Jun 20 2015

Searching For Sunday

I just finished reading Rachel Held Evans’ book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.  I know, this goes against my typical bias against reading anything too trendy. However, I really didn’t know much Ms. Evans, only that I’ve really appreciated a few snippets I’ve read over the past few months, so she stood out as someone – like Nadia Bolz-Weber – who might have something unique to contribute.

I liked it.

Evans is first and foremost a writer. She is not a theologian, or a professor, or a pastor. She writes about life, often her own life, from her perspective, and she doesn’t attempt to do anything else. She is also intelligent, insightful, and honest, which again, makes her a pretty decent writer.

Searching for Sunday is a collection of essays about life in and outside of the church, organized around seven oft-recognized sacraments. Some bits are historical, some are 3rd person narrative, and some share her own life story as it relates to church. While seeming a bit disjointed at times, as a collection of essays often does, I realized that what she is doing is painting a mural of the church from her perspective. You don’t see the point if you look at the individual brush strokes, although you can find a lot to appreciate in those strokes and the colors used. But once you stand back and take it in as a whole, you see what she has created.

In her individual strokes she deals with many hot-button topics, like women in the church, GLBT issues, legalism, etc., but she deals with them as a story-teller, not as an apologist. Again, this is her perspective. And again, she has a lot of insights, and I would guess that anyone who doesn’t just simply shut her out will find a lot to think about, whether you agree with her perspective or not.

If you can back away from the individual brush-strokes enough to see her full picture, I think many – especially those who have only known the contemporary evangelical church – will be faced with a portrait of the church they’ve not really considered prior. For the “dones” – those who have declared themselves done with the church – the book may present a way back in. Or not.  But in any event, I think Evans has painted a portrait of the church worth appreciating.


Feb 4 2014

More about worship

Go here for part 1.

If the main purpose of Lutheran worship is to receive God’s gifts, then it follows that Lutheran worship is Christ-centered. Just take a look at the liturgical orders of service in either of our two hymnals. Everything said and done is filled with His Word. Why? Because our focus is on Christ and His work, that’s why. The focus of Lutheran worship is on Christ, not man. Therefore, Lutheran worship is always Christocentric-Christ-centered-and never anthropocentric-man-centered.  ~A.L. Barry, as quoted by Matt Richard in part 2 of his series on Lutheran worship

The heart of worship

In my opinion, the greatest statement on worship (as well as on faith) is Peter’s statement as recorded in John 6:68:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69, ESV)

“Where would we go? Only you have the words of life.”

Our word “worship” means to give something or someone great value or worth. Peter’s statement is really the ultimate worship statement, as he is not just saying that Jesus’ words are better than the Rabbis down the road. Peter goes so far as to say, “only you.” There are simply no other options. There’s life here, and anywhere else is death. This attitude, I think, is the true heart of worship.

Note that Peter doesn’t say anything about himself.  He doesn’t talk about what he has to offer, and he doesn’t say anything about how being with Jesus makes him feel. In fact, given Jesus’ recent teaching topics, Peter may have even been somewhat perturbed with Jesus due to the loss of followers. This is, rather, a clear-cut statement that Peter acknowledged that only Jesus had what Peter needs to survive. As someone once put it, Peter’s statement was one of “enlightened self-interest.”

Christ-centered worship

Mr. Barry goes on to say

… Lutheran worship takes our eyes and sets them firmly on the cross of Jesus Christ, for there the Lord of the Universe suffered and died for the sins of the world. Lutheran worship points us to the Resurrected Lord who lives and reigns to all eternity, and promises us everlasting life. Christ-centered Lutheran worship lifts our hearts and minds to the things of God and helps us to understand our place in Christ’s kingdom better as His redeemed people. Yes, Lutheran worship must always be Christ-centered.

When we say Lutheran worship is Christ-centered, this is not to say that those who gather for worship are mere blocks of stone. Our worship focuses on Christ, who is present for us and with us in His Word and Sacraments. He is truly among us. We are not contemplating a far-off Christ, or meditating on abstract ideas. Lutheran worship is not like going to a self-help group or a therapy session. It is God who gathers us for worship around the gifts He gives to us through Word and Sacrament. We are worshipping the One who is very near, as close as the preaching of the Word. We are worshipping the One who is actually present under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He promised, “I will be with you always.” In our worship service He fulfills that wonderful promise. He is living and active among us, right here, right now, where He has promised to be-in His Word and Sacraments. Therefore, it is important to say that while our focus is on Christ, His focus is always on us! Thanks be to God that this is true!

Now, I don’t mean to say that only Lutherans worship correctly, or that all Lutherans necessarily worship correctly.  I think the principles here transcend Lutheranism, although Lutheran incarnational theology is very intertwined with Lutheran thoughts on worship, and contemporary evangelicalism tends to downplay concepts such as Christ’s real presence.

One of these things is not like the other

My point, rather than to necessarily champion Lutheran worship, is to point out the differences between this philosophy of worship and other worship philosophies which are to varying degrees influenced by Calvinism and Arminianism, both of which can have a very man- and works-centered focus.

I am also not emphasizing one style over another (although I have thoughts there, too). It is entirely possibly to be involved in a very emotionally-oriented style of worship and still be aware that the whole point is to receive from Christ.

