Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

Losing Old Church Buildings

Posted: December 8, 2010 by joelmartin in Christ & Culture, From the Heart, History, Worship

I’m hearing that the court case against the Virginia CANA churches may not go well. Truro, Falls Church and others may be forced to leave their historic buildings. I’ve never been a fan of the “defend the property” strategy, but this is still very sad news. Turning these buildings over to heretics is akin to the North African Church falling to Islam a long time ago.

With that said, it occurred to me today that one reason that it is such a blow to lose these venerable buildings is because there is so little chance of replacing them in our lifetime. Our theology of architecture is so impoverished, and the buildings that we typically build as Protestant churches are generally so awful, that losing these old buildings is a great tragedy.

Most new church buildings are ephemeral, not durable. They are ugly, functional, “multi-purpose” facilities where people worship in the gym. There is generally no art, no stained glass windows and nothing that would really differentiate these buildings from the prison-like school buildings that we build today. On the other hand, places like Truro have a simple elegance and exude a sense of tranquility and “churchiness” that is lacking in most modern Protestant facilities. It seems that Catholics have kept their senses and are producing some great buildings even today. I live down the street from one and I’ve seen many others, such as the gorgeous Holy Apostles in Meridian, Idaho.

So if we are going to continue to think that buildings don’t matter or that we need to build the cheapest, ugliest thing we can get away with and call it good, then losing the old places like Truro (and the many, many United Methodist parishes in Virginia that are gorgeous and given over to heresy) is a very sad event indeed.

Jared Wilson suggests that hymns aren’t outdated as much as the progression of preaching that has morphed into something that makes hymns sounds weird (link). The point being that preaching is no longer as Gospel-saturated as it once was, which provided the fitting response of the hymn because the emotions were engaged within the context of Biblical preaching. Lot’s of people say that hymns are too doctrinal and too God-centered. This explains why many newer songs lack any doctrinal precision and are filled with repetitions of how God loves us and how we love Him, as if love is the lone attribute of God toward us and us toward Him.

There’s a resurgence of old hymns right now. The Mars Hill guys are pouring out lots of them through the Re:Sound label, and now Come&Live‘s band, Ascend the Hill, release their second album on the label called Take the World, But Give me Jesus. It might seem like a strange move, early in their career, to cover a bunch of ancient songs, but when considering the heart of this band it makes perfect sense. They aren’t interested in building their own kingdom, they just want to make Jesus famous and will draw from wells new and old to achieve that end.

Opening with “The Love of God“, it is clear from the outset that though not straying far from the sound that they created on their debut release, they have honed and perfected it, and though they open with the declaration, “The love of God is greater far/Than tongue or pen can ever tell,” these boys are going to give it their best shot to tell of that love. This is an album of dynamics, more so than their first album was. The first two numbers clip along, and then comes the stripped down and intimate “Rock of Ages” and the haunting titular track of the album. What is so astounding is how fresh these hymns sound. It isn’t outlandish what they have done with these treasures of church liturgy, but somehow they have contextualized these expressions of worship and truth, making sense of them in our current musical climes, yet retaining the original phraseology. (more…)

You know when you get a song stuck in your head and it’s all you can sing for days, maybe even weeks on end?  My 4 yr. old Lexi has had “I want to Know You, In the Secret” by Sonicflood stuck in her head for weeks now, it has become her default song.  I guess if there was any song to get stuck in her head, it’s a good one to dwell on.

The Lyrics:

In the secret, in the quiet place

In the stillness you are there

In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait

Only for you

Cause I want to know you more!

(chorus)  I want to know You, I want to hear Your face.  I want to know you more.  I want to touch You. I want to see Your face.  I want to know you more.  (Then she says: “one more!” and repeats. How sweet the sound of a little worshiping voice.)

Kira’s been singing “I am not skilled to understand, what God has willed what God has planned. I only know at His right hand, stands one who is my Savior. … My Savior loves, my Savior lives, my Savior’s always there for me.  My God He was, my God He is, my God He’s always gonna be…”   (My Savior, My God by Aaron Shust)

And Cody (16) soaks himself in Christian rap namely “holy hip hop”, thanks to my husband’s keen eye for music.  Cody loves to just recreate in his room, listening to his music.

These are the normal songs sung in our home.  Quality, godly lyrics are a great reminder of why we sing, why we breathe- namely to bring God glory.  As Christians, we should not cease to “want to know” Him more.  I pray for all my children that their light would never grow dim, that their burning to “know” and “love” God never ceases, just as relentless as the songs that get stuck in our heads haunt us (sometimes for the good).  Oh that we would cling on for dear life, as that is exactly what’s at stake.   His mercy endures forever.

David Neff on the Restfulness of Liturgy

Posted: January 15, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Worship
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David Neff responds to an essay from The Anglican Planet by Julie Lane-Gay called “The Liturgy That Gives Rest.”  Lane-Gay writes that: “Instead of feeling that I had to conjure up enthusiasm, I felt like someone had handed me an antique pillow to cradle my weary mind and soul. I didn’t have to think what to say.”

