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Entries in don sweeting (5)


Worship Ignites a Passion for Justice

Don Sweeting has a great post on the relationship between worship and justice--a connection made by the Old Testament prophets, to which American evangelical Christianity seems to be re-awakening. 

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The Ancient Greeks Meet Worship Today: The Split of Head and Heart

My former colleague and now President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Don Sweeting, is married to a Greek woman.  Frequently, he would share stories about how his in-laws were quick to point out all the benefits we modern Westerners enjoy because of the Greeks (not unlike the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding).  And they’re right.  We owe a lot to the Greeks.  So much of modern civilization—everything from philosophy to science to engineering—is built on the backs of the mighty ancients of the Aegean. 

However, no culture is perfect.  And I do believe that when we worship leaders struggle with either seeing our theologically-minded worship become more passionately expressive or our exuberant worship become more grounded in the intellect, we have the Greeks to blame, in part.  For from the Greeks, we stepped away a bit from that ancient Hebrew notion of the wholeness of the self.  Greek philosophy gave us important reflections on (and perhaps opened up for philosophy) the classic “mind-body problem”—the mystery of how the immaterial and the material self intersect.  And, to be fair, it’s not just a Greek thing.  The Scriptures clearly indicate that God created humanity body and soul, material and immaterial.  It seems, though, that Greek thought and culture exploited this dichotomy, even in some instances to the point of excess and heresy like Gnosticism, which advocated (interestingly similar to Buddhist thought) that the material was essentially evil and that the immaterial was essentially good. 

Such thought had its effect on church music, as well, such that exciting “the heart” or “the passions” was something that the early church wrestled with allowing as it sought to find musical expression in worship (Calvin Stapert’s A New Song for an Old World and Jeremy Begbie’s Resounding Truth help explain some of this).  Ultimately, exciting the passions was suspect, whereas worship was a more “spiritual” enterprise, perhaps best disconnected from outward, physical expression.  Even reformer John Calvin, as a student and admirer of Aristotle, rehearsed some of these concerns as he sought to re-shape worship in the Reformational churches.  The church, therefore, has always had various versions of the head-versus-heart debate percolating in our worship psyche. 

Today, in many churches, the struggle is with whether our worship is too “heady” and “intellectual” or too “emotional” and “expressive.”  It is interesting to talk to folks from various worship traditions that swing one way or the other, because often times, when they speak of worship, they articulate values associated with one or the other, often to the denigration of the other side.  I talk to people from charismatic traditions who might step into a worship context like mine and find it incredibly “stifling” or devoid of “true worship.”  I might also talk to folks from high liturgical traditions who would join our service only to be surprised by the emotionalism and feel as though it’s a step down from the type of worship which pleases God.

But we are whole individuals.  And a necessary derivative of this “shalom”-focused anthropology is that we are meant to worship with the totality of our selves.  That means that my spirit is engaged as well as my body.  My head is engaged as well as my heart.  What I’m feeling on the inside should show up on my face and in my posture.  If I raise my hands, it’s because my heart is being truly lifted up to God.  (Psalm 95 is a great Scriptural one-stop shop which reflects this balance well.)

When I talk to individuals who tell me that they “worship from the heart” and that is why one does not see much visible recognition of what is happening in their interior, I wonder whether the negative excess of Greek dichotomy is rearing its ugly head once again (and again, it’s the excess which has erred, not the dichotomist thought itself, which is entirely biblical).  I wonder whether it is not a diluted form of Gnostic anthropology—God likes the inside, and that’s all that matters.  I certainly wouldn’t want to press this too far, but I do believe that we in the West have inherited some of the polarization of the material and immaterial from our Greek cultural ancestors.


The Higher the Liturgy, the More Scripture is Heard

Yesterday's post, "The Higher the Liturgy, the Lower the Preaching" was made as a generalization based on D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' observations of England 40 years ago and of mine in the present.  Dissenting commenters made a good point, however...which I don't believe is in contradiction with yesterday's observation.  Their comments can be summarized in an experience relayed to me by Don Sweeting--former pastoral mentor and colleague, and now President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.

Don took a much needed sabbatical in 2009, and in his months off he attended a wide variety of churches in the Denver Metro area--Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Evangelical, etc.  He came away from his experiences with this stunning observation: He heard more reading of Scripture in the Catholic service than he did in the Evangelical worship service.  More generally, the churches whose worship was characterized by a higher liturgy always had more Scripture read, prayed, and sung than in the low-church evangelical environments.  Furthermore, as a friend pointed out yesterday, even the "non-Scriptural" readings (e.g. prayers or responsive readings), are filled with Scripture quotation, Scripture allusion, or language and ideas that are obviously bathed in the words of the "hallowed page." 

