WORSHIP WARS AND A POSTMODERN CULTURE

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WORSHIP WARS AND A POSTMODERN CULTURE
"If small group ministries are the most fundamental paradigm shift in the history of North
American Christianity, the shift in the style of worship is the most obvious and divisive. This
divisiveness is over the style of worship rather than doctrine or theology." (William Easun,
Dancing With Dinosaurs: Ministry in a Hostile and Hurting World (Abingdon, 1993):81.)
Paradigm Churches grow out of the culture of the area. The style and form is comfortable to
those attending worship from the non-Christian world. (See Elmer Towns, Ten of Today's
Most Innovative Churches (Ventura, CA: Regal Press, 1990):60)
The worship wars are present in every church type from Pentecostals, Episcopal, Baptist,
Lutheran, and United Methodist and all the non-interdenominational churches. The small
groups mode derives from Cho of South Korea. Small group emphasis is not new with Cho
but he is the guru who has invaded the searching Western church, via American Church
Growth scholars. . This is the largest church in the world. (See, The Baby Boomerang:
Catching Baby Boomers As They Return to Church (Ventura: Regal, 1990): 189). See the
radical change in Roman Catholic liturgy after Vatican II. This ingression of a new
generation is principally made of those attracted by "New Worship Styles", not theology!! An
example of lack of concern for theology is the United Methodist Church who are returning to
the Constantinian practice of mass baptism, i.e., "baptized infants" are to be considered
members of the Church. This recent development exposes the lack of concern of personal
experience for Church membership among the generations after World War II (William M.
Eccum, How to Reach Baby Boomers (Abingdon Press, 1991), see especially J. Menking,
Preparing for The Future: A Report—Generation X: Perkins School of Theology (Dallas,
TX) 75275, June, 1996).
Zwingli eliminated all music from his services and Calvin tried to do the same. When the
Genevan reformer finally admitted music to worship, it was limited to metrical psalms, sung
in unison with the congregation. Cromwell's Puritans eradicated choral and instrumental
music, all written liturgy and all worship symbolism. The Reformed influence created an
aesthetic poverty for centuries!
On the American Frontier (ca. 1800's), the camp meeting revival broke out in the frontier
culture of Bourbon County Kentucky. "Brush Arbor" meetings were characterized by highly
emotional verbal and physical expressions which resemble modem postmodern charismatic
worship or animistic narcotic induced chaos! e.g.. narcotic use by the Counter Culture of the
1960's and present peyote use among some Native Americans. This music was simplistic,
highly repetitive, often improvised, foreshadowing postmodern "praise chorus." This cultural
music influence lost interest in the theologically-rich hymns of Isaac Watts and Charles
Wesley. By the time these influences reach American churches there will be a new paradigm
in Church music. (Note the controversy with the Restoration Heritage over styles of music
and biblical authority.) The Camp Meeting movement was part of a long succession of
revival phenomena which culminated in the Second Awakening under Charles Finney and
the missions of Dwight L. Moody by the end of the 19th century. The camp meeting spiritual
became the model for the composing of Sunday School songs and later Gospel songs, which
dominated much evangelical life for 150 years. The new song structure were adjuncts of
"evangelistic preaching."
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There is a pluralism of postmodern liturgical changes "impacting Church worship services."
The South has been dominated by "revivalistic worship" services. The Sunday worship
service was largely a time for evangelism to the unsaved or to recruit Church members, the
foundational features of this style of service consists of an exciting and captivating period of
music and witness, directed by attractive and gifted musicians and service leader teams. The
radical paradigmatic revolution which has precipitated consumerism in the Household of
God. The Worship Wars derives its format from media, MTV, From Audibility to Visibility
(e.g.. Amusing Ourselves to Death—cultural shift from audibility to visibility.) Now in some
mega churches there is a one hundred member choir, a full orchestra and several soloists,
who seek to express today's media and concert stars. Many mega churches have services for
the "Seeker", perhaps an Olympic sized swimming pool and adjoining saunas and a full
schedule of athletic and social services for all age groups. Church gurus have cloned
postmodern preachers into response to our "consumer culture" in which people are going to
make choices. This phenomena often appears to be a "theological cafeteria" and "Christian
shoppers' mall.!" You select what you want—where your needs will be met, even though the
costs may be considerable, at best, much within the postmodern model of worship is preevangelism entertainment followed by a evangelistic sermon. The bigger platform filled with
musicians, only makes it seem to be more of a professional performance, and the enormous
crowd, often surrounded by totally inadequate acoustics, finds little encouragement to accept
Christ or join the Church, join in singing of the classical hymns. It's Show Time.
