a rant on worship

For many 21st century modern evangelicals, just the mention of liturgy causes a stir. Images of old cathedrals, monotonous readings, organ-accompanied choral singing, and uninterrupted periods of silent prayer (what, no music or video!?!) all betray what we’ve come to know as “contemporary” worship.

In my time studying theology and pondering topics related to church, Stanley Hauerwas has been influential (and challenging and frustrating!) to both my theology and how I view the church’s role in my life and the world (see here). I recently came across this clip of Hauerwas discussing (ranting about?) modern worship - and in particular, the problem of worship emulating entertainment:


To begin, I liked Hauerwas’ comment that “liturgy is the work of the people.” Most simply, liturgy refers to how worship gatherings are formulated and presented – be it readings, songs, meditations, etc… In this sense, all corporate worship involves liturgy of some sort, whether you are in a 'liturgical' tradition or not. Liturgy as the work of the people, however, implies our full participation, not merely our consumption of spiritual experience. And it’s in this participation of the liturgy, according to Hauerwas, that we experience transformation – we “discover we are made in God’s image” (Performing the Faith).

I agree, then, with the admonition that worship is never about entertainment. Hauerwas rightly comments, “If you compete with television, the television in the end will win cause it’s so good at what it does.” For us to presume that “we know what it is we need and want” implies an incorrect focus for worship, making our (selfish?) needs primary. We must remind ourselves that worship isn’t measured by its ability to sustain our attention. No, worship is measured by its ability to remind us who we are – “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12).

Through worship we discover the truth about ourselves, making possible lives of goodness otherwise impossible” (Performing the Faith)

One of the ironies of our times is that many ‘conservative’ Christians fail to understand the relation between truthful worship and truthful living…The question, then, is not choosing between ‘contemporary’ or ‘traditional,’ to change or not to change, but rather the faithful character of our worship, insofar as such worship shapes the truthful witness of the church to the world” (A Better Hope).

2 comments:

Dora said...

I like what you and Hauerwas say -- participation vs. consumption. And I agree. -- When I watched the clip I was struck by the woman and the television -- so went back a couple times to look again. Both look so 1950s, though she does have a remote. -- I guess I'm easily distracted off the message, but it seemed so ly incongruent. :) I guess this is to indicate when television began to draw us away, or is it just an old clip?

David Warkentin said...

Thanks Dora. My guess is the woman and the TV is an old clip (probably from the 50's or 60's) of a commercial. For me, the clip illustrates how enamored we are with TV (as the woman seems to be), and likewise to our modern forms of worship as entertainment. I guess the woman is in some way representing the church - consuming a product. Not sure if that is less or more offensive!?!

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