The Purpose of Worship

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The Purpose of Worship

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Editado: Dez 13, 2006, 3:13pm

Is the purpose of worship and liturgy to promote a code of conduct, or to bring people to Christ?

I am not comfortable with saying that the "purpose" of worship is either of those. I particularly reject the second, not because bringing people to Christ is a bad thing, but because the confusion between worship and evangelism is what I consider to be one of the most significant weaknesses of today's churches in my (former?) evangelical tradition.

Let me propose the beginning of an alternative definition -- and I'd appreciate it if other could chime in with literature to support or refute me:

The purpose of worship is to glorify God. The purpose of any corporate or individual liturgical form is to more effectively enable us to stand in God's presence as
"whole" persons, directing our attention first outside ourselves, second to the work of worship as a community, and finally and foremost to our creator and redeemer.

A life of holiness and evangelism are clearly coupled with worship, and they are outcomes we desire from excellence in worship. But these things come, first and foremost, from the practice of responding in gratitude and humility to God's Word in the world.

Practicalities of how we more effectively engage in this are called "liturgy."

I recommend two things to start with, since we'd like this group to help people to find resources to help educate and form worshipers. One from the Roman church, the other from the Protestant side. I suggest that we'd all do well to have a look at both...

Marva Dawn's A Royal "Waste" of Time, which challenges the idea that worship is at all practical... and

Sacrosanctum Concilium, one of the post Vatican-II documents that has been the inspiration for as much reform in the Protestant church as it has been for Roman Catholics. This is also available online at vatican, english version.


Dez 13, 2006, 3:17pm

Mensagem removida.

Dez 18, 2006, 5:49pm

I would say worship proper (Sunday morning sense) is the unified corporate glorification of God through prescribed means.
I think what we are lacking here is both clarification on what it means (what is glorifying God) and takes (the prescribed means) to glorify God.
Liturgy is the answer to both of these answers.

-Prescribed means - Liturgy has a fairly static set of means in which worship occurs (Scripture (includes preaching), Song, Eucharist, Baptism, sharing the peace, etc... per the Wonder of worship). Modern worship (especially emergent) has reassessed these means and often changed them or dismissed them while adding new.

-Glorification of God- Liturgy answers this piece through the prescribed means. By understanding the means the concept of Glorification of God emerges. Baptism is for obedience, scripture is for grace, the sharing of the peace for community and grace, song for praise and learning, etc. As the current church stepped away from the normal means it lost much of the concept of glorification of

Dez 18, 2006, 7:58pm

The preface in the book, Sacred Games: a History of Christian Worship by Bernhard Lang has a quote from Romano Guardino, which provides a definition "...Worship has one thing in common with the play of the child and the life of art -- it has no purpose, but is full of profound meaning. It is not work, but play. To be at play, or to fashion a work of art in God's sight -- not to create, but to exist -- such is the essence of the liturgy. From this is derived its sublime mingling of profound earnestness and divine joyfulness." Romano Guardini The Spirit of the Liturgy. London, Sheed & Ward, 1937. I like this definition, and I see from the Touchstones notes that the current pope has a book with the same title, which I may want to read at some point. I'm not sure how prescribed worship should be, but being an Episcopalian, I'm in a church which indeed has a fairly prescribed liturgy.

Dez 19, 2006, 6:27pm

Good worship also involves the whole being. That is part of the reason, as touched in another thread, for incense. We involve sight, smell, taste the whole lot, the whole body is involved in the glory of God. Yet at the same time we become familiar with it, so it never distracts us, wondering what on earth is going to happen next, it just gently engages us as we focus on God.

Dez 19, 2006, 7:40pm

I've only been to a few services that use incense I didn't like it the first few times. Once I started had a few services the smell triggered the memory of previous services. I remembered the wedding and funerals which had used incense, this strong sent memory connected otherwise unconnected memories in my mind. It's like the association between the smell of chocolate chip cookies and grandmas house I formed as a kid. The association connects memories of scripture and services. It pulls the whole of the liturgical scripture together instead of having 52 Sundays of scripture there is a common and strong thread.

Dez 24, 2006, 12:15am

From the OP:

"Let me propose the beginning of an alternative definition {...}
The purpose of worship is to glorify God. The purpose of any corporate or individual liturgical form is to more effectively enable us to stand in God's presence as
"whole" persons, directing our attention first outside ourselves, second to the work of worship as a community, and finally and foremost to our creator and redeemer."

This confused me, because I thought this WAS the "purpose" of worship, not an "alternative definition." It's certainly a working definition I wholeheartedly agree with. ("Working" because we're talking about things that should never be nailed down too firmly.)

I should put in a helpful reminder here, that I'm Episcopalian, but I was raised in the Assemblies of God and have experienced a lot of different denominations. Because of my background, the way I hear this conversation taking shape is that it's an apology for traditional liturgy against the emerging-church types who think traditional liturgy has no place in this century. Maybe I'm reading it wrong.

