19 May 2008

Two perspectives on worship

Tonight I heard two comments that jumped out at me, made at different points in a very broad conversation, by two people who probably don't disagree with each other. But they articulate two very different notions of worship.
  1. "[In talking about questions of worship and being a welcoming church], we need to start with theology, not sociology. We are called to be a worshiping community that reflects the fullness of the kingdom of God. From that starting point, you get a very different set of questions."
  2. "We don't come to church to be told that we're sinners and that we're damned if we don't change. We come to be intellectually uplifted."
Now, it's fair to say I was excited by the first comment and the second one made me squirm. The second one is, I think, reflective of the theological openness that prevails here. It's something that people value very highly, and even though everything in me wants to jump up and say, "But we are sinners!" I have only been here eight days and I'm going to tread lightly. More on that subject at another time.

The comment about theology vs. sociology occurred first, and came in response to the sorts of questions I referenced in my post last week: "What kinds of music will appeal to people who live closer to the church?" "Will people leave the congregation if the choir sings fewer traditional choral pieces?" They were aesthetic questions. Twenty minutes later came the second statement, which dealt not with the form of worship but with the content of the proclamation. Yet this is still, at its root, a sociological statement. As long as you preach a word that invites people into an open-ended spiritual journey, rather than delivering the sometimes unpleasant but non-negotiable truth, you will attract congregants who presume that each person is entitled to his or her own unmolested opinions, but you will repel people who think any other way. You'll end up with a sanctuary full of liberal thinkers, which might imperil the Gospel every bit as much as other types of homogeneity do.

I didn't mean to dwell so long on the second of these statements. I really like this parish and I know I will learn a lot from the people here -- and their openness is part of their genuine desire to practice hospitality as faithful disciples. I think the key insight I gained tonight is that we must think of that kind of openness just like we need to think about music or liturgy: in terms of its theological warrants, not in terms of its resonance with a particular audience.

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