Worship In Something and Something

I used to be involved in worship teams in various churches for several years, these are some reflections that I’ve gleaned both from a time of being very involved in worship and a time of some more reflection on the subject.

First of all, I know that those of you who attended Sunday school or various Bible studies that emphasized sheer memory work are dying to fill in the “something and something” with “spirit and truth.” Of course, that’s what Christians are told God wants. What it means to worship in spirit and truth though is an altogether different matter. (Note: I’m talking about worship here as an entire gathering of the church, not just the music – I’m siding with the Roman Catholics and others who take a holistic view of what the word worship means.)

So what does “in spirit and truth” mean? If you’re Pentecostal/Charismatic this means that there had better be some ecstatic behaviour – at minimum hands up and some swaying but you can take this to the extreme of rolling around on the ground and making animal sounds. In other denominations (often Reformed ones) this is a contest to see how closely one can cleave to the Bible. Sing only the psalms, have the preacher preach for as long as possible with the most painful detail of exegesis concerning one passage of the Bible. In still other churches (mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox) spirit and truth seem bound up in the rituals and history of the church – and how dare we casually cast aside these things because we’re bored!

I think there’s truth in all of these forms and often when we defend our own predilections with hostility, we are revealing our own territorial instincts as much as we are doing anything else. None of the styles or emphases I listed above necessarily contradict each other. Yes, I know that that doesn’t mean that there no theological controversies between camps (there definitely are). In theory though you could have all the various elements I mentioned present in one service without contradiction. But what elements do we want, moreover, what elements allow us to encounter God on a Sunday morning/evening/mid-afternoon?

My plan right now (and I know, if you want to make God laugh, start making plans) is to continue irregularly writing a few more posts on what worship services can be or should be.