Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Worship: Innovations

The past 2 weeks at Southern Hills, we have played a short video to kick off the worship (technically just before starting, if you consider worship to have a definitive start and end time). I would imagine that some would consider this an "innovation" and not appropriate  I have only talked to a couple of people about it and have not heard much positive or negative (other than the poor image quality from our current and soon to be replaced projector).

Much of the consternation over changes in the worship centers around "innovations." Things that are added to the way the current worship is performed can be labeled innovations and thus bad (not authorized). Anything not authorized directly by scripture is an innovation... except for the things that we label as expedients, meaning those things that are necessary to get the job done. Musical instruments are innovations but song books, microphones, and pitch pipes are expedients. Praise teams, choral groups, drama, and solos are innovations but 4-part harmony is an expedient. Every good church of Christ member is taught the difference between expedient and innovation, addition and aid from the time they are in cradle roll. But things are changing (as they always do). Today, some churches of Christ use instruments in some or all of their worship services. Many have praise teams, show videos (often with instruments), perform dramas, hold Saturday evening services, etc. There is certainly a lot of innovation going on in our worship. Innovation in the business world is a great thing. Innovation in churches? Well the judges are split on this one (often literally).

So rather than trying to figure out what is an innovation vs. expedient, I want to reframe the debate. I will assert that there are innovations going on in our worship. But I would like to think about whether that is really such a bad thing. Could there be someone we should look to in order to see what innovations might be appropriate for churches in their worship? Hmmmmm....

How about Jesus?

Jesus participated in and validated even at least 3 "innovations" that the Jews added to their worship practices. The Jews are famous for adding traditions and rituals around what God prescribed in the Torah. When Jesus came along, did he slam them for perverting the worship? No. He slammed them for exploiting the poor (clearing the temple, offering corban). Jesus condemned the traditions of men when they were burdensome or used as a power play by the rulers. When the rituals aided in the remembrance or introspection, Jesus upheld, approved and even appropriated them. Let's take a look.

1) In Luke 4 we find Jesus worshiping in the Synagogue on the Sabbath as was his custom. When was worship in the synagogue was proscribed by God? Oh that's right, it wasn't. The synagogue was added by the Jews during the Babylonian captivity after the temple was no longer accessible. And it continued even after the Temple was rebuilt into Jesus' time. Apparently, Jesus participated in it regularly. Nowhere do we read anything about God approving or disapproving of the synagogue worship directly. And yet when God came to earth, he went to that innovative place to worship with his community.

2) In Luke 22, we read one of the accounts of Jesus taking the Passover feast in the upper room with his disciples. Here he instituted what we call the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, or Communion. He takes the cup filled with wine and makes that the symbol of his blood that is about to be shed for the forgiveness of us all. But wait, where was the fruit of the vine specified as part of the Passover feast?
Look at Exodus 12 and Numbers 9 and you will find no mention of any form of drink. The unleavened bread is specified. The Passover lamb is specified. There is dipping of hyssop in blood. But there is nothing about what to drink. Some articles I read said that in the wilderness the Jews would not have had easy access to any wine or much more than water and so early Passovers may have been taken with water as the drink. Then when they settled into the promised land and had time to grow some grapes and engage in commerce, wine would have been more available and at some point came to be used. It became part of the Jewish customs and Jesus validated it as part of the meal using it along with the bread to reshape the Jewish Passover into the Christian Communion. Not only did he validate it, he appropriated it.

3) This past Sunday, we talked about baptism. In Matthew 3, we read that John came baptizing for the forgiveness of sins and Jesus came to him to be baptized. John's innovation in baptism was that it was a 2 person affair. The baptism the Jews were used to was a solo event for the proselyte. Again, the act of immersion was added by the Jews. Nowhere do we find God proscribing this as the appropriate method for conversion to Judaism. And again, Jesus appropriated this ritual for conversion to his new community.

The heart of the matter seems to be the remembrance and the worship rather than the particular form of the rituals or the place and time of worship. The heart of the matter seems to be... the heart. As we talked about Sunday night, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Matthew 5:8 In at least these 3 cases, when the Jews brought what they had in worship to God, he approved even though everything was not just as he laid out for them.

My worship is acceptable to God, not because I get everything right, but because I have the right heart. I trust in his grace to cover me in my weakness.


I have been listening to some recordings of recent Harding University and Abilene Christian University lectures dealing with worship. I am always on the lookout for new ideas and resources for planning worship services to try to do the best job I can of leading those assembled to the throne of God. If you do much reading or listening on worship or if you have been around a while, you know that the past decade (and the ones before) has been rife with changes in worship within the religious tribe knows as churches of Christ. Worship is a hotly debated topic and the cause for many fights and splits throughout the years. I was listening to some lectures from West Virginia School of Preaching and one of them was on unity. I was in agreement with nearly all of what he said. He finished with the statement his only caveats to unity were when it came to salvation and when the worship is perverted (that's a paraphrase). At first, I wondered where Jesus had put those caveats in his prayer for unity in John 17. Then I wondered what "perverting" the worship would entail. Based on my experience and reading I can imagine a few things, but not wanting to put words in his mouth I will move on.

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