The Temptations of Evangelical Worship

It’s not about manufacturing positive religious feelings.

The absolute best worship service I have ever been to was in an Orthodox church in downtown Chicago. It was full of evangelical converts to Orthodoxy, and so it had the rich, historic liturgy and singing combined with evangelical fervor. I dare say I felt lifted into the presence of God, or better, that the presence of God had descended on us.

The absolute worst worship service I have ever attended was an Orthodox church in Philadelphia. The priests led the liturgy from behind the iconostasis—a screen of icons separating the sanctuary (where the altar sits) from the nave (where the congregation sits). The only response we in the congregation were called to make was the occasional “Amen.” We didn’t even join the priests in singing as I recall. My Protestant sensibilities were so offended, I walked out in the middle of the service.

I relate this experience to say that even though I believe that in general Orthodoxy exalts and glorifies God like no other Christian tradition, it is far from perfect. It also shows that even a tradition that has all the right “tools” for adoration can stumble.

For those following this series, last week I concluded the four-part series that argued for a new way of thinking about the essence and ultimate purpose of the church. For the next few weeks, I want to explore what this might look like in the pew and pulpit. I’ll examine the ways in which we succumb all too often to the horizontal and suggest some ways, upward. I’ll look at the dynamics of preaching, Bible reading, and the sacraments/ordinance, in particular. Let me start, though, with the dynamics of evangelical worship, which has its own highs and lows.

It’s All About Worship

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