Worship styles

I've been hashing this out in my head for a while now, prompted mostly by some posts by my friends Moose, Sockmonk and Bishop. [Ed. note - The specific posts are linked below.] So, since I have a little time at the moment, I'm going to try to make some sense of my otherwise random thoughts. I'll likely tick some people off, but...

When a number of my friends and associates, all historically Protestant, started investigating the Orthodox Church one of them came to me and asked what I thought about it. My answer then was, and it remains today, that as long as they weren't doing anything contrary to Scripture or to harm the kingdom of God I didn't care how they or anyone else want to worship Him. If you want to dance around a fire and throw heads of cabbage at the wall, go for it. Just don't distort or obscure the message of the Gospel. Please note that when I use the term "contemporary" herein, I mean both standard worship services that are found in most Protestant churches as well as more modern services which involve praise and worship times. Please also note that none of this is meant as an indictment of orthodox worship. I have seen some good things happen in the lives of some of my friends since joining the Orthodox Church. Rather, this is meant as a collection of my thoughts and reactions as a Protestant.

Let me deal with these posts in order:

Moose's post was the most generic, being just an attempt to clarify the difference between styles of worship. But I disagree with his characterization of more contemporary worship styles as

more like a supper with a friend than an audience with the King.

While I realize that Moose is surely speaking from his own frame of reference, I don't think it is rooted in current times. First, "contemporary" does not equal "informal". There was a push to be very informal in worship, particularly through the majority of the 70s and 80s though certainly not limited to that time. These gatherings tend to shun denominational labels and the well known "symbols of Christianity" so as not to scare anyone off. But this Kumbaya type of worship doesn't appear to have taken hold in the majority of churches. While admittedly less liturgical, in many contemporary services there is very much a sense that you are in the midst of the Creator and Ruler of all things known and unknown.

By the way, Moose, your archive function doesn't work correctly. This post doesn't show up in your April archive. Luckily, your Search function works well. :-)

Sockmonk points out that the official Orthodox position on other denominations is that they are different. (Yeah - it's an oversimplification - sue me.) But his post goes into another area. Truth. Don't get me wrong - I believe truth is a Good Thing. And to say that

[o]nly one version of the truth can be the Truth

is correct. That version is God's version. Only He knows and understands it all. But unless the Orthodox church is privy to some special super-secret knowledge of God that the rest of us aren't, then we're all following the same truth. We just worship in different ways.

Sockmonk also mentions that

...part of what I love about the Orthodox Church is that it doesn't just ask, 'What is the least I can do to be saved? What does it take to squeak by with the least amount of change or work on my part?' Instead it asks, 'How can I be most fully saved? How can I continually grow in godliness, becoming more and more like God?'

It saddens me that he feels that Protestant churches are leading people down the path of just squeaking into Heaven

with the least amount of change or work

and I think that is a gross mischaracterization. Every church that I've ever been in encourages continual spiritual growth. When he says,

...the best way to grow in godliness and to grow closer to God is in the life of the Orthodox Church

I'm glad that he feels that way for himself. But I can't help but get the feeling that many believe that to be a blanket statement that applies to everyone.

Bishop's post starts out as being about asking "What is Truth?" And I agree with his thoughts about asking the right questions. Personally, I have come to realize that, instead of asking what God's will for my life is, I need to ask what God's will is and align my life with it. But the main point I took from him, though, was the idea of tradition, which I know from a prior conversation plays a big part in his decision to pursue orthodoxy. He once asked me where the authority was for more contemporary worship. The implication was that highly liturgical worship was better because it has been in use for a couple thousand years. But I have never seen the validity of that viewpoint. "Older and more entrenched" does not equal "better." It sounds like the old phrase that we always joke about, "We've never done it that way before." Christ, himself, was not satisfied to do things as they were usually done and regularly ired the official powers-that-were with his radical actions. That seems like a much better authority to me.

Some general thoughts on the whole thing:

While I'm sure it's not intentional, there is a slight arrogance that comes across from some of my orthodox friends. Nothing blatant - just statements that eek out here and there, probably meant as jokes, that nobody views as important enough take issue with. And the feeling of being an outsider when visiting the church can be very off-putting. It seems to put up a wall between them and other denominations at a time when the Christian church as a whole needs to be uniting for the common purpose.

Also, trying to define what constitutes "valid" worship or "the best way" to worship seems like an absolute waste of time to me. Worship is giving adoration and honor to God and whatever most effectively brings us into that mindset is valid. Personally, some of the most "worshipful" (to make up my own word) times for me are when I'm out in nature and am struck the complexity of what we normally view as the simplest of things. Or when I used to jog the back roads of Wilmore when I was in college. Out there looking at the stars, just me, the cows and God. It allowed me to let my running steps become automatic and to just quiet my mind and listen to God. I was often filled with wonder and praise and would sing out loud.

Again, as long as the message remains true to Scripture, worshiping in contemporary ways is no less valid just because it is different from what's been done for years. Praise pleases God in whatever form it takes, like David dancing before God. And if you choose to worship in a rigidly liturgical manner, more power to you. But to equate a style of worship with truth is to be somewhat more blatant about that arrogance that I mentioned above.

Finally - and maybe this is more a function of the personality types of my friends who are orthodox - orthodoxy seems like such an academic approach to God. A lot of it seems to be about studying the lives of saints and learning the "right" way to do things. But this seems like such a waste of time when there are real people outside the walls who are hurting and who need to feel the love of God from us. Not to bring them into a worship service - that comes later - but to meet their needs at that moment. I don't see any outreach. I don't see any community assistance. I don't see any evangelism. And maybe it's there but I don't see it - I don't know. I hope so.

Overall, it seems like a lot of discussion about the proper method to worship God. But I think it misses the point to focus on the method rather than the meaning. We can all be very religious, but I try never to let my religion get in the way of my Christianity.

Re:Worship styles

I am not a theologian and typically try to stay away from arguements like this, but since I am Orthodox, I just want to make one connection. I am one of the recently-become Orthodox you are refering to and I am particularly interested in the sentence: "It allowed me to let my running steps become automatic and to just quiet my mind and listen to God." For me, the seemingly ritualistic approach that the Orthodox have to "religion" is exactly that: letting our running steps become automatic. If I were to go out tonight and try to run, first, I would kill my knees, and secondly, I would never achieve automatic running steps on the first try. That is something that comes with practise. That is what ritual prayers and fasting are for me: practise. Soon, by the grace of God, to be automatic so I too can quiet my mind and listen to God.

Re:Worship styles

For me, the seemingly ritualistic approach that the Orthodox have to "religion" is exactly that: letting our running steps become automatic. Please don't take my meaning incorrectly. I have no quarrel with Orthodox worship in any way and I'm certainly thrilled that you have found it a good way to focus yourself on God. Anything that gets our feeble minds off of ourselves and onto Him is a Good Thing. What I have a bit of trouble with is the notion that it is the only proper way to do that. That part I just don't buy. I pray for your continued growth in God and sincerely hope He blesses you in undreamed of ways.

Re:Worship styles

Wow, that conversation was a long time ago. We haven't talked like that in a long time. We should do that again soon. Please forgive me if I have been arrogant. I think that the previous comment spoke well of how the liturgy helps us "listen" to God. I also think that the picture that we have given you that Orthodoxy is purely an intellectual process came from the fact that we were all in that intellectual mode at the time, and the idea of Orthodoxy fed that in us. However, since that time I have learned that there is so much more, I just couldn't see it at the time. I won't take the time right now to use my feeble writing skills to express things, but if you are interested, I would love to chat with you some more. Peace Bishop