Saturday, August 14, 2010

Liturgy & Hymnody Review: Modern & Ancient Views on Worship

Hall, Christopher A. Worshiping with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009. 280 Pages. Paper. $20.00. (L)

Basden, Paul A., general editor. Engle, Paul E., series editor. Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. 269 Pages. Paper. $16.99.  (LH)

QBR focuses primarily on resources that support Christian music, preaching, and worship. These two books give insight into the worship spectrum, both modern and ancient.

We have been awaiting Christopher Hall's latest book for years.
"Christopher Hall invites us to accompany the fathers as they enter the sanctuary for worship and the chapel for prayer. He also takes us to the wilderness, where we learn from the early monastics as they draw close to God in their solitary discipline.

"The focus of this book is not liturgy but more broadly worship in its corporate and individual dimensions. We enter into the patristic understanding of baptism and the Eucharist. And we come under the instruction and discipline of great spiritual teachers of prayer.

"In two previous books, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers and Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, Christopher Hall has ushered us alongside the church fathers as they study the Scriptures and plumb the depths of theology. In this survey of the spiritual life of worship he informs and challenges Christians in faithful living today. Hall weaves his own experiences into his observations of the fathers' practices and teachings and so helps us close the gap of the centuries. Readers will enjoy a rich and rare schooling in developing their spiritual life" (publisher's website).

For many evangelical Christians, Sunday morning music has little connection with any previous generation of Christian. We need to read Reformation history and the history of the early Church. An honest reading of both Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 will remind us that we are part of a body that dare not be sundered according to age, personal preference, or denials of Scripture. This book may open the eyes of many.

Yes, I was troubled by talk of "intention" at baptism (42), preferring instead the Biblical concept of faith trusting the Word of God in the water. Ignoring differences between church bodies, or "Communions" (80) is troubling as well. Altar and Pulpit fellowship IS Church Fellowship. And I wish that some Biblically-informed Christian had told the whole story of Eljiah in the desert to Antony and the other desert fathers. Yes, monastacism preserved knowledge through the Middle Ages, but misunderstanding Matthew 19:21 (about lack of perfection, not poverty) and questions about celibacy by no means commend chapters 7 and 8. There is a place for discipline, even self-imposed discipline, but not when one adds to the Word or contradicts it. Confession and Absolution (with repentance, not penance) is a better way to go.

Worshiping with the Church Fathers is a great book to broaden what it means to be a Christian at worship: recover Baptism, Communion, and reverent prayer. And then we can grow from there, rereading Hall's other texts and recovering a high view of Scripture, Creedal Christianity. Then, reading Luther will restore a priority of the Gospel.

QBR readers will be familiar with the Zondervan Counterpoints series. The volume for our consideration offers 6 views on Exploring the Worship Spectrum.

"A clear, engaging description of the six most prevalent models of worship in North American churches, presented by advocates for each position. The contributors evaluate each position in order to broaden people’s understanding of diverse models and shed light on an emotive issue.

"What does worship look like? Is there just one truly right way to worship? Are there any wrong ways? To what extent should our unity as believers manifest itself in unified public worship?

"Sadly, disagreement over how we should worship our loving God has sparked some most unloving attitudes among Christians. Exploring the Worship Spectrum seeks to correct this. It provides a forum for presentation, critique, and defense of six prominent worship styles:

  • Formal-Liturgical – Paul Zahl
  • Traditional Hymn-Based – Harold Best
  • Contemporary Music-Driven – Joe Horness
  • Charismatic – Don Williams
  • Blended – Robert Webber
  • Emerging – Sally Morgenthaler

"This unique format allows those with a heart for worship to compare different perspectives and draw their own conclusions on what the Bible teaches. It engages the reader’s faculties of critical thinking in a way that allows him or her to understand the various approaches to worship, carefully evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and make personal choices without adopting a judgmental spirit.

"The Counterpoints series provides a forum for comparison and critique of different views on issues important to Christians. Counterpoints books address three categories: Church Life, Exploring Theology, and Engaging Culture. Complete your library with other books in the Counterpoints series" (publisher's website).

I had viceral reactions to some of the perspectives presented. The Emerging/Emergent writer seems too tossed "to and fro" by winds of culture. The Charismatic writer lacks the anchor of where God has promised to deliver His gift of forgiveness through the Holy Spirit. The Blended writer has some great insights, but I can see his as an attempt to unsuccessfully please everyone. (I am currently working through the last books he wrote before his death.)

Honestly, I find it hard to take seriously the Willow Creek writer after their congregational self-study revealed so much (Hawkins, Greg L. and Cally Parkinson. Reveal Where Are You? The Answer will Transform Your Church. Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources, 2007. 112 Pages. Paper. $12.99.; See the QBR review in 2.2).

I disagree that "hymn-based" worship is the best candidate for the word "traditional." That depends upon what one means by "tradition." Clearly, the oldest "tradition" featured is what they term "Formal-Liturgical." The four latter perspectives are more of a reaction to "hymn-based" worship with a structure formed by the Reformed at the time of the Reformation and modified to some extent by revivalism. It lacked the depth and history of Liturgical worship, so each new generation clamored for their own "style," rather than rallying around a common traditional liturgical structure filled with song from the whole history of Christendom.

This Counterpoints series has included Lutherans in many of its volumes. I realize that difficult choices need to be made. Yet, I didn't feel as if any one of the six expressed my Biblical point-of-view, where God speaks first in His Word, the major part of "worship," and that our response, though important, is not the most important thing on Sunday morning.

Worship has become a highly-charged topic in nearly every Christian church body. Recently I saw a 60-minutes interview with an Orthodox church leader. And I was reminded of the timelessness of the Word, how the Lord did everything decently and in order, that even beautiful worship (like theirs) cannot hide a theological worldview that obscures the Gospel, and that Christian worship all too often lacks truth, reverence, and awe. May the Lord bless our reception of His gifts and that our worship may be Christ-centered and Gospel-focused.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.