Sunday, March 6, 2011

Perspective on the “Worship Wars”

I teach in English a Sunday School class of international students (mostly from Korea). We have been studying together the International Sunday School Lessons prepared by the Committee on the Uniform Series (CUS), an inter-denominational group with which I worked for many years while I was at LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention). Since retirement I have done contract work with CUS.

Because of my connections with CUS, the United Methodists have invited me to write occasionally for their Uniform Series annual publication, The New International Lesson Annual. Although published by the Methodists, this publication is quite ecumenical. Of the writers for the current Annual, two are Presbyterian, one is a member of the United Church of Christ, and I am a Baptist. The editor of the Annual and writer of the teaching suggestions is the very talented Nan Duerling. Halfway through the current year, Amazon has this $18 resource available on sale for as low as $11.43. I’m plugging it here because I was the writer of the Bible exposition and application for the June-August 2011 quarter. Some of you might be interested in my lessons on Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. They could be used anytime, not just during the summer. Next year’s Annual will be available in May and is currently offered at a sizeable discount on Amazon. The next set of lessons that I have written will appear in the fall quarter of the 2012-13 Annual.

The current quarter’s theme relates to “Worshipping God,” and John Indermark, the exposition/application writer, has some excellent perspectives on the current struggles related to worship styles. In the introductory article for the quarter’s study, John focused on “The central aspect of worship is the feeling of being at one with God.” He deals forthrightly with the tensions faced in many churches over worship styles.

One phrase in the lesson for today really caught my attention. John said that the liturgy of worship “moves [us] beyond social gathering into the realm of holy encounter.” The “social gathering” is very much about us—our spiritual conditions, our interests, our experiences, our preferences, our needs. The “holy encounter” is very much about God as mystery, presence, holiness, love, compassion, teacher, corrector, redeemer. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well reminds us that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). Spirit engages the emotions and calls for spontaneity, passion, and release. Truth engages the mind and calls for order, thoughtfulness, discipline, and reflection. With all these factors in play, worship styles tend to focus of a few preferences without considering the whole scope. For some, worship is a social gathering. For others, it is a holy encounter. For some, worship is about stirring emotional feelings. For others, it is about deep or lofty thoughts. John Indermark has reminded me that worship involves movement beyond the reality of a social context in which worship is experienced toward a mysterious and sacred encounter with the Wholly Other. It involves transforming time (the Greek word chronos, which focuses on the clock hour of worship) into significant moment (the Greek word kairos, which focuses on the moment that is pregnant with potential for significant encounter and transformation).

Will your social gathering for worship today extend to a holy encounter?

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