Monthly Archives: May 2009

Class Wars: from without


Growing up I went to a good catholic primary school for grades 4 and 5. Walking to school we would often throw taunts, both physical and verbal, at the school bus carrying the ‘public’ school kids as it passed us by. Needless to say the kids on the bus would return the heckling with equal vigour to our own. Being no older than 9 or 10 years of age, I knew nothing of the public school system verses the ‘private’ catholic system, but what I did know, in my infantile wisdom, was that the kids on that bus were different; after all they wore a different uniform. Imagine the shock to my young system when my parents announced that my final year of primary schooling would be conducted in the public school system. Even worse…the same school that was serviced by the bus which I had gestured towards for two whole years would be my school for grade 6. To my surprise the kids at Lismore Public where no different to the kids at St Carthages Catholic.

Much of my adolescent spiritual formation took place in the Pentecostal traditions. I was baptised in a Pentecostal church and my first experiences of being in a worship team were within the Pentecostal church. Whilst I can’t recall a specific sermon or nominate any particular preacher, I grew up with a sense that we, as Pentecostals, were better than our Evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ. It could be argued however, that my innate sense of superiority was weaved into the very fabric of my cultural surroundings (Russell, 1997). How I came to harbour such vain thoughts is, perhaps, redundant, nevertheless I carried this spiritual vanity into my early twenties where I actively participated in a number of worship teams.

One area that my spiritual vanity found a ready platform was in my role as a singer. Pentecostal singers not only sang better; we worshipped better because we were spiritually more ‘mature’ (superior) than our evangelical counterparts. It was not only observable in the quality of our ‘performance’ but in the visual expression of our worship – lifting of hands; kneeling; jumping and clapping. The ‘Evangelicals’ didn’t do any of this (so I thought) and therefore we were more advanced in the evolution of worship. Similar to the joust between kids in the ‘public versus private’ war; equal derision, and therefore responsibility, is harboured by both sides. Sure, Pentecostals might think they have explored the range of available physical worship expressions, thus elevating their spiritual status, but Evangelicals are equal to the task of prejudice by levelling accusation of theological impropriety and misplaced self orientation squarely (and often incorrectly) at the actions of the Pentecostals.

A ‘class war’ does exist between Pentecostal and Evangelical singers. Is it fuelled by the larger ‘worship wars’ (Parrett, 2005) which take in the debate of ‘Hymns versus Chorus’ and ‘appropriate presentational styles’? (Carson, 2002; Warren, 1995) Probably! Regardless, it is an area that is very difficult to address given its ‘unstated nature’. Most worship team members, young and old, are aware (and regularly reminded) of ego and its disparaging qualities for a worship team member (Gilley, 2005; Rowbotham, 2008), but no one ever commented on my sense of spiritual superiority towards other expressions of the Christian faith. I now wish someone had.

References:
Carson, D. A. (Ed.). (2002). Worship by the Book. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Gilley, G. (2005). This Little Church Went to Market: Is the Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling Out? (2 ed.). Webster, NY: Evangelical Press.
Parrett, G. A. (2005). 9.5 THESES ON WORSHIP. Christianity Today, 49(2), 38-42.
Rowbotham, J. (2008, March 22-23). Happy Clappers. The Weekend Australian, pp. 4-5,
Russell, J. (1997). A “Place” for Every Voice: The Role of Culture in the Development of Singing Expertise. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 31(4), 95-109.
Warren, R. (1995). The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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Worship…what is it?


Worship, in the Christian traditions, has taken on many forms and expressions…but what is it? Bob Roglein, in his book, “Experiential Worship”, makes an excellent point, “Ultimately it doesn’t matter what we are saying or doing in worship if we don’t know what it means” (Rognlien, 2005, p. 88). This is true, when we consider that ‘who we worship’ is foundational to ‘how we worship’.

The editor of “Worship Leader Magazine”, Chuck Fromm applies the working definition of worship across our diverse expressions thus,

It is the opinion of Worship Leader magazine that the centre of worship communities is the preaching of the Scripture, which in partnership with the Holy Spirit of God, becomes the Word. From this central act of worship, a community is formed and constantly reformed. Music serves the reading and preaching of Scripture and ultimately the responsive process, but it is not the main thing. God chose the word “Word” to represent Him. Jesus was thus the “speech of God.” Word is therefore a metaphor for God. Singing, it can be argued, is a form of speech. We often refer to music in God’s house as sung prayer. But speech is a broader communicational concept than merely a song. For example, Psalm 19 speaks of nature pouring out praise to God, day and night. (Fromm, 2007, p. 6)

I like the theological balance conveyed in Fromm’s description of worship. It’s central theme is focused on God’s Word and allows choice expressions, such as singing, to find their way into our ever evolving traditions. It could be argued, however, that we are only ever one step away from disrupting the ‘theological balance’. Gary Parret writes, “Almost every time I hear the word worship used by believers today, it is clear that they are referring to singing praises” (Parrett, 2005, p. 40).

I know that I have found myself ‘over-balancing’ on many more occassions than I would like to admit. Activities, such as singing do play an important role in many of today’s worship traditions, but we must continually assess through self and group reflection whether our focus remains squarely focused on God’s Word or whether other fancies, such as singing, have won our attention.

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