Category Archives: Worship

I Reject the Premise

I’m reading a book for my thesis work that attempts to help its readers better understand Jesus’ Jewishness. One of the authors describes her journey to Israel and mentions that some have called the Holy Land “the fifth gospel”, and I started thinking about mine. I thought about how very much I agreed. There is something about being in the place.

We’re told it doesn’t matter. In church, we hear things like:

“You can worship God wherever you want. You don’t need a fancy building.”

“You can approach your ‘quiet time’ however you want. You shouldn’t let anybody tell you when, or where or how long, or what way to practice your spirituality. The important thing is that it’s yours.”

“You can pray however you want. You don’t need anybody else’s prayers.”

“You can sing new songs even if the old people don’t think they’re very good. The important thing is that they’re yours.”

And I thought about trying to defend my feelings about being in the land where Jesus walked and taught and live and died and rose and ascended. I tried to think about how it “works”—about how God “uses” a pilgrimage. But I can’t think that the premise behind this way of thinking is fairly recent (Englightenment?) and false on its face (though with a kernel of truth).

What is necessary shouldn’t be the question. I didn’t need to choose a romantic spot to propose. Elise and I didn’t need to marry in a church building. We didn’t need to use a common liturgy with roots in a historic liturgy. We would have been just as married. But those things were important. Nobody questions a couple who returns to the scene of their wedding to renew their wedding vows. Nobody questions the value in going to the same place. Must a vow renewal take place in the same place—or another place of significance? Of course not. But whether or not I can prove empirically that these things result in a longer, healthier marriage is beside the point.

Place, time, rhythm, ritual, history—these are all intrinsic parts of being human. Why do we think there is value in ignoring them? Why is there so much pushback (mainly in Protestant churches and even more so in evangelical/conservantive/non-denominational/descendants-of-the-frontie- tradition churches) on many of these things? Why do we fear admitting that there can be value in kneeling (kneeling!) in a place where countless throngs have knelt before and prayed? I don’t think that’s magic, or superstition.  I don’t think it needs to undercut the “essence” of worship or prayer or spirituality, if there can be such a thing. I think the premise that there is some essence we can reduce all things Christian down to, and that that essence is all that “matters” is foolishness. I think it’s destructive.

Yes, I think that attitude is destroying churches, families, the entire discipleship process.

I also think the attitude of a certain Church that there are laundry lists of requirements for certain things to be “valid” is also destructive. But that’s an easier argument to take on. Another time.

Leonard Sweet in From Tablet to Table, emphasis added:

I have had people challenge me on bringing up my children without religious choices. “Don’t you think you’re being a bit imperialistic and colonialist, not letting your children choose what religion they want to follow?”

My answer is, yes, I am being a bit imperialistic and colonialist. But I’m that way about plenty of other things besides religion. I didn’t ask my child, “What language would you like to speak?” or “What economic level would you like to be a part of?” These things are circumstantial to our birth. They are stories we are born into. So if you’re born into my house, guess what? “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). A child doesn’t decide to have toes; she discovers that she has them; this is how a child of mine discovers that he or she is already part of the body of Christ.

Important words for Christian parents, and for churches thinking about how they incorporate children into congregational life (particularly worship and the sacraments).

⇝ A GUARANTEED way to get kids listening to the Sunday sermon … — LECFamily

A GUARANTEED way to get kids listening to the Sunday sermon  — LECFamily:

I was amazed at the words that the children recalled hearing in the sermon and their delight as they shared their joy with me warmed my heart. The adults in the congregation were thrilled to see the children so involved, so engaged, and so well behaved in worship. And their parents were grateful to have the opportunity to worship as a family and to not feel stressed during that time in the pew. 

A really cool idea.

“For the future to be good…”

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and Space-X (among other things), tweeted about some of the things necessary for a “good” future.1

But I don’t think he’s right. Technology doesn’t change human hearts, nor does it eliminate suffering. If history shows us anything, technological advances will only increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The biggest problems we face are not technological hurdles. It’s not that I’m opposed to research, technology, exploration, or discovery. But we deceive ourselves if we think that new technology and scientific discoveries (including medical ones) are automatically advances or progress.

