Wineskins Archive

December 19, 2013

In With the Old – In With the New (Sept-Oct 1997)

Filed under: — @ 11:29 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
September – October, 1997

28Please bear with me for a few paragraphs. If the subject matter for the opening of this editorial seems remote to the worship issue, I promise to bring the two together. So give me the benefit of the doubt. Read on. . . .

One of the most interesting of the hundreds of pieces written when Princess Diana died tragically on August 31, 1997, was by Barbara Amiel. A columnist for London’s Daily Telegraph, she argued that one of the many paradoxes of Diana’s sad life is that her lingering image may save Britain’s monarchy.

The House of Windsor has fallen on hard times of late. The stuffy irrelevance that many associate with a monarchy in these democratic times has had many Britons speaking of its end with the reign of Queen Elizabeth. For all his civility and erudition, Prince Charles has never inspired the nation. There is no clamor for him to rule. Ms. Amiel correctly pointed out that anyone who could keep the public’s attention on the royal family had to be viewed as an asset.

If she did nothing else, Lady Di certainly captured the public’s attention for the royal family. From a fairy-tale wedding to a seamy affair to a painful divorce, everything she did kept her, her husband, and speculation about the future (if any!) of the British crown an issue of daily discussion.

Upon her death, it became clear that England’s commoners felt far closer to their rejected princess than to the family that gave her that status. Though it must have galled her to do so, the Queen consented to a funeral that was a little short of what a head of state receives. Likely more people lined her funeral route than will line that of Queen Elizabeth when she goes the way of humankind.

Here was the English columnist’s conclusion to all this: “Ultimately, the Queen, by maintaining the legend of Diana, Princess of Wales, will only help the institution of the monarchy. The public may now feel that they cannot deny Diana’s fervent wish: to see Prince William become King of England” (“The Princess of the Common Touch,” New York Times, September 2, 1997, p. A15).

Here is a precedent for modernity and tradition coming together. Neither destroyed the other, but both were changed significantly by their union. I wonder if we might not say the same thing about what we are witnessing with worship in our fellowship?

We have some traditions in worship. They vary by region of the country and from rural to urban settings. They are even more varied if one takes into account practices by people associated with us in countries outside the United States of America.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the development of traditions. In fact, it cannot be helped. The problem comes when those traditions become so fixed that they are seen by many to inhibit true worship and to make the church appear irrelevant to a watching world.

In Churches of Christ, “modernizing” usually has nothing to do with our fundamental commitment to honor God with Scripture-based worship. It has nothing to do with challenging our heritage of a cappella music. Instead, it most often means using contemporary music, a presentation piece by a soloist or chorus, teaching through drama, or otherwise doing something non-traditional in our limited worship experience.

I happen to think the generations need each other. I further believe they can bless each other. And Ms. Amiel’s editorial about Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana makes my point very effectively. The latter was a woman of her time, and she was hard pressed to conform to a mold of protocol that did not fit her or her peers; the former was a woman of her time who could not understand that the pulse of her country – for better or worse – was beating in rhythm with that of her daughter-in-law and not her own.

If the two women had not been so distant from each other and so threatened by each other, many, many things might have been different. A marriage might have been better. The temptation to go seeking other companions might not have come to the Prince and Princess. Tehre might have been no estrangement, no divorce, no crash in a Paris tunnel. But all that is musing to no point. Or is it?

If those of us who want to preserve the traditions in which we were raised can be a bit more understanding and incorporating toward the Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers who want some things more in sync with their pulses and those of their searching contemporaries, there need be no divorces (i.e., splits) in our churches. If the younger people who want some things to be more relevant to their tastes and time can affirm the value of their parents’ and grandparents’ traditions, maybe both generations can profit from the exchange.

Our history speaks of “the acts of worship,” usually limiting them to five. This is the result of a penchant for systematizing rather than good theology. The very language misleads – leads away from significant biblical truth. It is more precise to say that worship is always an attitude of reverence before God that is exhibited by appropriate actions. Fundamentally, there are three types of actions that are appropriate to the corporate worship of the church: praise, prayer, and preaching.

More correctly still, these three are probably best described as categories or types of worship that appropriately accompany and exhibit worship, but they are not necessarily worship in and of themselves. All of us know the biblical truth that even right actions are not acceptable when the heart is wrong (i.e., not worshipful). Such texts as Isaiah 1:11-17 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 are only two of many texts that underscore this important truth.

Actions are worshipful if and only they are part of a genuine encounter with God, part of a larger experience of life-surrender to God. This means that corporate worship must flow out of personal, private worship. Whether from Generation X or from the generation that lived through the Great Depression, whether from Baby Boomers or from their World War II parents – no one can be an occasional (i.e., Sunday-to-Sunday) worshiper who is not also a regular (i.e., daily) worshiper who meets him in private places – and truly encounter God.

When the people of God – whether young or old, rural or urban, black or white, American or European – are worshipful in spirit, we will stop fighting one another over the externals of worship. We will stop rejecting and judging each others’ preferences. We will stop thinking ourselves spiritual and and those who disagree unspiritual. We will even stop thinking principally in terms of what is new and what is old.

When we are truly worshipful before our God, we will have such respect for and give such deference to one another that we will begin to pull out of our treasure chest things both old and new and offer them together to his glory. As we do so, we will smile at one another and sometimes hold hands. And each of us will have contributed something to the saving of what all of us value – a healthy church that is able to communicate the Word of God to its time and place.Wineskins Magazine

Rubel Shelly

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