Contrast this with the typical evangelical low-church liturgy: a block of songs, announcements, the offering, the sermon, and a closing song.  Apart from the worship leader pausing in the middle of the song set to read a passage of Scripture, or apart from the songs themselves containing Scriptural statements or quotations, there's not much room for Scripture reading without some subversive, creative liturgy-bending.  Thankfully, more and more evangelical churches are seeing this.  The reality remains, however, that one can attend an evangelical church service and they may very well hear very little Scripture read.  

As Don pointed out in his comparison of his Catholic and evangelical experiences, there is a huge historical irony in all of this.  It was the proto-evangelicals (the Protestants) who criticized the de-valuing of the Scriptures by the Catholics during the time of the Reformation.  And here we are, 400 years later, struggling with fluffy preaching and straining to fit Scripture into our sacred "worship experience."  Meanwhile, our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters faithfully walk through their lectionary, receiving a steady diet of the whole counsel of God. 

This should make us appreciate the merits of high liturgy.  It is bathed in and allows space for Scripture to speak in multi-faceted ways.  Personally, I am on a quest to prove that one can infuse high church elements into low church liturgy without sacrificing what many people prize about "modern worship"--flow, continuity, passion, etc.  I don't know that I've achieved my goal, but far be it from us to think that Scripture reading falls in the category of a mere "high church element."  Scripture reading is a transcendent category all to itself.  I don't just want to hear Scripture reading prior to the sermon.  I want to hear God's voice at the start, calling me into worship.  I want to hear His voice at the end, blessing me and sending me forth.  And I want to hear Him in the middle, sustaining my weak mind and feeble spirit. 

My dissenters said yesterday that high liturgy doesn't necessitate a devaluing of preaching, and I agree.  But the generalization still holds true: high liturgy can tend toward lower emphasis on preaching.  By the same token, lower liturgy can tend toward devaluing the raw power of Scripture reading.  And these are claims made based on existential observation, as opposed to philosophical investigation of the foundations of either liturgical expression.


Two Styles Don't Have to Mean Two Churches within a Church

Don Sweeting has recently left our church to become President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.  On his way out, he has given some valuable reflections on how God shaped worship at our church during his tenure.  You can read his whole post, but here are some highlights:

In my current pastorate we have multiple services and mulitiple styles.  Our mission calls us to more than one direction stylistically...For our main services, currently we have what we call a classical service and a convergent service...

How does this work?  I’ll warn you that there are many pitfalls to doing this well.  Early on some said that two different services would divide the church.  But the truth is that even when you have two services that are stylistically the same, they still come out somewhat differently and can “divide” the church.

Here’s how it works.  A pastor directed philosophy of worship as well as the common ministry of Word and sacrament hold these services together.  There is an overriding vision with overriding values rooted in the Word and the gospel that drives everything.  A desire to be both rooted and relevant give us the ability to connect with people yet stay grounded.  Our music leaders are also cross trained team players.   They truly appreciate each other and help each other.  There is no elitism, but a servant heartedness that keeps them on the same page.

Is this always easy?  No.  Is it hard to find such people?  Yes.  But can it be done and used by God in a powerful way?  Absolutely.  In fact, such teamwork is a demonstration of the gospel itself.   Because we all know how easy it is for stylistic preference to divide the church.  But think of it.  If our music and worship leaders with all their diverse gifting can get along and serve each other, to the end of fulfilling Christ’s mission for the church, then it powerfully commends the reconciling power of Jesus who calls us not to just look out for our own interests, but also the interests of others.  When that happens, the gospel goes forward with new credibility and power.

If you're interested in how we at Cherry Creek unpack the what's and why's of having two services, check out my article: "Two Services: Why?"


Worship Leaders & Pastors: No Whining During Holy Week

Last night, after our Maundy Thursday Family Service, when almost everyone was gone, I noticed that the light in our Senior Pastor's office was on.  Don Sweeting will be leaving us in a few short weeks for a new call as President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, and I dearly love the man, so it was a peaceful opportunity to let him know how much I appreciate him and will miss him.  Of course, Don and I have never been prone to brief conversations because we're always rabbit trailing into discussions on theology, worship, and philosophy of ministry.  Don mentioned something that resonated with me.  He said something to the effect of, "Pastors that complain about the extra work load during Holy Week and Easter don't realize what a blessing we have."

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