The worship team of the mega church plan programs to attract the unchurched, with
performances that are as professionally executed and emotionally stimulating as those of
secular show business. Often, too often, these theatrical productions are competing with the
sense-bombarding decibels of pop music. The former editor of Eternity Magazine. Kenneth
A. Myers, has written a useful book entitled. All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes. He
contends the postmodern evangelicalism has identified itself rather completely with today's
popular culture, a culture of diversion whose two symbols are rock music and television, a
culture which is characterized by a quest for novelty [creativity and imagination] and desire
for instant gratification. Both 0. Guiness and D. Wells are persona non grata for proposing
these same critiques in the evangelical churches, (eg. Worship Wars and a Pluralism of
Models!)
SEEKERS' MODEL
The Willow Creek Church in suburban Chicago is very effective as genuine evangelism on
Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. Their services are not announced as worship, only as
opportunities for seekers to hear about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The "Seeker" is often
turned off by traditional Church services because "it is constantly asking for money" or
because "the worship forms are meaningless" or because "the preaching is not related to life."
They are not expected to give money, dress in special Sunday clothes or to sing. The setting
is an auditorium with a stage. The pre-sermon performance is professional quality activity by
a large orchestra and excellent singers who are at home in multiple styles of music, and
dramatic presentations to "set up" the sermon by showing its relationship to real life
situations. The sermon is a non-emotional, not highly biblical or theological, but carefully
reasoned, which sets forth the relevance of the Christian faith to postmodern life experience,
e.g.. there are those of us who deny that you can market Jesus to the Seeker Friendly
audience.
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Willow Creek services (Saturday and Sunday) are not for mature believers. This demographic
group is focused on Wednesday and Thursday evening services and in small cell groups
organized for all those who are members of the Church. The design is commendable but the
larger services (ca. 15,000) are really made up of Church people, not unchurched Harry and
Mary. This group might be hiding from maturity and discipleship in the anonymity of a larger
crowd. Perhaps they are identifying entertainment with a profound Christ-centered
experience of true worship.
To be sure, true worship experience is simply necessarily the experience of much smaller
churches. In my contact with the Willow Creek congregation the constant threat that
postmodern multicultural dynamics—imaging, consumerism, and therapeutic mode—might
dominate the worship service. Who is the center of worship—man or God? Perhaps people,
rather than God, are at the center of even the Seeker service. One of the main criticism this
author has of the Willow Creek group is expressed in an encounter between Bill Hybels and
Peter Jennings on ABC television. Jennings, who is not a Christian, asked Hybels why there
was no cross in the auditorium. Hybels replied that the leadership decided not to have a cross
at the center of the theater because it might offend some one. I am sure that is true! The cross
of Christ has always been offensive. "It is foolish, a stumbling block, or the source of
salvation from sin and death." (I Corinthians 1.1 Iff) Strange that in the great cathedrals of
large cities, such as Chicago and New York, hundreds come every day to look and pray and
the cross is at the center there. There isn't even a cross for the Thursday and Friday worship
services. There is also no property is a gathering place for those who believe in Jesus Christ
as Lord. Even architecture reveals theology or the absence of it. This represents an effort to
preach an inoffensive gospel to the Seeker Sensitive—Generation Xers. There should be a
warning sign—This is not a worship service." Biblically, believers gather to worship and
leave to serve.
PRAISE AND WORSHIP MUSIC
For this group, worship occurs only in a transcendent, often glossolalic experience in which
the true believer enters a spiritual "Holy of Holies" in God's very presence. Worship is an
ecstatic experience through the "Holy Place." Here the worshipers sing only songs of praise.
The leader is crucial. He is backed up by singers and a stage band with lots of percussion
instruments which leads from chorus to chorus according to a well planned, but seemingly,
spontaneous progression which encourages the audience to "abandon themselves to the
Spirit" in singing and clapping. If this appears to be emotional manipulation this group would
say that "manipulation is a fact of life." "Manipulation to freedom" in worship is a worthy
goal. (See John Killinger, Leave It To The Spirit (NY: Harper and Row, 1971), 75-76). The
exciting songs of pure praise give way to the hush of awe. This condition precipitates
speaking and singing in tongues, in interpretation or prophecy (e.g.. Hebrews 13.15,
"sacrifice of praise" II Chronicles 5.11-14). The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic
Movements lists "praise" as one of the most unique emphasis of this trans-denominational
movement.
