Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Contemporary Worship: Not Fish, Not Fowl

Evangelical Roots  
Charismatic Tree

Someone named Matthew Sigler has posted an interesting piece at The Seedbed Blog. He writes with concern for what has happened to worship within what he calls “mainline churches” by which I assume he means not the liberal establishment denominations but traditional evangelical congregations.

He describes a scene that troubles him:

The lights are dim, candles are lit, the music swells as the lead vocalist goes up an octave for the climactic end of the song, and throughout the room dozens of college students raise their hands as they sing with abandon. It’s a powerful moment in the worship service. Then the song stops. The students drop their hands open their eyes. In front of me two of the girls who had their hands raised a few seconds earlier are having a conversation about their afternoon plans. Then the music starts up again, they end their conversation, close their eyes, and throw their hands up in the air again.
He points out that there is something that evangelicals do not understand or choose to forget:

Many forget (or don’t know) that “contemporary” worship was inextricably linked to the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. This connection forged a musical style that was rooted in a particular understanding of the Spirit in worship. Specifically, the singing of praise and worship songs was understood sacramentally. God was uniquely encountered, by the Spirit, in congregational singing.
He goes on to describe some distinctives of charismatic worship of which evangelicals who have adopted it may not be aware:

Several important aspects of this theology of congregational song are worth highlighting. First, a premium was placed on intimacy with Jesus in congregational singing. This emphasis was largely due to the influence of John Wimber and the Vineyard movement of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Though he was not the first to say so, Wimber emphasized that the Church needed to sing songs “to God” and not “about God.” Lyrically, this was manifest in the frequent use of the personal pronoun, “I.” … see how many of them emphasize the importance of the individual engaging the second Person of the Trinity in the lyrics. While the intimacy motif wasn’t new in the Church, it was an important development in what would become known as “contemporary worship.” 
Second, the dominant paradigm for congregational song was the “temple” metaphor. Charismatic congregations appropriated their understanding of the temple layout as a “map” for worship. Such services began with singing songs (typically upbeat) that focused on the praise of God... As the series of songs progressed, perhaps briefly interrupted with scripture and prayer, the flow of the service was understood to follow a metaphorical progression from the “outer courts” of the temple toward “the holy of holies.” Songs identified with the “holy of holies” were often slower, cyclical in construct, and emphasized intimacy between the singer and Jesus. This approach to worship is reflected in the way many referred to the music in these services as “Praise and Worship”—“praise” being synonymous with the “gates/outer courts” and “worship” was the term used primarily for songs corresponding to the “holy of holies.” ...
Lastly, it’s important to point out that this theology of worship, while undergirded by “praise and worship” songs, understood the entire time of singing (the pauses, instrumental solos, spontaneous prayers, raising of hands, shouting, etc.) to be part of the progression from praise to intimacy. The songs themselves are only a part of the complete picture of what is occurring in a Charismatic praise and worship service…
He returns to the scene of the two girls engaged in contemporary worship:

... What’s missing? The answer is found in looking at what happened when “praise and worship” was adopted by mainline denominations. During the 1990’s many mainline congregations began to import the songs, sounds, and some of the sights (like hand raising and clapping) of the praise and worship style. In many cases, what got lost was the robust pneumatology behind this approach to worship. In other words, many mainline churches brought the form, but didn’t bring the theology of praise and worship into their congregations. This is a gross generalization, but I think it explains some of the dislocation that occurred during the “worship wars” of the 1990’s. The result was that the songs themselves and the style itself became the focus. Particularly in mainline congregations influenced by the Church Growth Movement, “contemporary worship” was a technique for reaching out—the concept of “praise and worship” as sacramental/encounter was diluted at best.
There is very good reason that both charismatics and traditionalists (and in particular the Reformed) should be dissatisfied with the appropropriation of Praise and Worship Songs and some other elements of charismatic worship by historically evangelical churches. From the charismatic point of view, such churches have adopted these songs and this worship as a technique for outreach. What they lack is the Spirit - or the spirit of charismatic worship with its emphasis on personal encounter with Jesus in the power of the Spirit.

On the other hand, what historically evangelical churches need to recognize is that they have adopted songs and worship elements from the charismatics who have a distinctive view of the Spirit and worship. In particular it ought to be recognized by both Presbyterians who have a theology of worship (the regulative principle) and Anglicans who have a method of worship (common prayer) that charismatic trees cannot be grafted onto their roots. 

Put other ways, contemporay worship is neither fish nor fowl, cold nor hot.The integrity of both traditional worship and charismatic worship is undermined, if not destroyed, by contemporary worship.

1 comment:

Al ve oku said...

I appreciate this crisp summary of the theology behind charismatic worship.

To which I would add Leon Podles' insight about Bernard of Clairvaux's misapplication of a corporate metaphor (the church as the Bride of Christ) to the individual soul. It's a little harder to "man up" in a culture that prizes a feminized, feminizing, and romantic /erotic approach to God.