I'm also hearing a hint of a Roman Catholic/Protestant dualism, which limits the conversation unnecessarily. The Orthodox are especially known for their liturgy and worship, and there are other groups of Christians that, while historically "Eastern" or "Western," don't fit into any of those three categories - we Anglicans are an example (not quite Protestant; not *Roman* Catholic or Eastern Orthodox).

Part of the reason I left the traditions of my youth was because they all seemed, to me, to have a very narrow perspective. Thinking you can define a purpose for everything would be an example of that.

I agree with kurtabeard's suggestion that the phrase, "to glorify God," has to be explored. I agree with andersoj, that it's about relationship with God ("stand{ing} in God's presence as whole beings"). God's not some egomaniac who gets off on people worshipping "him." (I don't reduce God to a gendered being, but somehow that distorted image needed the traditional "him" to distinguish it from the true God.) We worship God because to worship God is to orient oneself to reality rather than to the self, or to some delusion about reality. I think of Thomas Merton's definition of idolatry as "ascribing meaning to metaphysical nothingness" - and I think that's a useful contrast to help us think about what it is we're doing in worship. Sorry, I don't remember which book I read that in - possibly Faith & Violence?

I'm still learning how to use the forum here, so please bear with me. I tend to get verbose. Is there a character limit? (kurtabeard's message seems cut off.)

Dez 24, 2006, 12:44am

There were a couple more things I wanted to respond to above, but I thought it best to break it up. Sorry if double-posts are considered rude here.

kurtabeard, I assume you didn't mean to limit the purposes of various elements of liturgy when you wrote, "Baptism is for obedience, scripture is for grace..." But from the Catholic perspective (as I understand it, and here I consider myself Catholic), it's the other way around. Baptism is for grace (as are the Eucharist and other Sacraments). We read the Scriptures in part as one source for learning how to bring our lives into conformity with our Baptismal Covenant. That's not to limit Grace to the Sacraments - "the Spirit blows where it will." But in the Sacraments we have assurance of Grace - it's objective, which braces us against our subjectivity and emotions: Martin Luther, for example, used to remind himself when depression got the better of him, "I am baptized."

Finally, I wanted to address the question of prescribed liturgy. Naturally, as a convert to the Episcopal (Anglican) Church, I'm going to have a certain fondness for that tradition. :) Basically, Anglicans use a Book of Common Prayer (each national church has its own), although over the years supplemental books and liturgies accrue, which give local churches more options. So far we've managed to have a "big tent" philosophy, so we've developed alternative liturgies as the need has arisen to allow for subtleties in theological understandings that may differ from one congregation to another. If you go to different Episcopal churches throughout the U.S., you will recognize the same basic worship patterns, but there will be radical differences in what the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker would call "matters indifferent" - e.g., the use of incense, how much of the service is sung/chanted v. spoken, musical styles (back home in Detroit, for example, you'd find a lot of Episcopal churches singing Gospel music; most of our cathedrals probably tend to do more traditional English choral music and hymns from the hymnal), etc. Come to think of it, you might have to be very familiar with the Episcopal tradition and prayer books to recognize the similarities between some Episcopal churches!

But as I understand it, the point of prescribed liturgy is to avoid the cult of personality you find in a lot of the emerging and mega churches, and in many non-denominational churches. The prescribed liturgy, including written prayers, is something all the members of the congregation can say "Amen" to - not something some guy at the pulpit is making up as he goes along, or the latest fad, or whatever. It's actually more democratic, if you think about it, because the prescribed liturgy has been handed down (and therefore approved) by preceding generations, and to change it requires certain processes that serve as checks and balances against a particularly charismatic personality's influences. So while there may be certain problems associated with prescribed liturgy - for example, it tends to bore many young people; it seems rote; it can take forever to make changes that really should be made; etc., there are many positive aspects to it. Liturgy done well, whatever type of liturgy it is (and I think most of us would agree that having no prescribed liturgy is still a liturgy), avoids most of these pitfalls. In a church with no prescribed liturgy, a pastor can resist pushing her own tastes in worship onto the congregation, passing them off as more "spiritual." She can make use of many participants in the service, in planning, etc., to make sure that all voices are heard and that the congregation is on board with the way things are done, while being pastorally sensitive toward minority perspectives. In a church with prescribed ("prayer book") liturgy, worship leaders need to take very seriously their responsibility to lead the worship, rather than just getting the Mass "said" or putting on a good show. Growing up, I only heard negative things about those churches with prescribed liturgies, so even though I was drawn to it as an adult, I was still surprised to find out how passionate the people in the Episcopal Church really are about their faith. The liturgy for them is a vital expression of their love for God. I remember one (now deceased) woman in particular, who seemed to have the whole Book of Common Prayer memorized. Sitting next to her in the worship service actually enhanced my worship experience! Her enthusiasm for the liturgy, which she knew by heart (some would say "rote"), radiated from her and was contagious. Probably, like me, people are drawn to different liturgies that suit them for whatever reason, and I think it's a good thing we have such variety in the different churches so all God's people can worship God in a way that is genuine for them!

