Reformed Worship

500 years ago, On 31st October, a young monk challenged the status quo of the church by pinning his thoughts to the door of a church in Germany. He challenged the principles of the Roman Catholic church, in particular the practice of charging money for absolution of sins; paying for salvation.

The monk was Martin Luther, and his actions triggered what we now know as the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

500 years later and we are making the same mistakes again on, quite literally, an industrial scale. This time it is not salvation that is up for grabs for a price, but our worship; that feeling of connection with God, the ability to express our faith in creative ways, that artistic expression of eternal gratitude and recognition of who our maker is… is being sold to us.

We can purchase it for 79p a track or £9.99 for an album’s worth of blissful spiritual escapism. If we’re really desperate for a ‘worship fix’ (because of the hard week we’ve had, the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves, or just that we ‘need’ that warm fuzzy ‘worship’) we can pay out for a ticket for our favourite priests worship leaders’ concerts worship events.

In this environment, worship songs is not so much a bad description of a musical genre that shouldn’t exist as much as it has become a command: worship songs.

Musical expression, singing together, worshipping ‘in spirit and in truth’ are all fantastic and sacred acts in our individual and collective spiritual experience. But the industry that has developed around it is flawed.

To charge people to worship (in the narrowly defined way the industry has taught us to understand the very nature of that worship!) is surely wrong. To have transformed into a commodity material specifically created to facilitate worship experiences – and by definition turn those who purchase into consumers, albeit informed to a greater of lesser extent – is wrong.

Jesus had some very sturn words to say about those in his time who charged the public to worship; “you’ve turned the house of God into a den of thieves!” He threw them out. He removed their means of prohibiting people from worshipping unless they had the right currency, or the right album and the merchandise to go with it. He put an end to that system… and in the creation of this ‘worship industry’ we have merely reassembled the money-changers’ tables and sold CD’s and downloads from them instead.

What would worship look like in a re-reformation era? What would the Church’s gathered expression of worship sound like if we were free to express our worship indigenously in each local congregation instead of feeling coerced into replicating album after album? How different would our churches be if everyone brought to the table something of personal and vulnerable sacrifice instead of hiding behind bland, rehashed, boring lyrics accompanied by over produced backing tracks?

What if the record companies went the way of the indulgences salesmen of the past and worship was reclaimed, re-calibrated, refreshed and reformed. Just as the printing press was the new technology of the Protestant Reformation giving everyone the opportunity to read the Bible for themselves instead of relying on priests, what if we used the technology available to us – the internet, social media, live streaming apps – to distribute worship material across the globe for free?

It’s not about which mountain, it’s not about which record label or which singer, it’s not about the songs or the currency: A time is coming, and has now come when the true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth.

Reformation.

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Limited Balance

“As worship leaders, how do you balance between allowing the spirit to lead, while maintaining a structure during a service?”

This tweet frustrated me.

The theology of worship implicit in this soundbite is thinly veiled; Spirit led worship is always spontaneous, chaotic and surprising. Spirit led worship is when we abandon the carefully prepared setlist and ad-lib, because the Spirit told us to, til our hearts have had their fill of the warm fuzzy confusion.

To imply that carefully prepared and planned worship cannot by definition be Spirit-led because it is essentially too planned and structured seems to be missing the point somewhat. The suggestion from such a theology is that the Holy Spirit is temperamental unpredictableness, totally unprepared, intent on causing chaos and happy to disregard any plans we may have spent time working on. However, this doesn’t sound like God the Holy Spirit I see working in the Bible; the God Spirit who, in Creation, brought order and structure out of shapeless chaos; the Spirit who, at Pentecost, systematically included and engaged everyone present in taking the message of Christ to the masses; the Spirit who empowers and partners with human beings to build the kingdom of God in any number of creative ways.

So, my response to the aforementioned tweet was “Does the Spirit not inspire the writing of songs, prayers and the order of service? Does he not partner with us?” and in terms of our worship being Spirit-led “He leads our worship long before the service starts and more than just the spontaneous bits we give him credit for!”

If we truly sit down and prayerfully plan our worship times, using material that has been inspired and crafted with the Spirit’s inspiration and guidance, and if we lead with sensitivity and a desire to see people encounter God together (whatever that may look like at any given occasion or setting) then the whole process is Spirit-led and therefore the outcome cannot be anything but Spirit-led.