THE CHARISMATIC MODEL OF WORSHIP
This emphasis is one dimension of the previously mentioned model. This group truly believes
that a spiritual springtime has already arrived. Without question, these glossalalic
evangelicals have developed a fall practice of worship within their own theology and
scriptural exegesis. This group and the Pentecostals have a good evangelistic track record.
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One of their own representatives, Graham Kendrick, has written a book. Learning to Worship
(Minneapolis:Bethany House Publication, 1984) and is a good place to start a study of this
model. Many of the emphasis of this group are significant but the extreme significance is
exposed in the Praise and Worship Music. Is there a New Testament norm for worship in our
postmodern culture?
Charismatics use Old Testament images in developing a worship rationale. They all but
ignore the New Testament. (Ephesians 5.19; Colossians 3.16) Spiritual songs in the New
Testament are not the unique expression of glossalalic singing. An early Christian hymn is
found in I Timothy 3.16, It was not only practical for Martin Luther and Charles Wesley to
expect that worship music should teach Christian doctrine, but it was also biblical. Does
overhead screen projection of postmodern church music center the congregation's attention
on God? Perhaps! The overhead screen does not contain any music notation, so the music
must be very simple; also the worshipers cannot sing harmony parts from a screen, only the
melody. This lack may or may not be essential to Christian worship.
God is "doing a new thing" in the last days (Joel 2.28) so we must do new things. Postmodern
Church musicology will not produce any "classics." The heart of Christian worship is our
historic faith, because our God is a God of history. New Church music might express the
postmodern revisionist view of history, i.e., always searching for relevance, not necessarily
True Truth. In fact, there is no True Truth! The search for relevance is person centered—not
God centered. The scriptures begin with God and ends with God. All in between is God
solving the human condition of sin. The charismatics claim that God is doing a new thing in
these "last days" and that this renewal must not be compromised by "old methods" and
"forms" including classical hymns. In postmodern worship styles even projected
transparencies which have been used for a period will be replaced by a new set. God is a God
of history, not merely the postmodern revisionist epoch.
Since the call for change is a universal passion, it seems reasonably safe to assume that
change is needed. But on what biblical, historical, theological basis should these changes be
made? What is the source for the agenda for change? Scripture or Culture or Both? Shall we
simply copy those techniques that seem to be popular in other churches and media?
Postmodern evangelicals, as well as mainline churches, are convinced that the Churches need
a "celebration experience" mode of worship. Pentecostal "praise singing" need not lead us
into their "Holy of Holies" because they fall short of the Pauline norm of worship song. The
question most often asked is not "should we have more Scripture reading, more prayer in
worship?" Rather the goal seems to be merely to add some emotional stimulation to their
received "worship outline" - a format based on the use of controlled informality and sensory
expression that often results in "emotion for emotion's sake."
Since the Willow Creek Church announced that worship for believers occurred on
Wednesday and Thursday nights, many of us who have visited such a service, noted that
there are probably four thousand people present, mostly between the ages of twenty-five to
fifty. Many folk participated fully, but many were "luke warm" and some were pure
spectators. The service was 100 minutes long with half of it given to song, both
congregational and solo and choral, and the second half given to a teaching sermon. The
sermon contained typical evangelical theology (see the article in the Springfield, IL Journal
Register. June 15,1992—"Churches of all denominations are developing new strategies in an
attempt to bring in more members." "Marketing That Works", pp. 22-23). The setting of the
service is a stage which is darkened, so there was little sense of community. There was no
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"dress-up" for a celebration, except the people involvement was minimal. I did not see the
Bible visibly. The music was all praise choruses, which progressively gained momentum,
everybody was on their feet, often clapping and dancing more than singing. After each song,
there was much clapping, whistling and yelling. There were no hymnals, no organ, no call to
worship, no benediction. As the service opened, the curtain rose on a full colorful stage; at
the close there was applause for the speaker and Exit, nothing more.
