June 11, 2013

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What's So Great About the Past? Nothing. It may surprise you, but I don’t think all churches should “go liturgical.” That's missing the point. Too often, discussion on worship gets framed as a "style" or "preference" issue: Some people like ancient; others like modern. Some like organs and choirs; others sense God's presence with drums and electric guitars, peopel say. But in this view, corporate worship, in so far as it relates to us, is about expression. Choose the expression that works for you. For others, it's about what will "reach the people we want to reach." This isn’t about tailoring an approach to your “demographic” or “target audience.” Our obsession with missiology has made even Sunday worship about mission. Both these approaches miss a crucial point: Corporate worship is the gathered witness in the world to the Gospel and the glory of God in Christ Jesus. When it comes to decsions about the particulars and how it relates to us, we ought not think first about expression or even mission but formation. [For the academic philosophical and theological underpinnings of this claim, this interview with Calvin College philosopher James K. A. Smith is GOLD.] So, now to the question again: What's so great about the past? Lots. There is a lot to learn from the way the Church has worshipped throughout the centuries. The Church has always believed that the way you worship becomes the way you believe. For Christians, what we have believed, we have received. But there's another reason the past matters... C. S. Lewis wrote in essay on the necessity of reading old books on the reason to study the past: We need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the...
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What a Good "Liturgy" Does (Or, Why We Shouldn't Pit "Form" Against "Content") I've been writing for a bit now on how worship--specifically, corporate worship-- forms us as the people of God. The central idea of my short new book, Discover the Mystery of Faith, is that worship is not simply an expression of our faith; it is what forms it. What's at stake in our decisions about Sunday services are not simply matters of "programming" the service or attracting the lost. In fact, this claim moves the conversation beyond the matters of style-- rock, folk, organ, etc-- to matter of form and substance. While my writing on this has explored-- non-academically-- the historical-theology roots of this claim, there is a far weightier voice in the conversation (thank God!) who has taken this up from the philosophical anthropology side and set it in "conversation" with an Augustinian theology (all big words I'm not qualified to use!) of love. His name is James K. A. Smith. His core claim is that a "liturgy" (used broadly as a ritual, communal, embodied practice) shapes and aims our love at a particular vision of the good life. Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with Trevin Wax over at The Gospel Coalition: *(all highlights and bolds are my notes for emphasis) Trevin Wax: You speak of the power of a liturgy in terms of what is caught, not just explicitly taught. How does this truth influence the way we conceive of worship services? James K. A. Smith: A core claim and outcome of Imagining the Kingdom is to help evangelicals see that we have bought into a reductionistic view of worship. When we say “worship,” many of us just think “music” or “singing,” which is already a reduction of historic understandings of worship that comprise the entire service. But more generally, we have also largely reduced...

Glenn Packiam

Lead Pastor, new life DOWNTOWN, New Life Church, Colorado Springs, CO. Author and songwriter.

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