Is there some kind of contradiction (or tension) between conservative worship and warm fellowship? To put it another way, if a church’s corporate worship is vertical in orientation, does the horizontal aspect necessarily suffer? If so, why is this the case?
I ask this because of personal experience, not because of any theological insight. My short sojourn on this earth and amongst churches seems to confirm what is almost certainly a generalisation: the churches that seek to be ‘God-centred’ gain the reputation of being cold in their human relationships, while the churches that emphasise a friendly atmosphere are almost invariably shallow and light-hearted in the way they speak and sing of God.
When I have visited churches known for solidly expository preaching and worship that is somewhat conservative, the interaction between members has seemed to me to be minimal or cliquish: the kind of church where visitors are quite likely to walk in and out without much more than a visitor’s card from an usher. Some conservative circles have all the personal charm of a visit to the meat locker.
On the other hand, when I have visited churches where a warmth is felt in the attitude of the people towards one another and visitors are quickly noticed and welcomed, I have all too often been disappointed with shallow and sentimental songs, unnecessary social announcements, and the inevitable howdy-time in the middle of a hymn. Here one feels inclined to give a hearty back-slap to Bob, Mike, and Jesus.
The same phenomenon occurs when a church moves in either one of these directions. When leadership seeks to increase the warmth felt in a service, there is often a corresponding loss in seriousness. Conversely, a church which heads in the conservative direction soon hears of how “it is not as loving as it used to be.” To picture it spatially, when a church stretches upward in worship, it seems to narrow in fellowship; when a church stretches outward in fellowship it seems to shallow in worship.
Granted, that is not true of all churches. I’m sure some will be quick to mention their church as the happy exception. But I’d venture to say that the exceptions seem to bear out the rule: reverent worship and intimate fellowship seem like strangers in Western evangelicalism.
Why, I ask, is this so? Why can we not have both? Why can we not have corporate worship filled with awe and reverence, with fellowship that is deep and meaningful? Why does the strength of one seem to necessitate the weakening of the other?
I don’t claim to know. I have several possible answers, not all of which I believe are true. Some I have heard from others; others I have considered from my own analysis. Here goes:
* People are not used to worship which is entirely vertical in orientation. When you structure a service like that, people begin behaving in a more individualistic way. People need a chance to connect with each other, or else they remain ‘in their shells’. We need to blend vertical and horizontal aspects of worship to have God-centred worship and warm fellowship.
* The kinds of affections that people have come to expect in modern evangelical worship services are a blend of cheeriness, fun, optimism and warmth. If those elements are present, people feel comfortable enough to reach out to others. It’s the ‘break-the-ice’ principle. If those elements are lacking, they feel the service is cold, and it affects their responses to others. Particularly affections like awe and reverence are intimidating to people, and they tend to withdraw. In other words, people have been conditioned to associate warm worship with fun feelings, and anything else feels cold, and has a chilling effect on fellowship.
* The more accessible the worship, the more expressive people will be, even in their interaction with others. Worship which is over people’s heads creates inauthenticity and makes people less willing to open up to each other. A kind of ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ fear prevails.
* Conservatives tend to be intellectuals, who can live in the rarefied air of elevated thought, while the man on the street is suffocating. Conservative churches are too ‘head-oriented’ and not ‘heart-oriented’ enough, which has a cooling effect on the affections of believers for one another.
* Conservatives are conservative in every way, including friendliness.
Those are some suggestions, some shallow, some a bit more substantial.
What do you think, and what do you suppose is part of the solution?