“God is much bigger than… your style [of worship] or mine.”
I guess King David worshipped incorrectly then. You know, the whole leaping and dancing and shouts of joy thing? Totally got it wrong. Tambourines? Lyres? If you know anything of Israeli culture, liturgical worship was not the norm until much later.
King David’s ecstatic dancing before the Lord, etc., was essentially a private act. He did not immediately command that it be used to change the norm of worship in the Tabernacle, nor did one see it represented in the liturgy of the Temple built by Solomon.
Liturgical worship, instituted by God, was indeed the norm in Judaism (a quick review of Leviticus will reveal that). It’s true that musical instruments were used throughout much of the OT period, but by the time of the Apostles, Christians raised the bar and said that only the human voice was truly worthy of use in worship. Many things were elevated with the advent of Christ, also including, for instance, morality (e.g., adultery isn’t only actual intercourse, but even thinking about it lustfully).
And yet, while some argue the correctness of liturgical vs. modern, people are dying. Anything that turns my thoughts towards God’s sovereignty and holiness and draws me to Him is worship.
And my response:
Is it really? I would certainly think that anything that draws thoughts toward God is good, but that doesn’t make it worship. Worship actually has an objective meaning in both Jewish and Christian tradition—one primarily centered on human sanctification through identification with a sacrifice (in Judaism, repeated sacrifices, but in Christianity, with the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ).
There is a difference between good thoughts, praise, etc., and worship. To worship God is to be united to Him through the sanctification from sacrifice. In Judaism, sacrificed/sanctified blood was sprinkled on worshipers, while in the Church, worshipers partake of the sanctifying Body and Blood of Christ.
Addressing the bigger picture, another poster added this further up in the thread:
Since God made music, I can imagine wonderful worship with African drums, Chinese erhus, European pipe organs, and all sorts of things from electric guitar to accordians and tubas. I also think He enjoys the chanting and responsive worship just as much. Fortunately, God is much bigger than your culture or mine, your style or mine. Why must we denigrate others’ style of worship? Let us instead celebrate the kaleidoscope of God’s people, as we worship the King of Kings.
The sentiment behind that comment is of course laudable (God is “big”), but there are many assumptions there that make its conclusions problematic. Here’s my response:
Historically, Christian worship, although in some ways shaped by human culture (Christian liturgical worship is actually a rather vast “kaleidoscope”), is not actually a product of human culture. That phenomenon doesn’t happen until the radical break made from liturgical worship by the revivalist traditions of Protestantism. Rather, liturgical Christian worship is something actually given by Christ to the Apostles (the reason He appeared to James, as mentioned by St. Paul, giving us the earliest version of the Liturgy of St. James). The Apostles passed on liturgical worship to their disciples, who in turn passed it on to the next generation, and so on. Thus, we have a form of worship that was actually practiced by the Apostles themselves, who were given the authority to govern the Church by the God-man Jesus Christ.
Centuries later, a relatively small proportion of Christians decide to break with nearly two millennia of unbroken liturgical worship history and make up something almost entirely new. How is that actually warranted either in the Scripture or in subsequent Christian history?
The question really is not “denigration,” but rather a serious engagement with what is right. Our personal opinions, preferences and tastes are not really that important. What is important is that we are joined to what Christ gave the Apostles.
I myself was raised in churches where “contemporary” music was the norm, but in reading Christian history, I discovered that that was an aberration, that the Apostles and their disciples worshiped liturgically with a worship life centered on the Eucharist, not on sermons (though of course they had them, but not at the center). And once I learned that, I realized that I could not remain in what is, historically speaking, a deviation from the norm that Christ Himself set.
Yes, God is bigger than any kind of worship that we can concoct, but we are not bigger than the worship He Himself has given.
The Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick is pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, author of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (Conciliar Press, 2011), and host of the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and Roads from Emmaus podcasts.