Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Wish I Hadn't Read This

On Wednesdays I'm usually at the church until after 9:30pm, so I usually don't go in until after 10:00. This morning I was reading in Harold Best's Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts when I bumped into his articulation of a thought that I have held ... sometimes loosely, sometimes firmly ... about our divisions in worship. Because I serve a church that demands to be divided, I wrestle with the dichotomy present in my convictions and my actions. Here's what Best writes on pp. 74-75:

To divide a congregation into age groups, style groups and preference groups is to be semi- or ever pseudocorporate. The body of Christ is as chronologically and stylistically whole as it is spiritually whole. It is ironic -- worse, scripturally troublesome -- to see local assemblies broken into groups, each doing their niche worship, for that is all it really seems to be. ... If, for instance, a so-called traditional service and a so-called contemporary service were radically different in every respect, one could at least construct pro and con arguments based on internal consistency. But here's the rub: the divisions are primarily about music and musical style. This being true, worship is not really about the binding power of Jesus and his gospel but about something earthly, relative and transient.

If we took music out of worship, would we have the same problem and the same set of solutions? I do not think so. It is not pleasant to realize how much of a burden is placed on ministers of music and worship because of the dependence on style change as the core of the solution. ... How perplexing to think of the burden we have placed on music, this fleeting human construct! The problem is not with any one style but with the reluctance of people to rub up against a multiplicity of styles, for it is the rubbing -- the creative friction -- that could bring about the stylistic synthesis that the body of Christ so desperately needs.

Traditionalists have much to answer for in their reluctance to understand that tradition does not mean stasis but change. In their reaction against contemporary styles, they fail to understand that what they have gotten used to was once contemporary and often objectionable. Contemporists likewise fail to understand how blunted their tastes are when only "their music" seems to do the trick and when what they are doing has, ever so quickly, frozen itself into a tradition. So we end up with two kinds of shortsightedness, one supposedly old, the other supposedly new, and both wish fulfilling. The separation of worship into preference groups is everyone's fault, in that narrow musical satisfaction has turned out to be more important than style-proof outpouring. [Earlier in the book, Best describes worship as the outpouring of ourselves in response to God's outpouring of Himself ... not quite that simply, but it helps to explain the term style-proof outpouring.] I encourage people of all practices to become intently and intensely curious about each other's ways.

Harold Best's thoughts do not condense easily into one- to three- sentence quotes. Indeed, in order to fully understand one of the terms (outpouring) he uses above, one must read an entire chapter earlier in the book. It's deep stuff, but well worth wrestling with. The fact that we so easily divide over what we so easily divide over still grieves my heart.

That's enough to think about for now.


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