One would be hard put to find any sense of awe, transcendence or mystery, unless you found
it in the sense-storming sound and religious jazzercising. There is 50 minutes of praise, with
50 minutes of preaching with no necessary connection between the two. Genuine emotional
expression is a misty factor, but emotional expression for emotion's sake leads to "praising
praise" and "worshipping worship." Kenneth Myers suggests that evangelicalism may have
contributed more to the problem we have discussed than to its solution.
WORSHIP FOR THOSE WHO WATCH MTV
"Church leaders need to ask to what extent the cultural sensibilities associated with the
Church reflects the objective concerns of Christian truth and to what extent they reflect the
subjective standards of the spirit of the age. Christians within the evangelical tradition have
some special challenges because of evangelicalism's loose definition. Some historians and
sociologists have identified evangelicalism as a community of orthodoxy, of concern for right
belief. But there are so many doctrines on which self proclamation evangelicals disagree that
one must ask whether or not postmodern evangelicalism is better defined as a community of
orthopathos or concern for "right feeling." We disagree on the nature, source and extent of
salvation, on the meaning of the sacraments, on the nature of revelation, on the nature of The
Church's authority and structure, on the work of the Holy Spirit, and on eschatology. (Myers,
p. 186) Note the same radical influence within our Restoration Heritage of resurgent
Calvinism and open membership. In short, evangelicals seem to have more consensus
concerning the sentimental trappings than they do defining the faith. What distinguishes
evangelicalism as a subculture or movement is a certain feeling about faith.
"If the movement known as evangelicalism promotes a culture of sentiment rather than
culture of reasoned reflection, it is not surprising that popular culture has been as dominate
within evangelical circles as in the society at large." (Myers, ibid) Those shaped by MTV
cannot listen to reasoned defense of the classical Christian faith—so??? - how are they to be
attracted to Christian faith and worship?
Is it possible that all the conflict surrounding postmodern worship style signals a true spiritual
springtime in the Church? This new mode of worship of style seems to be a long-term and
widespread movement. The celebration idea began in the whole church about 1960, about the
time of the counter culture and the revolt of Generation X (see my paper "The Counter
Culture and the Youth Culture"). An example of the worship revolution is Geoffrey
Beaumont's 20th century movie. Folk Mass in The Anglican Church. The idea propounded at
that time was that worship should be more than correct and proper; it should also be pastoral.
At about the same time in history, praise choruses appeared, a contribution of the charismatic
Renewal Movement. The great challenge within this emphasis is that the Church needed
renewal but it must not lose its biblical memory in the process. How these factors are to be
fused lies at he heart of The Worship Wars! Is it possible to utilize postmodern approaches to
worship and be guided by the Holy Spirit and fully biblical in the public worship witness?
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The MTV influence has lessened the literacy of modern worshipers but it has opened their
eyes to the significance of visual symbols of worship—architecture, furnishings, banners,
drama and physical movement. The reasoned objection to archaic and obtuse language in
older hymns has often been met by judicious alterations of texts and by newer hymns and
choruses in postmodern language.
But even charismatic and pentecostal song writers like Graham Kenfrick and Jack Hayford
have proven that more complete, more theological musical expressions of Christian truth are
still welcome in their services. Our postmodern MTV culture has become increasingly
unmusical, due in part to the cult of spectatorism in pop culture and in part to the loss of
music training in public schools. Perhaps Church music leaders are better trained than ever
before but they are faced with the shaping force of MTV audiences.
The quality of local Church worship renewal must be founded on a study of the Scriptural
basis. The theology and the historical practices of worship that is at least as thorough as that
undertaken by both the liturgical communities and the Charismatics (Terry Law, The Power
if Praise and Worship (Tulsa: Victor House) pp. 143-158; Stanley and Burgess and Gary
McGee, eds.. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Zondervan, 1988). p.
156) Only when the full Church worships in "spirit and truth" will there be revival adequate
to encounter our post-modem culture, resurgent New Age Pantheism and non-Christian
religions. When they enter to worship and depart to serve, then will a true worship, witness
renewal occur. What a challenge is our MTV audience! What an opportunity!! A positive
response to our post-modem worship wars would entail a rediscovery of a servant model in
our consumer-needs-mode culture (read Philippians in light of Worship Wars).
Dr. James D. Srauss
Professor Emeritus
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, IL 62656-2 111
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