UPDATE II: Some of you probably haven’t read some of my older essays on worship, found in the “Worship” section on the older essays page.
UPDATE: After having written many posts on evangelical worship and reading hundreds of other posts and comments, it’s no wonder anyone who attends a liturgical church five times in a row concludes evangelicals are so confused on this subject there’s almost no hope for us. What a mess.
It occurred to me today that we’ve come full circle.
When I was a teenager, the Charismatic movement was just getting some traction. Raising hands, emotional expression in worship, Pentecostal expressions….these were all new in many churches that were used to nothing more than the “frozen chosen” type of rationalistic worship.
What did this mean? It meant that if you saw someone with their hands in the air, for example, you could be certain of their sincerity in worship. Here was a person rejecting the dead, expressionless type of worship that was common in Protestantism in favor of the genuine worship responses of the Charismatics. Here was judgment on the typical Baptist complaint that Catholics were just going through the motions. We had simply eliminated the motions altogether. Now, in the Charismatic style, the Spirit was bringing true worship back to the church.
So whether it was a fundamentalist “amen” corner or a Charismatic brother or sister standing, eyes closed, hands in the air, you knew it was “real.” Genuine. Authentic. The Holy Spirit.
Fast forward thirty years.
It’s a typical “praise and worship” service for high school and college kids. The band is on stage. Drums. Guitars. Keyboards. Vocalists. Projection. Lights. The whole event.
As the band warms up, a student puts his hands in the air and begins to sway. Before long, a group of students are all swaying their bodies and their hands. Later on, in the “Praise and Worship” service itself, many students are moving. Some are practically dancing. Others are bouncing up and down. The worship expressions are far more varied and free than the occasional Charismatic expression back in my high school days. There is lots of clapping, and some students are engaging in hand motions to the lyrics. Others are moving their heads and shoulders in a kind of break dancing” motion.
If someone from the seventies were to drop in via time machine, I think they would be amazed at this scene, especially if they saw it in a church setting. Charismatic experience seems to have taken over.
Uhhhh…. just a moment. Not so fast.
Having been around these students, I can tell you without doubt that the vast majority who are responding to the music are not engaged in any kind of conscious worship. They are not honoring God or his Son. They are simply having a good time. They like the music. They have been socialized into what is acceptable in these settings, and they enjoy moving to the music with their friends. It is, for most of them, simply an exercise in self-expression, and not anything approaching worship.
In fact, if a Roman Catholic friend were to want to say these people were just “going through the motions,” I would completely agree. It would be a valid criticism. If someone were to ask me to differentiate between what is happening here, and what would be happening if a secular concert were happening, I’d not be able to give a very clear answer. In the case of most of those present, the response is, at every level, the same.
If you want to see genuine worshipers, I’m not sure your local evangelical “praise and worship” service is necessarily the right place to go. Maybe….maybe you might want to stop in that 8 a.m. mass over at St. William’s.