Tuesday, April 7, 2009

RECOMMENDED READING: Mark Galli on Worship

Mark Galli is an evangelical in good standing, the senior managing editor of Christianity Today, evangelicalism's leading magazine. He is also a member of the Anglican tradition. This combination equips him to speak with true credibility on the subject of worship to other evangelicals. Galli has done so by writing an articulate and winsome book, called Beyond Smells & Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy.

I may write more about Galli's fine overview of liturgical worship in future posts, but today I will let him speak for himself in a passage about "relevance" that is one of the most powerful in the book.
The liturgy asks us to rethink what we mean by "relevant" worship.

For example, it is not an accident that when we think about making church more relevant, we usually have only one group in mind. In North America, that usually means twenty-somethings and young families. For one, twenty-somethings are some of the hardest people to attract to church, and two, only when they start raising families do they begin to return to church. It's a perfect target audience for a struggling or new church to strive to reach.

...self-identified relevant churches, by their nature, limit a full-bodied expression of the church. In our worse moments, this approach appeals to immature motives. For example, I am currently in what many people consider a relevant and even "cool" church, and I have to admit I am proud of it. It's an interesting contrast to note how few churches that want to "reincarnate the gospel within a specific cultural context" want to do so among the poor, the homeless, welfare moms, drug-addicted men, or those trapped in nursing homes and convalescent hospitals.

This is one reason I thank God for the liturgy. The liturgy does not target any age or cultural sub-group. It does not even target this century (it does not assume, as we moderns are tempted to do, that this is the best of all possible ages, the most significant era of history). Instead, the liturgy presents a form of worship that transcends our time and place. Its earliest forms took shape in ancient Israel, and its subsequent development occurred in a variety of cultures and sub-cultures—Greco-Roman, North African, German, Frankish, Anglo-Saxon. The liturgy has been meaningfully prayed by bakers, housewives, tailors, teachers, philosophers, priests, monks, kings, and slaves. As such, it has not been shaped to meet any particular group's needs. It seeks only to enable people—people in general—to see God.
This is top-notch thinking, communicated with clarity. Would that other evangelicals (indeed, all of God's people) might learn to think about meeting with God with such Biblical, theological, and cultural insight.

Highly recommended.

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