Archive for April, 2010

Triadic Worship

April 29, 2010

I have for some time meditated on Scott Aniol’s division of worship into three categories: private worship, lifestyle worship, and congregational worship (Worship in Song, p 149). Because of my baptistic alliterating tic, I’ll refer to these three as private worship, perpetual worship and public worship.

Private worship is the act of meeting God alone to pray (Mat 6:6, Mk 1:35, Ps 5:3), meditate on Scripture (Ps 63:6), and sing (Ps 13:6).

Perpetual worship is the consecration of the entire life of a believer as an offering to God (Rom 12:1-2), so that all that one does is done in love (1 Co 16:14), done in the name of the Lord and for His sake (Col 3:17, 23), and done to the glory of God (1 Co 10:31). It is the life of abiding in Christ, and growing into His image.

Public worship is when the church of God gathers at an appointed time in the name of the Lord Jesus to follow God’s New Testament prescriptions for worship (Heb 10:25, 1 Cor 14:23).

I suggest we suffer from two errors regarding this triad of worship. One is the failure to give each of these its right place relative to the others. An interesting exercise is to ask a man which of these three he believes to be primary. His answer will probably reveal much of his philosophy of the Christian life, as well as his views on sanctification. The man who views private worship as primary is probably fairly pietistic in his tradition, believing that a sincere and seeking heart on ‘praying ground’ will solve most of his problems, and equip him for perpetual and public worship. (A good response to an over-emphasis on the ‘quiet time’ can be found here.) The man who sees perpetual worship as primary tends to denigrate the importance of public worship, seeing forms as artificial or even superficial. (Another good response to that here). He will probably have a practical bent to his mind, and be impatient with what he perceives as the mysticism of those who venerate the ‘quiet time’. He is usually convinced that his worship is practised in ‘real life’, and since it occupies the greatest percentage of a man’s time, it must be the most important. The man who sees public worship as primary may be from a liturgical background or not, but he may think too little of the worship that takes place when disciples meet throughout the week to speak the Word in informal ways.

The second error is a failure to keep these three distinct. Some Christians have no place for private prayer because they “pray all the time, even in the car”. Some Christians see no point in assembling for church because they have such splendid times with God alone, and with the DVD player. Some Christians consider their church attendance as having clocked in at the worship factory, and duly clocked out an hour later, so rarely meet with God alone, or give Him a thought during the week. (A good article on the failure of Emergents to recognise the difference between perpetual worship and public worship is found here.) Such Christians see too much similarity between these to see the differences between them. For them, to practise one is to practise them all. The truth is, each of these three forms of worship is distinct from the others and yet overlaps and feeds into the others.

Public worship is fed by private worship in that the piety and zeal of individuals contributes to the whole. It is fed by perpetual worship in that the experiences of God by His people throughout the week are reported in testimony and reflected in hymnody and practical preaching. As Christians progress in sanctification during the week, they are better able to hallow His name on Sunday.

Perpetual worship is fed by public worship through its exhortation to consecration and change in the preaching, through accountability and edification from the gathered body, through an exhortation to glorify God in all things. It is fed by private worship in that such private consecration sets the tone for one’s lifestyle (particularly if the consecration occurs early in the day), soul nourishment takes place, and prayers prayed in private are answered in the milieu of life.

Private worship is fed by public worship as it teaches an ordinate approach to God, ordinate affections towards God, the responsible way of interpreting Scripture, and knowledge of hymnody the fuels the religious imagination for such times of devotion. It is fed by perpetual worship with its awareness of answered prayer, its observations of providence, and its recognition of God’s design and hand in all things.

If any of these three fails or weakens, the other two suffer. Each must be nourished, and all must be nourished simultaneously.

