Modern Worship

In the past few years I have been at very inconsistent time in my life. Living in two different provinces and bouncing around various jobs in between studies has caused me to move far beyond the consitencies of my upbringing. One of the biggest challenges for me had been finding a church to attend during my Manitoba months. I spent my entire life in one Christian tradition attending larger and larger churches where emphasis on really great music worship grew to greater and greater importance along with the size of the church. When I left my 800+ member home church in Northern Alberta I firmly believed that good music worship was an integral part of my church experience, I wanted another church that had an eight member band and all the equipment to go with it.  I spent a year and a half church hopping around Southern MB between low-german speaking Mennonite churches to non-denominational (and somehow still mennonite?) churches, and nothing fit.  I talked a friend into taking me to the city with him where I was shocked when I walked into a tiny Anglican church in the middle of Winnipeg and felt more uncomfortable and more welcomed than I had anywhere before.

I am a piano teacher, musical theatre lover, actor, and pretty much all things art lover, and yet I fell in love with a simple church and extraordinarily humble worship practice. I discovered that I did not in fact care too much how well we could replicate Hillsong’s newest hit,  I actually found myself leaning quite the opposite. I find modern worship songs to be romanticized, overemphasized, or just ridiculously repetitive, and I’m not the only one who feels this way! More and more the youth of the church have begun to criticize how we do “worship” in our churches (see Blimey Cow’s How to Write a Worship Song). What is it that is changing how we feel about church worship?  My early teens to twenty seemed to have been boom years for the mega youth conferences and big, building worship songs. But now I often hear Christians around me saying how we have moved into a “secular” a age and the smooth, indie-rock that has gone with it. Is it the secular world that is affecting worship practices within the church? 

Alexander Schmemann defines secularism as being something that is incapable of communicating with the divine, a foil to worship. Worship is people seeking to communicate with God, traditionally through rites and sacraments intending to bridge the gap between humanity and God. So if we are living in a secular age, there is less of a general understanding that humans seeks community with God.  It is true that Christianity does not maintain the same standard of faith it may have had at one time, but I have no doubt that the innate human need to worship has not changed, we just change the objects of our praise. 

This is the problem modern people face: there is a general shift away from belief in an omnipresent Creator God and no change in the natural human necesssity to worship something, anything, and I think this is Schmemann’s point. Secularism means inability to communicate with God because it can’t acknowledge that kind of divine presence. Secularism fills the void with many things and beings that can receive our undivided attention without ever reaching the point of true worship. Because worship expects a response, and a secular worldview just can’t reciprocate.  

In his essay Worship in a Secular Age Schmemann goes so far as to challenge the legitimacy of continuing liturgical practices by arguing that now in a secular age, theses rites are not bridging the gap between Christians and non-believers but rather widenening it, staving off potential believers.  Litiurgical piety does not communicate with the divine and is therefore secular. As a person relatively new to liturgical practice I find it difficult to fully agree with Schmemann here because corporate and personal worship are both important in community with Christ, and I’m not ready to condem any particular practice over another. But we do get stuck in trends. I do think litirugical traditions have the advantage of acknowledging more kinds of worship though because in my Christian and Missionary Alliance upbringing, anything that was not “worship music” related was completely absent.

The idea of worship is something I am still toying with. Do I sing along with “Oceans” when my church band plays it (see Stop Singing “Oceans)? Can I actually make my yoga practice a time to communicate with God? I would like to think so but there are people in my life who disagree. So I guess I’ll just have to keep working it out, and I hope you do too. 

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One thought on “ Modern Worship

  1. Your story sounds all too familiar!

    We attend a small rural church, which introduced an amp for the first time (since we’ve been there) just this year. Hardly the professional band that plays at big churches like the one I grew up in (also a CMA church, by the way).

    I also find it difficult to see the point about liturgical piety being secular, but we’re also living in a time when liturgy is on an upswing, becoming “cool” again. But if you had asked me six or seven years ago what I thought about liturgy, I would have told you that it was dead religion, worse than secularism. I would have read Schmemann’s essay much differently.

    I think that Christian society is going through a secularization of culture, but not of faith. Evangelicals scorned ritual and liturgy as dead religion, but then created an unofficial liturgy that consists of speaking Christianese and wearing WWJD bracelets and singing “Oceans” and all sorts of other things that show that we love God without actually doing anything about it. This Evangelical culture became the new dead religion, the new empty ritual, and young people are ditching it the same way our parents ditched liturgy. And many of us are finding our way back to liturgy, but more than that we’re just longing for a church where we won’t sing Oceans unless we’re actually doing it. I think that we’re either going to find more churches that are pushing people out into the community to serve, or we’re going to see another shift very soon – and this shift might just be people leaving the church for good, as commentators are so sure we’re doing right now.

    For me, I dream about going out into the world with my fellow church members and doing good on a Sunday rather than having another worship service in our little community centre, but we live out in the country and our poorest neighbours are also probably members of our church. Our way of serving is fairly internalized in our community. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I feel convicted far too often about not connecting better with members of my church, maybe that time I didn’t help so-and-so move, etc., but I still long for a place where making a difference is more of a day-to-day, obvious, and meaningful task. But what I’m longing for isn’t a different place, it’s a different me; a me that sees needs around him and moves to meet them without a second thought, rather than the current me who claims that there are no real needs in his church or neighbourhood.

    In a sense, then, I feel like church can become a fallen power when it serves to anaesthetize us to the need around us, building up within us a perfect picture of what it means to follow Christ through our romanticized worship and programs-based community, so much that the mundane needs around us seem too small to be included in our discipleship. How can we change that?

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