Content, Culture, Conflict

Content, Culture, Conflict

Short answers to big questions: What makes Christian worship  Christian?  What makes Christian worship  Worship?  Are there required ingredients for worship?  What separates Christian from pseudo-Christian worship?

-What separates Christian from pseudo-Christian worship?

-Acknowledgement of the deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

-An orthodox acknowledgement of Scripture, the Church, forgiveness and the eschaton.

-Agreement with the Nicene Creed.

How should Christians worship?

-Are there specific guidelines for worship, regardless of culture?
Yes!  You should:

-Use the biblical tools and means of worship.

-Have a theological plan.

-Worship in a culturally relevant style.

What is the difference between style and content? (C. Cherry)

-Style is the way we express the content within our context.

-Style is negotiable; content is non-negotiable.

-Style is contextual; content is universal.

What is causing conflict?

-Why is “church” the hardest thing about being a Christian?

-We have confused unity with sameness (1 Cor 12:19).

-We are Human!

-Disagreement on the primary purpose of the gathering (worship or evangelism).

-Our culture has enthroned music.

-A shifting culture (postmodernism).

-How has the Culture shifted? (R. Webber)

-Scientific – from Rationalism to Mystery

-Philosophic – from Individual to Communal

-Communication – from Verbal to Symbolic

How can Modern Church worship adapt to Postmodernism?

-Are there specific steps necessary to move towards Postmodernism? (R. Webber)

-Embrace mystery and paradox; don’t just explain and reason people into the faith.

-Design communal services; increase participation; decrease presentation.

-Incorporate symbolic communication; let the Arts speak the Truth.

3 Responses to “Content, Culture, Conflict”

  1. James says:

    Thrilled to see you dwelling on worship the way you are. Some very good stuff here.

    I do have a remark on your video “How Do You Choose Songs …” – Youtube doesn’t allow long comments, and this is likely to get a bit long.

    You quote R. Webber on a point where I think I’d need to significantly disagree – that services should be judged on content, and not “style.”

    I would simply add: The form of a service … or let’s say “style” – is also a part of the message. It is possible to create worship music which has truthful “contents” (i.e., text), but whose form contradicts the contents … i.e., if the words are about corporate worship, and imply that the song is being sung corporately … but the rhythym is such that the congregation will never be able to follow, and it’s simply a solo work – or a work for solo singer with the congregation as “backup” singers, or sing-a-long singers. The “form” of music is immensely important. This has been largely neglected in seminaries … the aesthetics of music. I would suggest that music which encourages use of a “worship leader” due to its performance qualities … falls short of the mark of truly corporate worship music. But you must also “speak to” those congregations which aren’t likely to let go of their worship leaders, I understand …

    Odd being “at odds” with R. Webber on this. He was a prof and also a fellow church member a long time ago, and I love very much what he was able to accomplish.

    Blessings to you and thanks for all you do. And thanks especially for helping think about “corporate” in worship. This is very much lacking in American Christianity.

  2. Jim Altizer says:

    Thanks, James, for your thoughtful comments and encouragement. You’ll notice R Webber’s quote was directed towards judging a service, not a song. Your comments were about worship music, whereas I was speaking of the content of the entire service. I don’t think we are very far apart on this at all.

  3. James says:

    Thanks for your reply, Dr. Altizer.

    I have been doing a great deal of thinking about worship in 21st Century America (I’ve come back to it, having left in the 20th) and it seems to me very clear that various aspects of worship in many Evangelical churches have profoundly contributed to Evangelical sensibilities, leading to forms of sentimentality which make faith and moving forward rather difficult. Your work in encouraging us to think about corporate worship is thus very, very important; a church which worships corporately is worshipping more profoundly in spirit and truth than a gathering where most are involved in some form of individual worship.

    Here is something I recently found which I’m looking at when I have time, and might be an interesting avenue of research for yourself. In the second half of the nineteenth century in America – particularly around 1860 – there was quite a bit written about problems of “proxy worship” – i.e., expectations that the congregation will worship silently while a soloist or group performs a piece. I’ve found so far one source with a few tips on aiding congregational singing as a remedy.

    I am guessing that more pressing needs of confronting forms of “higher criticism” ended up consuming time and media space, foreshortening possible reforms that might have otherwise taken place (as well as making Christians in general rather jittery).

    I do like your gentle approach. Worship is so important, and so important that we get it right. But it is also sensitive, a gentle-handed approach is needed – and you are an inspiration here.



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