Nevertheless, I would suggest that corporate worship, when used rightly, is the first among equals of these three. If corporate worship is ordinate and received properly, a Christian learns volumes for his own devotion and practical consecration in life. In so many ways, worship is learnt by example, and then transferred to the private and lifestyle realm. Few are the Christians who come to a right love for God in private or in the hustle of life. You might admire those mystics, monks and ascetics, but recognise you will probably not be one. If a man misreads the Scriptures, misreading them more often in private will not help him. If a man misunderstands prayer, praying wrongly as he drives will not improve it. Corporate worship serves as the true north to reset the compass of our hearts with. There we learn again who it is with whom we have to do. The dross picked up in private or perpetual worship is purged, and we leave to attempt again to worship Him fittingly in the rest of life.

So pray for your spiritual leaders. Great and strict will be their judgement for how they taught you to worship God alone and in your lifestyle by their example and practice in public worship.

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The Character of Worship – 2

April 6, 2010

Where or what is the breeding ground for these ordinate affections?

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)

When we affirm that philosophy begins with wonder, we are affirming in effect that sentiment is anterior to reason. We do not undertake to reason about anything until we have been drawn to it by an affective interest…Reason alone fails to justify itself. Not without cause has the devil been called the prince of lawyers, and not by accident are Shakespeare’s villains good reasoners. If the disposition is wrong, reason increases maleficence; if it is right, reason orders and furthers the good…It appears, then, that culture is originally a matter of yea-saying, and thus we can understand why its most splendid flourishing stands often in proximity with the primitive phase of a people, in which there are powerful feelings of “oughtness” directed toward the world, and before the failure of nerve has begun. (Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences)

St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.  When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.  In the Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one ‘who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her. (C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man)

A culture, which is the expression of a religion, is where these sentiments are formed. Culture is a life-long classroom of developing loves, tastes, sensibilities and judgements. Most of these are caught by example and exposure, rather than through didactic lessons. Habits of feeling are developed. Likes and dislikes are formed. Judgements about value become internalised and ultimately, unquestioned. A sense of “oughtness” takes shape in a human being as he lives within a culture. This is how things are done. This is how things ought to be. This is the scale of values.

Which culture will today form these correct sentiments? Folk culture? Properly speaking, it doesn’t exist any more. High culture? It has been disconnected from education, religion and mainstream thought, and is now a badge of refinement instead of a source of refinement, though it can still be properly used by the one who knows how. Mass culture? It is a harlot; it has no scruples as to what sentiments it will shape in you, so long as you can be sold to the advertisers.

So where do we turn? T.S. Eliot said it best, “The primary channel of transmission of culture is the family: no man wholly escapes from the kind, or wholly surpasses the degree, of culture which he acquired from his early environment. It would not do to suggest that this can be the only channel of transmission: in a society of any complexity it is supplemented and continued by other conduits of tradition…But by far the most important channel of transmission of culture remains the family: and when family life fails to play its part, we must expect the culture to deteriorate.” (Notes Toward The Definition of Culture pp41-42, 1949)

When culture at large fails to develop correct sentiments, it falls to the family and the local church to do so. The responsibility of parents and pastors is to grow people with ‘chests’, people whose sentiments are shaped correctly, and who come to the Scriptures with a correct understanding of what God means by decency, reverence, joy, and seriousness.

Our problem is that even our family cultures and church cultures do not exist in a vacuum. We live our lives among the banality of modern pop culture. Our churches come from particular traditions (cultures), and remain influenced by the culture of modern evangelicals, particularly perpetuated through the media. We cannot sit down and invent a perfectly biblical culture from scratch, perfectly pure from all tradition and influence around us. I’m afraid that’s just not how it works.

To criticize the Orthodox Jews or the Amish for their extreme separatism is easy. But what we often miss is that they have recognised something: it is impossible to develop the kind of culture you want within the family and the religious institution if the barrier between those things and the wider culture, which contains things you don’t want, is completely porous. The Hassidic Jew and the Mennonite is giving it his best shot, at least grant him that. What are most evangelical Christians doing, besides bleating “we’re in the world but not of the world”? Some kind of separatism is called for, if the wider cultural atmosphere is typically hostile to ordinate affection. If we are to grow a right habit of feeling, we have to think carefully about when, where, and how we will erect walls between family and the wider culture, between church and the wider Christian world, between church and family and the mass culture around us.