Editado: Dez 24, 2006, 5:15pm

churchgeek - I certainly did not mean to limit the purposes of various elements. Baptism is far more than just what I listed and even more than what you listed. I meant to point out that in liturgical services there are points and purposes behind the liturgy which haven't changed much since the early church. Many of these means can be seen in the Bible both OT and NT. They include the content for worship, the setting and the meaning.

Dez 27, 2006, 2:15am

kurtabeard, I'd like to hear you expand on that. It sounds like you have some interesting things to say there.

Editado: Dez 27, 2006, 9:42am

I’ll try to expand and keep it pithy (or attempt to).

Allow me to paraphrase what a professor of mine once said “liturgical worship has no wastes, each word and action has meaning.”

All Books of Worship are broken down into elements (invocation, prayer, communion, scripture reading, baptism, marriage, scripture preaching, blessing, confession, and so on). Imagine being able to tag the various elements of the liturgy;
To highlight a few
Baptism – means of grace, obedience, salvation, public confession, sacrament, cleansing from sin, outward sign, Jewish roots, act of faith, adulthood, scriptural,.
Confession – cleansing from sins, scriptural, obedience, Jewish roots, act of faith, private, public, corporate act, blessing
Preaching – means of grace, teaching, scriptural, commanded, public,
Any number of other tags work the point that tags help draw out the meaning of the given ritual.
To organize the tags we can see that reason of Baptism is grace, cleansing of sins, with the meaning of salvation, identification, faith. (we can split them up various ways depending on our beliefs and mood.)

If we were to tag all the elements we would notice some common threads mainly all elements are scriptural. By this I mean all are scriptural in the sense that they are practiced or commanded in scripture (Baptism, communion, preaching, confession etc.) or their content is from scripture (invocation, reading, blessing, confession, etc). Most if not all of the elements of a liturgical service are practiced or commanded in scripture either strictly as in baptism or indirectly the reading of scripture. By saying all content is scriptural we can move on to assign the purpose of the liturgy as a means of grace. This may be more of a stretch for some elements and wordings than others but the general concept of liturgy is that of scripture so we can have an over arcing principle of grace (Scripture) as a purpose of liturgy.

By its very nature liturgy is uniting. When the whole of the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox and other churches confess the Nicene Creed on Christmas morning there is a qualitative and uniting effect. I refer to this as the boil down effect which means when it boils down to it I know this is a Christian Church (it may have Lutheran tendencies but its core is still the same). As a Lutheran I can stand in a Catholic church and worship because when it boils down to it in Church I’m going to confess the same confession so we can have an over arcing principle of unity as a purpose of liturgy.

Liturgy in its core hasn’t changed all that much. The wording has changed but the meaning has stayed the same. Ancient liturgy means the same thing today’s liturgy means. Catholic and Lutheran liturgies have the same core meaning; a confession is a confession regardless of language and words used. The meaning of Lutheran Baptism is the same as when Lutheran’s first came to be, the edges may be refined but the same tags can still be used. The ancient meaning of cleansing by water is still reflected in modern baptismal thought. By continuing meaning we maintain an attachment to the history of the church and the tradition of the church so we can have an over arcing principle of connection as a purpose of liturgy.

The general purpose of liturgy beyond worship is grace as a result of scripture, unity and connection.

Within the meaning and reason of the liturgical elements is hidden answer to why we do perform this element? It may be a simple blessing, it for cleansing of sins and mean we are saved or it may be for teaching.

For a real explanation of the history and philosophy of worship you can read Keith Drury The Wonder of Worship you can also read Kurt a. Beard Encountering Worship (yes that’s my second shameless plug) but since we are friends there is a free draft version

Dez 28, 2006, 10:45pm

Dear Kurt,
I took a brief look at your Encountering Worship and want to read through it later when I have more time. I did take a look at the music section. I have noticed that in some churches few men sing. The Episcopal church I attend in Manhattan, however, does have strong singing, perhaps because it is walking distance from the Broadway Theater district. Perhaps half the congregation is able to sing in parts, and in fact, as old as I am (61) have become much more comfortable with singing in parts, usually tenor. Now, the problem with a congregation like ours is that we might turn away people for whom singing is more of a struggle.
I did live in Indianapolis 1993-97, which I guess is in your neck of the woods, and attended Trinity Episcopal Church there. Church music in Indpls is quite strong and professional, perhaps because of the closeness of Indiana University in Bloomington.
Bob Campbell

Dez 30, 2006, 12:47am

Kurt -- Thanks for expounding. I'll try to check out your links.

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