that our particular expression of worship is the only one, or at least the only right one. Still more interesting is that God never inspired a biblical writer to direct us into one particular liturgy. In that we see his genius, allowing worship that can change from one time to the next, and from one culture to another. At times I wish I could see exactly how the earliest Christians worshiped, or perhaps discuss my church’s particular liturgy with Paul or Peter. Do we have it right? What could we change? Would we even like what they did?

Does your church have an order of worship?  Is the order of worship printed in a bulletin or program so people can follow along?  Does the order change much week to week?  Does it matter?

Should a church allow space in a worship gathering for the people to choice on the spur of the moment how they want to express themselves in worship?  Or should everything be planned in advance, following an order?

Frank Viola in his book Pagan Christianity, which I have currently loaned out or I would be able to quote directly, talks about the history of the order of worship as having been born from pagan gatherings.  Viola points to a few lines of Scripture that seem to teach a much more open, participatory style of worship.  Those verses are the next section of 1st Corinthians, 14:26-40.  The first few lines are compelling: “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.”  Does that mean no one was leading the service, that there was no order of worship that they followed?  Viola thinks so.  He suggests that worship gatherings are actually damaging to discipleship when most of the people sit passively while a couple paid professionals do all the work.

46_1cor14_26_gifts

But if we don’t have an order of worship, won’t our worship services get out of control?  They sure did in Corinth. Can we possibly open the worship service to let everyone be involved?  What if someone talks too long?  What if they say something crazy?  What if the same people monopolize the time every week?  What if they are obnoxious?  What if they teach something that isn’t true?  Isn’t it really better to have an order of worship that is led by a few people while the rest join in by singing a couple pre-selected songs, giving, and following along with the rest?

What is the purpose of worship?  To give everyone a chance to get involved?

Join us Sunday at Faith Church as we talk about this further!