Posted 362 days ago ago by Chris Alford 0 Comments
and Worship Renewal
“If you decide you want to pursue a meaningful worship experience, don’t expect much encouragement from the average church member. True worship examines and exposes the depths of our being; God helps us see our true motives and values…” (Warren Wiersbe
, from Real Worship: Playground, Battleground, or Holy Ground?
These days I’ve been thinking about worship renewal. More accurately, I’ve been talking to people who’ve been doing a lot of thinking about worship renewal— folks whose jobs it is to craft meaningful worship. A colleague back East shared about a recent, painful exchange with his pastor who did not share the same enthusiasm for my colleague’s ideas on worship renewal. “Sometimes it feels like we’re going through some sort of reformation,” he said. And that, then, led me to think about the Luther’s Reformation.
When most folks think about Martin Luther
, they remember that pivotal moment when, on October 31, 1517, he nailed his “95 theses” to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. The event in itself was not the bold act of defiance that we assume, for it was then common practice for professors to publicly post items for debate. (In those days, university church doors were much like the bulletin boards or campus telephone poles of today). Yet this particular posting took the world by storm: Within two weeks, the 95 theses, Luther’s thoughtful and probing questioning of current Roman Catholic practices—his desire for a kind of worship renewal—had spread across Germany. Within two months, and with the help of the printing press, the document had been copied, translated, and could be found throughout the whole of Europe. This, then, is the story that most of us know and remember: Luther; nailing of the theses; Reformation; end of story.
Actual history, of course, is a bit more messy. You may not know that in stark contrast to the blazing speed that Luther’s theses were posted and distributed, the response of the Roman Catholic Church was painfully slow. First, the local cardinal had Luther’s document examined for heresy, then sent it along to the Pope who, in turn, took three years to respond. Papal theologians and envoys were sent to confront the problem while the Pope himself dismissed Luther as “a drunken German who, when he’s sober, will change his mind.” After negotiations and warnings (Luther responded by burning a papal edict) the “drunken German” was excommunicated by the church in early 1521.
But that’s not the end of the story, for when the Pope banned some of Luther’s writings it fell to the secular authorities to enforce the ruling. And so, in April of 1521, Luther was summoned to appear before officials of the Holy Roman Empire with Emperor Charles V presiding. At the highly charged trial, Luther identified the writings in question as his own and was then asked if he stood by their contents. His response, which came the following day after prayer and consultation with friends, was this: “Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear reason...I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honorable to act against conscience.” Legend has it that he added: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
After five days of debate, Luther was declared an outlaw, his literature was banned, a warrant was issued for his arrest, it was made a crime for anyone to give him food or shelter, and (here’s another tidbit you might not know) it was decreed that anyone could kill him without reason. Happily for Luther, he was spirited away into exile at Wartburg (“my Patmos”, he called it) and avoided the criminal charges against him.
Of course, that’s not the end of the story, either. Sometime you should read about Luther’s exile, his marriage (it involves a former nun and a herring barrel), and most of all, you should read some of Luther’s writings. He was a complicated, marvelous, earthy, saintly, silver-tongued, foul-mouthed, brilliant priest-theologian-revolutionary-husband-father who was at once both courageous and stricken with self-doubt.
The Wiersbe quote that I started with goes on like this: “In short, it’s a dangerous thing to return to spiritual worship. It means the end of the personality cults that have invaded the church. It also means the end of the ‘Christian consumerism” that has so twisted our sense of spiritual values. I have no doubt that the church that returns to real worship will lose many people—‘important’ people—and probably have to make drastic cuts in the budget.”
Lose people? Cuts in the budget?
Back to Luther: There is a lot we can learn from Luther’s example, but here's perhaps the most helpful piece for the church in these days with respect to worship renewal: Worship renewal will require some patience—it won’t all be over with a single act—and, most likely, it will take some time to sort out. It may be inconvenient or occasionally frustrating, but, thanks be to God, we will most likely not be subjected to the hail of accusations and charges that Luther was.
But you can't nail your beliefs to the church door and not expect to have some difficulties. Reformation is not quick and simple. Much like history, it's usually messier.
There is hope. Wiersbe talks about when renewal happens—the reformation that would occur—if we returned to spiritual worship and turned away from personality cults and Christian consumerism: “A beautiful new sense of spiritual reality would emerge, with people glorifying God instead of praising one another. There would be a new unity among God’s people, no matter what denomination labels they might wear, and the divisive spirit of competition would gradually vanish. Nobody would be going around asking, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ They’d be interested only in serving one another and reaching their world for Christ.”
That sounds like some meaningful worship worth pursuing—a reformation worth standing firm for— wouldn’t , you say? “Here we stand. We can do no other. God help us. Amen.”
Let’s keep the conversation going and… The Lord be with you!
A long-time worship pastor of 20 years, Chris Alford is now lead pastor of Epiclesis: An Ancient-Future Faith Community. Located in Sacramento, California, Epiclesis is the first church start of its kind in the nation. Chris is also the founder and board chair of the Ancient-Future Faith Network.
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