Only God is good. The more of his kingdom that breaks through into our world, the better it will be. The more his will is done in us, the better this world will be. In fact, we don’t need Mr. Musks’s company or any other to provide us with a good future, because we’ve already been guaranteed a perfect one! In the end, all things will be set right. Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, every soul will worship God, through his son Jesus Christ our Lord, by the Holy Spirit. Evil, sin, and death will in the end be vanquished, and our future will be perfect as we dwell fully in the presence of the Divine. I was reminded recently that our weekly worship as Christians should be reminding us all of that outlook.

Now if anybody wants to donate a Tesla Model S…well, just leave a comment and I’m sure we can get in touch.


  1. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that he doesn’t think electric transport, solar power, and “the missing piece” are sufficient.

The Support of the Past in the Present via the Liturgy

“Prayer open sour eyes, ears, our very pores, to the complete interdependence of ourselves with others and others with ourselves.…In liturgical worship, for example, we feel keenly our dependence on all the other worshippers gone before us, those who fashioned the rituals, the worship-forms, the set prayers. All those in the past support our personal prayers in the present. And our prayers in their turn feed back into the liturgy, imbuing it with a personal immediacy and quickening life.”

—Ann and Barry Unlanov, “Prayer and Personality: Prayer as Primary Speech” in The Study of Spiritualityed. Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Edward Yarnold, p.  31. Emphasis added.

Well, yeah, except when all fancy ourselves liturgists and modify the liturgy every week (in the honest pursuit of good contextualization, no doubt). I don’t think Thomas Cranmer would have wanted the Edwardian Prayer Books to remain the canonical standard forever, but neither do I think it helpful for individual churches to construct their own liturgies—differing from one another and shifting weekly. We deprive ourselves of the past and rob our (biological and spiritual) progeny when we do so. And in truth, few of us have improved the words and prayers and actions and ministries of worship when we have done so.

I include myself this exhortation, because I, too, have considered “my” congregation as “my” own liturgical playground. Can we stop messing with the structure, form, and verbal content of our worship all the time?

I do not mean, of course, that we should cease to consider how to adapt what the Church does in the congregation’s God has given us. Nor should we cease to introduce or reintroduce practices that will enrich our common life. I am advocating for conservatism, in a pretty literal sense, though: conserving what has been received (though perhaps a few generations ago) so that it may be loving cared for, nurtured, preserved and presented to the next generation of worshipers.

I was listening to a random/Genius mix of music on my way to Orange Park this morning. I think the way we use the imperative verb “come” and related words in recently-released worship songs is fairly novel and I’m not sure it’s biblical. It may or may not be wrong, but I’m not sure it’s supported by history or scripture. But in an effort not to shove my foot too far into my mouth, I’m going to do a little more thinking and at least a modicum of research before writing any more on the subject.

“When language has no longer any depth, when, under the pretext of being accessible to all, it has become univocal, it is powerless to convey the ‘mystery.'”

-Louis-Marie Chauvet, “Are the Words of the Liturgy Worn Out?”

➠ The Osteens’ Donald Sterling Moment

Hans Fiene on has some thoughtful writing on the Victoria Osteen little pep talk on obeying God that had seemingly everybody I know up in arms on Facebook last week:

In other words, God glorifies Himself by forgiving our sins, and we glorify God in our worship by thanking Him for His mercy in Christ. Why does God command Christians to be baptized and celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Not because He needs our obedience in order to be glorified, but because He wants to glorify Himself by wrapping us in His glory through the waters of regeneration and feeding us with Christ, the very bread of life, in the Sacrament of the Altar. Why does God command Christians to gather together in worship? Not because He needs the sacrifice of our praise, but because we need the sacrifice of Christ’s life, which is given to us in the Word of the Gospel proclaimed in Christian worship. How does God want us to glorify Him? Not by saying, “Lord, look what I’ve done for you,” but by saying, “Lord, thank you for what you’ve done for me.”

Here’s the whole thing. Worth reading.