Posts Tagged ‘contemporary worship’

Revelation 5

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

There is no subject in the world (always excepting sport) on which I have less to say than liturgiology. And the almost nothing which I have to say may as well be disposed of in this letter.

I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.

To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain—many give up churchgoing altogether—merely endure.

Is this simply because the majority are hide-bound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was “for what does it serve?” “‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats,  or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”


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I have an article at Brothers of John the Steadfast blog for your edification and encouragement: “When I was a child…”  Check it out!

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Note:  An excellent article regarding angels is found on this blog:  St. Michael and All Angels, by A. L. Barry, a former President of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Note also the Angelic Quiz! But for today’s feast:

True/False:  Angels and men are both created by the Lord for praise.

Answer:  Yes.

Some years ago one of my sisters-in-law commented that she could not imagine heaven as continual singing.    G.K. Chesterton wrote that he found it amazing that the Lord created not one daisy but a million daisies.  Chesterton asked:  why?  Because the Lord does not tire in creating.  He  keeps on creating.  Chesterton then points out that in playing with children, they will say, do it again until the adult is plain exhausted. We have a hard time imagine ourselves always singing because the tired Old Adam  is waiting for the final redemption.  We are old.  Children are filled with the exuberance of life.  We are old but our Father is forever young:  do it again.

The sinless angels never tire  of praising. It is like  a song that we sing and love to repeat  in it’s fulsomeness. Do it again. Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemman says that man is homo adorans, worshiping man. We were made to adore that which is not us which is the other (in Greek:  hetero), not worship ourselves, our mirror image, that is , the same (in Greek: homo).

The angels of God worship: pray, praise and sing continually.  When the Lord reveals Himself to His prophet Isaiah in the Temple, the scene is one of worship and adoration:

1In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

 the whole earth is full of his glory!”

 4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, andthe house was filled with smoke.  Isaiah 6: 1-4

The thrice-Holy is sung every time in the Divine Liturgy:  “…with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Thy Holy Name, ever more praising Thee and singing:  Holy, Holy, Holy:  the very song of heaven.  We sing the thrice-Holy just before the Word of Institution.

The very song of heaven is liturgical.  On the island of Patmos, when John is granted the apocalypse (literally, revelation), he sees:

 11Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12saying with a loud voice, 

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

 13And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 

14And the four living creatures said,


and the elders fell down and worshiped.

A question that plagues certain circles of the Church is about contemporary worship and the uplift that ‘praise hymns’ deliver.  The thinking is that Liturgy is stodgy and does not ‘reach’ people, especially young people.  But the exact opposite point is true:  worship is not to ‘reach people’ ,but God Who has first reached to us in His beloved Son and in the life of Israel.

Further some pastors will argue that Liturgy is not in the Bible.  It is!  Isaiah saw it.  So did John on Patmos.  The longest book in the Bible is a kind of a hymnbook filled with liturgical songs:  Psalms.  In fact, the Temple in Jerusalem was planned according to the Lord’s specs in heaven (see Exodus 25:8-10).  Now, in Christ Jesus, He is the Temple not made by human hands (see John 2:20-22) and,

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1: 3)

And again, He showed to Moses, the various and many Psalmists and John the Word in worship and  “… God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). The worship of the Church in the Word is just not bound to one place any longer. Liturgical worship is both ordered and the order is in the Scriptures.  This is the heart of faith’s fulfillment of the 1st Commandment, and the 2nd and 3rd as well:  You shall have no other gods before Me.  The angels of God are witness to the true worship of the Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They do not worship themselves and their religious feelings but the fount of pure goodness.  “It often happens-and the danger seems greater today than in earlier times-that a liturgical community measures the achievement of a celebration against its own edification, according to the measure of how much the particpants take part in it and care up in it, instead of being captured by God and His gifts and letting Him take part”, so wrote Roman Catholic theogian, Hans Urs von Balthassar, and then he points out his can happen in both traditional and non-traditional forms.   “…the inclination of a community (is) to celebrate itself instead of God.” Doesn’t that ring true?

Liturgy can get us off ourselves and point us in the right direction. Further, so much contemporary worship is entertainment and in fact one Lutheran pastor extolled “entertainment evangelism”!  But entertainment is for the individual, not the community. We think worship is what I want.  Then it tends toward homolatreia (coined by Rev. Lou Smith), that is worship of the same, not the other and it is the functional synonym for idolatry.  But in  fact, praise itself is communal.  C. S. Lewis pointed out in his book on the Psalms that when we find something good and praiseworthy, we want to have someone else join us, “Isn’t this wonderful?”  Praise,he wrote, is it’s own appointed consummation.  Praise and worship will be consummate in the life of the world to come.  Do it again.  The angels teach us this by their adoration of the Lord.  And we have dress rehearsals every time we come together for prayer and liturgy.

God is glorious with His saints and angels:   Come, let us worship Him.

(Opening versicle for daily prayer)

Let us pray:

everlasting God, whose wise planning has ordained and constituted the ministry of men and angels in a wonderful order, mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve you in heaven, so by your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

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