Worship Is Aligning With Those in Need

(This is my second post for The Despised Ones synchroblog. This month’s topic is about solidarity — what does it mean to truly identify with others? Check out all of the blogs on this Facebook Page)

I’ve never been a follower of Christian Worship Music. I can’t tell you who the best new voices are. I don’t even listen to the Christian Radio station my university sponsors. My knowledge is limited to the praise choruses sung in my local congregation.

It’s not that I’m stuck on traditional hymns. It’s true that I’m 58 and remember many great hymns of the church. But I also remember some that weren’t very good and a few that were terrible.

A variety of things have gotten me thinking a lot about the assumptions involved in Contemporary Christian Worship. I’m hopeful that readers who know the history and theological foundations of the movement can help fill in gaps in my understanding.

So these are nothing more than some reflections from an evangelical sociologist of religion. But I think they point out the challenges we have achieving a sense of solidarity with those outside the church.

1. It’s curious to me that Worship has become bounded by a particular set of rituals, time commitments, and performances. This is a relatively new phenomenon (dating to the late 60s) and become normative in modern evangelicalism. We have a “time” for Worship, which is set apart from the preaching of the Word.

2. There’s a curious connection between the excessive self-focus on American society and the Worship choruses. Many of them contain phrases encouraging the people in the congregation to set themselves aside and bracket the experiences of life in order to focus exclusively on worshipping God. But the critical work is done by ME being aware that I’m giving everything up to worship.

3. In the same way, the choruses reflect an unusual tendency to focus on singular pronouns. It’s rare that a chorus is sung AS the church but as a collection of INDIVIDUALS who happen to be singing next to one another. As a result, we miss the opportunity for solidarity with fellow congregants as the exercise calls us to focus inward. This is especially annoying when the praise song is based upon a scripture verse that was written to the People of Israel or the Church in Philippi.

4. Our worship is necessarily a vertical expression of Love for God but rarely is that matched with the command Jesus said was like it, to love the neighbor as oneself. The horizontal dimension is almost never expressed.

5. As I’ve written elsewhere, there is a sense in which the subtext of our singing borders on a celebration of the fact that we have the secret decoder ring that others don’t know they’re missing. Too many of the worship songs have a tad too much triumphalism and self-reference for me to be comfortable.

6. The sermon yesterday made reference to “building a mission at the Gates of Hell”, which I have to admit came from a Christian musician years ago. As I bounced this off the first five points, it made me wonder where God’s interest was. Does God celebrate our devotional focus if it comes at the neglect of those around us?

7. I guess what I’m calling for is for worship expressions built around care for the orphan, widow, and stranger. What if our singing was about how God is redeeming all of creation and that we are mysteriously partners in that endeavor? Has anyone ever written a praise chorus around Matthew 25?

I know that many good Christians take great solace in their praise songs. It’s helped a number of folks deepen their devotional life. And as I said above, there are lots and lots of hymns and gospel songs that run afoul of my above points.

But I still wonder what would happen if our worship to God was seen as an expression of love for those at the Gates of Hell.

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