John Witvliet on Sincerity

Why do some people associate sincerity with raising hands or hand clapping, while others associate it with kneeling or pregnant silence?

Why do so many churches resist confessing sin or lamenting brokenness “because sincerity on these matters can’t be forced,” while singing demanding songs of extravagant praise without a similar concern? …

Why do so many of churches resist pre-written prayers unless they come in the form of song texts?

…Patient engagement with these cross-currents reveals all sorts of internal contradictions and implicit biases, as well as promising discoveries which strengthen our capacity for empathy. Ultimately, these discussions create space not simply to deconstruct constricting approaches to sincerity, but also to reconstruct a capacious alternative.

…I have discovered the value of six “corrective lenses” to common astigmatisms in our more-or-less free-church Protestant way of viewing the world, which I offer here as a work in progress, inviting further ecumenical discussion.

First, a lens of outside-in sincerity corrects the temptation to treat as normative an expressivist approach to liturgical experience, which posits that the concordance of internal experience and external actions happens “inside out” when we pray out of the overflow of what we already think or feel. Jesus’ command to “pray in this way” (Matt. 6:9) offers an alternative, inviting us to apprentice ourselves to a text, rhythm, or gesture originating from outside us. Indeed, to engage in public worship often involves having the boundaries of our small ego-centric selves enlarged by expressions and emotions we never would have imagined on our own.

Second, a lens of vicarious sincerity corrects for the individualistic assumption that all that counts is isolated personal experience. On any given day, my experience aligns with only a small portion of the vast range of human experience compressed into the Bible’s Psalms or a given historic liturgy. But this need not mean that engaging these sentiments is insincere for me. When I may not be able to sincerely sing or pray a given text, I can, nevertheless, ponder who else may be praying that text, and pray it on their behalf. In so doing, I begin to experience freedom from the bondage of the modern, solipsistic self. I taste the joy of ecclesial solidarity.

The complete essay, “The Mysteries of Liturgical Sincerity,” (Apr 26, 2018), is available on the blog Pray Tell — HERE

Gordon Graham on imagination in worship

Gordon Graham on imagination in worship 

The greatest poetry is an imaginative achievement, not a biographical report. It would be absurd to think, for instance, that Shakespeare had to experience all the jealousy, ambition, love, despair, remorse, paranoia, light heartedness, or grief that he powerfully depicts in the poetry of his plays. It is his astonishing, and seemingly unlimited power to give imaginative expression to these many states of mind without having experienced them, that constitutes his unsurpassed literary gift.

So too with religious poems and hymns. When ordinary worshippers sing some of the finest Christian hymns, for instance, the religious sentiments expressed often far exceed their own. They may also exceed the religious sentiments of those who wrote the hymns. Contrary to what is often supposed … this need not imply either insincerity or a lack of understanding. Religious worshippers set their sights on higher things, hoping to connect with something that transcends ordinary experience. Emotional elevation by means of hymns, poems, and prayers that imaginatively express ideals of feeling play an important part in this endeavor.

from Philosophy, Art and Religion: Understanding Faith and Creativity (Cambridge Univ Pr), 110-111.

James Torrance on scripture, worship and theology

James Torrance on scripture, worship and theology

I have long thought and taught that the right road into Christian theology is taken by reflecting on Christian worship in the light of the Bible. The Bible is supremely a manual of worship, but too often it has been treated, particularly in Protestantism, as a manual of ethics, of moral values, or religious ideas, or even of sound doctrine. When we see that the worship and mission of the church are the gift of participating through the Holy Spirt in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father and the Son’s mission from the Father to the world, that the unique center of the Bible is Jesus Christ, “the apostle and hight priest whom we confess,” then the doctrines of the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the ministry of the Spirit, Church and sacraments, our understanding of the kingdom, our anthropology and eschatology, all unfold from that center.

from Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, (IVP, 1996), 9.

John Webster on worship

John Webster on worship

[something I get tempted to forget]

the accumulated wisdom of the Christian tradition is this: assembling and meeting together is basic to the rhythm of the life of faith. It is not an option, something which we can drop in and out of as the fancy takes us. It is what God requires, and it is what builds us up. Our culture very easily relegates religion to solitude; it tempts us to replace worship by spirituality, and to think that the life of faith is just self-cultivation, growing a more interesting me. And to that we Christian folk must politely and firmly say, quite simply, no. God is honored by obedience to his command; and his command is that — however unappealing it may be — we must give ourselves to the public praises of his people.

From The Grace of Truth, (Oil Lamp, 2011), 124-5

See also, Austin Farrer on boredom in church

Austin Farrer on boredom in church

Austin Farrer on boredom in church

Well, but if I go to church, I’ll be bored, and I shall scarcely pray. True enough, you’ll be bored; and I dare say your spiritual resources are very limited. You’ll be bored: but God will be publicly honored or — put it negatively — at least he won’t be publicly insulted: and you, for his honor, will have endured to be bored. And what will be the effect of your being bored? Don’t you see that the effect of it is to throw you back on God? Why are you bored? Where are your spiritual resources? This is to make you know — I must be born again: or rather, since you have been born again, in the fount of baptism — I must dig away the stony rubbish, and let out afresh the fountain of living waters, which God has opened there, that it might spring up to eternal life.

from The Essential Sermons, (SPCK, 1991), 162.