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Worship Sensitivity versus Worship Compromise


One of the books I’m working through this week is Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell. I plan to post a review of it in coming days, but wanted to share this brief reflection on how cultural sensitivity informs our worship styles.

“Sensitivity to worshipers’ capacities goes awry when concern to communicate to those in our culture tempts us to be undiscerning about the realities of our culture. Jesus and Paul were willing to challenge religious traditions in order to communicate spiritual truth, but they were not naive about their choices. They refused to be bound by conventions that would hinder the gospel, but they respected cultural norms that would enable them to keep the gospel credible and knowable. Jesus ministered to the woman at the well (which would have raised eyebrows about his message) but he did not accompany her alone to her home (which would have resulted in the rejection of his message). Paul in Athens made allusion to an unknown God, but he did not make an offering at that altar. On Mars Hill the apostle quoted pagan poetry, but he care fully chose a passage that would underscore his message and not undermine his credibility. Concern for the witness of the gospel made Jesus and Paul willing to break with some traditions and willing to honor others.

Applications of these principles are always most difficult in the present tense. How do we minister to the necessities and capacities of people in our worship today? Their necessities require our faithfulness to the gospel. Our worship must reflect the truths of the ministry of Christ revealed in his Word. As previous chapters have demonstrated, the structure of our worship and the content of our words–said, read, demonstrated, prayed, and sung–communicate the message that God’s people need. People’s ability to understand and appropriate the message depends both on the work of the Spirit in their hearts and on worship leaders’ willingness and ability to discern how to communicate in the cultural context.

Sensitivity to the cultural context does not mean automatic capitulation to cultural norms. For example, the expectation that a generation that has grown up with Power Point presentations and video marketing will want the same in worship can be quite naive. Some in this generation feel so bombarded by all this cultural “noise” that they long for a place of quiet reflection. Some persons who have experience the dead spirituality of religious formalism will long for informality that communicates authenticity. Others who feels the aimlessness of a culture without heroes, institutions, or values to respect will seek churches that “feel like” church–where faith, at least, seems secure because continuities with the past are honored through traditional songs and symbols. Some will run from churches whose anachronistic music communicates lethargy and selfishness; others will run from churches too naive to recognize their music is so “with it” that it carries secular baggage that many young people are desperate to escape.”

Chapell is clearly not advocating for one worship style over another. What he is suggesting is that we be thoughtful, biblical, and gospel centered in how we order and conduct our worship.

Categories : Books, Worship

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