Neff’s response is interesting and discusses liturgy in a way that I’m not used to thinking about it.  I grew up in, and still attend, a church that is fairly liturgical by modern American evangelical standards (at least in our two traditional services), but we don’t talk about the order of service in the way that Neff does:

My own experience was different. I wouldn’t have compared the liturgy to a pillow. But I felt the same relief that I didn’t have “to conjure up enthusiasm.” Conjuring up enthusiasm—and godly grief and glorious rapture and even stillness—all of that was part of what I had been exhorted to do in the religion of my youth, a religion that owed much to American revivalism.

That side of revivalism placed the accent in worship on my feelings. Revivalism fed off of a cycle of duress and release, and it required that I feel the right emotions as we approached the transactional moments of worship. When it came time to (re)dedicate myself to Jesus, the moment was validated or invalidated by my feelings.

The liturgy taught me that there was instead one great transaction. It happened on Calvary. In the liturgy, we celebrate and memorialize that transaction together—together as a local congregation and together with Christians around the globe, together with Christians throughout history and together with those who have gone on to glory. Fortunately, that celebration continues in spite of whatever feelings I may have because the great transaction was completed before I ever experienced my first emotion.

He concludes:

The liturgy must be seen as part of God’s mercy. It is not the words that do “the work for me.” God acts toward me in the liturgy. That is why in Morning Prayer we often say a paraphrase of Psalm 51:15: “O Lord, open thou our lips, and our mouth shall show forth thy praise.” Without God’s help, we can’t even start praising.

When worship loses its bigness, the sense of God’s mercy also contracts. But when we join our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we also know instinctively that the quality of God’s mercy is not strained.

Neff links to the original essay by Lane-Gay.  It’s short and worth reading too.  Here is her description of her experience in an Anglican church in New England:

Our rector, Sam Abbott, in his early fifties, receding dark hair, thick eyebrows and heavy glasses, as rooted in New England as the Pilgrims, read the liturgy with clarity, gravity and grace. Sunday after Sunday he bestowed something precious. He spoke the truth in love with a seriousness that could not be ignored. His delivery was like the reading of a miraculous will, as we heard of the riches of Christ, as we were told of God’s passion for us.

As I’ve studied church history and become more aware of liturgical traditions, I’ve become more interested in the meaning of liturgy.  It’s still something like visiting a foreign country for me, though.  These articles helped me to understand the language a bit better.

Kevin DeYoung considers how churches can become cushions, focusing on comfort rather than on challenging their congregations to truly encounter God and be changed by him:

“No one enters the ministry to further the status quo. Every evangelical pastor, every enthusiastic young Christian for that matter, wants to see conversions, spiritual growth, and biblical reformation where it is needed. But youthful zeal wanes. Life crashes in. Pastors get tired. Congregations fall back into old patterns.Here’s Richard Lovelace’s explanation:

Pastors gradually settle down and lose interest in being change agents in the church. An unconscious conspiracy arises between their flesh and that of their congregations. It becomes tacitly understood that the laity will give pastors special honor in the exercise of their gifts, if the pastors will agree to leave their congregations’ pre-Christian lifestyles undisturbed and do not call for the mobilization of lay gifts for the work of the kingdom. Pastors are permitted to become ministerial superstars. Their pride is fed and their congregations are permitted to remain herds of sheep in which each has cheerfully turned to his own way (quoted in C. John Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, p. 19).

“The result of this compromise, argued Jack Miller, is “the church as religious cushion.” The body of Christ becomes less a living, breathing, growing, healthy organism and more a coping club, a society of mutual reinforcement, nothing but a cushion against the pains of life. Miller explains:

The religious cushioning may take a number of forms. In its liberal variety, its primary concern is to comfort suburbanites with a vision of a God who is too decent to send nice people like them to hell. In its sacerdotal form, its purpose is to tranquilize the guilt-ridden person with the religious warmth of its liturgy. Among conservatives and evangelicals, its primary mission all too often is to function as a preaching station where Christians gather to hear the gospel preached to the unconverted, to be reassured that liberals are mistaken about God and hell, and renew one’s sense of well-being without have a serious encounter with the living God (p. 26).

How does the church avoid being nothing but a religious cushion? Good preaching. Strong leadership. Earnest repentance. Heartfelt prayer. Biblical integrity. All of these are essential. And in and through them must be an awareness of sin and a delight in the Savior.”

sept-ct-coverThis is a brief quote from the article, “Young, Restless, and Reformed” (link).

“If there’s an appeal to students, it’s that we’re not playing around,” Hughes said. “We’re not entertaining them. This is life and death. My sense is that’s what they’re interested in, even from an old man.”

I know this article and quote are old, but just came across it in some recent reading and thought it relevant. Unfortunately so many worship services in America exude with triviality and over-casualness. I spoke to some college students that chose to attend our church after visiting some of the local churches and asked them why they settled here. Their response was essentially that the other churches felt too much like a “production”. In an attempt to be relevant, many are becoming overly-relevant and thus not relevant at all.

I would describe our worship service as being semi-liturgical, with a core emphasis on God and approaching Him with reverence. I preach as a dying man to dying men. Their is a gravity to worship and preaching in “Calvinism” which reaches deep down into the soul and meets our greatest need. It is my prayer that more young people will realize they need Jesus before loud, rocking U2 wannabees, a pastor guru who “shares” his thoughts on living for Jesus, and freebies.

I pray that they would hunger for Biblical preaching over a multimedia experience,

that they would hunger for the Lord’s Supper more than lunch following service,

that they would long for fellowship with the elderly and handicapped more than merely their niche peer group.