This, by the way, is what the Lutherans mean by “Christ-centered,” which is also a term used by everyone else; no one would say that their worship is not “Christ-centered.” The difference is whether or not we are looking solely to Christ as our source for righteousness and holiness as we worship.

 

 

 


Feb 2 2014

About Worship

What is worship?

As my 11 faithful readers know, I was raised Lutheran. When I was in high school, I remember having friends from more, shall we say, emotional denominations and groups, and remember hearing teachings about “worship” and “praise,” things that we didn’t have to teach about in the Lutheran church. (Seriously. Keep reading…) I remember being quite confused, trying to figure out when I was praising as opposed to worshiping, etc.

Now, years later, most of us have gotten familiar with the 20-30 minutes of singing mostly vague, repetitious, elevator-rock music that has become known as “worship” where, in a manner of speaking, we try to reimburse God for what He’s given to us. Many churches also point out that collecting the offering also falls under worship, for the same reason.

At the very least, contemporary worship is a subjective exercise, where we are kind of on the honor system as to whether we actually “entered in” to worship, or just enjoyed the music.  Many people leave feeling some amount of guilt for either not feeling anything, or not being able to conjure up the same kind of emotional energy that the people around us seem to have, not realizing that many of them share the same feelings.  It’s true.  Chances are, you are one of those guilty worshipers.

Today in the church we attended, we were exhorted to focus on “entering in” to worship and giving to God.  I tended to critique the music, being a musician. I can’t help it. But, I don’t feel guilty, because I no longer believe that worship is about my emotions, or my ability to commit and focus and ignore the really terrible-sounding acoustic guitar and very awkward rhythm used on “Why I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in an attempt to make it sound more contemporary.

Worship, Lutheran-style

As providence would have it, this morning I read a great reminder about worship on the blog of a Lutheran pastor I’m Facebook friends with, entitled “”  The title aptly spells out the difference between the above-described contemporary concept of worship and Lutheran worship.  We are not talking about differences of style, such as singing choruses over hymns and liturgy, or the use of guitars and drums as opposed to organs and choirs.  I happen to think liturgy is quite important and useful, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

The difference between the 2 philosophies of worship are striking; in fact, they are direct opposites. In contemporary worship, as with much of contemporary evangelical theology, the key is what we do for God, or do to become more spiritual, or holy, or whatever. On the other hand, Lutheran worship simply where we make ourselves available to receive from God, through the truth in the liturgy, the hymns, the Scriptures (which are read for their own sake, not as preaching texts), the sermon, and Communion. It’s not about our giving—in fact, the thought is quite ludicrous—worship is about receiving.

If we’re emotional, it’s because we are the recipients of grace, forgiveness, healing, love, and acceptance. There’s nothing for us to feel guilty about, because our performance is of no consequence. We are free to enjoy the music (the Episcopal church I like to attend has an amazing music program), even if we forget to listen to the words.  We are reminded that we are God’s—not because we “have decided to follow Jesus”—but because He chose us.

Our part, as worshipers, is to be there to receive. As the author of the article states, “The purpose of worship, therefore, is to be gathered by God around His gifts.”  He goes on to quote from the Lutheran Worship book:

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges  the gifts, received with eager thankfulness and praise.  Saying back to Him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure…  The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Lutheran Worship, p. 6).

Whether or not we worship “Lutheran-style,” I believe that worship has nothing to do with our emotions (they simply are what they are) or our efforts (which are of no benefit) or how “holy” we are. Worship is not our “job” or “where we give back to God.” Worship is simply to be gathered around God and to receive his gifts.

I am looking forward to parts 2-7 of the article on the Lutheran understanding of worship, and will possibly post more here on the series.

 

 


Jan 4 2014

Evangelical Estrangement

Even though I was never truly one of “those” evangelicals (I always held to the Lutheran definition), I resonated with a number of things in a post I read today entitled, “Dear Evangelicalism: I Don’t Think This Relationship Is Going To Work.”

I do not share a number of the author’s opinions, such as that evangelicals are obsessed with guns or that only conservatives are obsessed with power and control. And, I’m not sure that I could say that it’s not what evangelicals believe (I generally consider myself an Episco-Lutheran).  But, he touches on a number of shared concerns, or at least issues that I have chosen to challenge myself with, such as the places of women in church, and the church’s belief that the only sins that count in America are not being Republican and not being straight (yes, this is hyperbole. Unfortunately, I’m aware that I must label my literary devices).

2014 is going to be a challenge

2014 is going to be a challenge with respect to my interactions with the evangelical church. I’d like to find a church to become involved in, but I have disagreements in so many areas (baptism, communion, cultural attitudes), that it becomes difficult. I  am, however, firmly committed to the Gospel of salvation by grace and not by works, and think I could deal with a lot of secondary disagreements. To start off my challenging year, I’m reading “Pastrix,” which I’ll comment on down the road. Talk about challenging your belief in grace…

Discuss

I’d love to hear some discussion on the linked article, if you’re inclined.  Like I said, I agree with some points and differ on others, but appreciate the article as a launching point for contemplation and discussion.