Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Worship (Page 1 of 3)

Some thoughts on the Eucharist, Anglican style

3294797689_811f4439b2_bI’ve written about the Eucharist (aka Holy Communion) before, notably here and here. But today I want to share a couple of brief thoughts about my own recent personal experience of this sacrament.

In recent months I’ve received the Eucharist a number of times in an Anglican church. Being a Pentecostal of thirty years’ standing, there are some key differences in the way Communion is celebrated in these two traditions that really stand out to me.

First, let me summarise how I’ve known Communion to be understood and practiced within the Pentecostal tradition with which I’m oh so familiar.

In the churches of which I’ve been a part, Communion has always been made out to be a Big Deal. There has been an air of solemnity about it, perhaps heightened by the fact that it’s often the only vaguely ritualistic component of an otherwise very free and fluid style of corporate worship. There are two features of the typical Pentecostal Communion that appear to be central:

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That you would bear my cross

SONY DSCFrom time to time, for the sake of something a little different, I like to take a lyric from a popular worship song and critique it. (A couple of previous examples are here and here.)

The reason I do this is not because I’m a terrible cynic and a curmudgeon who likes to split hairs and find fault. It’s because, as one who was involved in leading worship for twenty-five plus years, I believe that the words we sing matter very greatly. And they matter not only as an expression of what we believe, but also, and perhaps more importantly, as a powerful vehicle in forming what we believe. I’m not the first person to suggest that the songs we sing are often more formative for our theology than the sermons we listen to.

So, with that preamble out of the way, I’d like to spend a few moments considering the implications of two lines from the song This Is Amazing Grace by Phil Wickham. If you don’t know it, take a moment to listen as you watch the video below:

I’d like to hone in on two lines from the chorus, highlighted below:

This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You lay down Your life
That I would be set free
Oh, Jesus, I sing for
All that You’ve done for me

Now, the highlighted words and the ideas they convey are hardly unusual in contemporary Christianity. Indeed, many Christians would say that to speak of Jesus taking our place on the cross is to express the very heart of our faith. In that sense, I’m not really going to critique this song so much as I’m going to use it as a vehicle to ask, and attempt to answer, a crucial question: what do we mean when we say that Jesus took our place on the cross?

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Our God is…?

WorshippersSomething a little different today.

I’ve written before about how sometimes the words we sing in corporate worship are not necessarily all that well aligned with the truth that Jesus revealed about God. (For example, see this post.) While I don’t want to become a cynic who coldly analyses every song we sing, occasionally I can’t help but be struck by the seeming incongruity of a lyric or the striking emphasis of a song.

For the sake of clarity, the reason I think about such things is not that I want to be a killjoy or that I enjoy splitting hairs and making mountains out of molehills. It’s that I think what we sing as we worship really matters; in fact, I’d say very often it shapes our theology more than the teaching we hear or the books we read.

So, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’ve been thinking about a particular song. At a recent church gathering we sang Chris Tomlin’s worship song Our God. It’s a fine song in many ways – in fact, it’s one that I’ve used many times in my past as a worship leader. In case you’re not familiar with it, here’s a version from YouTube – play it through and have a listen to the lyrics:

Actually, my intention here is not to lay into this song and tear it apart theologically. All I want to say is that as I sang it, I was struck by its emphasis on power and victory.

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On corporate worship and dualism

WorshipFor most of my nearly thirty years in the Pentecostal church, I’ve been involved in worship music, for much of that time as a worship leader. Only in the past year or so have I laid down my guitar, piano and microphone and taken a big step back. And as I have, my perspective has begun to change.

Let me first say this: I believe in both the value and the power of corporate worship.

I believe that corporate worship is of great value because it unites us as the worshipping church, takes our focus off the individual, reminds us of God’s eternal attributes and instils a renewed sense of corporate purpose.

I believe that corporate worship is powerful because something happens when we come together as the gathered people of God that transcends the individual and the commonplace. Times of corporate worship can lift us into new realms of awareness of the beauty and majesty of God and inspire us afresh as we seek to walk out our calling from Monday to Saturday.

I’ve experienced some amazing, awe-inspiring, spine-tingling moments in corporate worship, when the presence of God seemed so thick you could feel its weight and the whole world took on a different and holier hue afterwards.

But… having said all that, I’ve been wondering. Specifically, I’ve been wondering about just how much of our worship, particularly in emotionally charged charismatic settings, is dualistic.

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In which I learn something from a squirrel

SquirrelIn recent months I’ve developed a habit of taking a lunchtime walk two to three times a week, weather permitting. This has the dual benefit of providing me with some physical exercise and giving me time to listen to a variety of podcasts.

An additional benefit is that I get to walk through our local park which, while nothing particularly special as parks go (though it does have some rather nice gardens), is probably the closest to nature I get during a typical week (apart from our dog and two cats, that is).

Anyway, after walking through the park today I crossed the road and entered the cemetery, whereupon I immediately happened upon a squirrel. This was nothing extraordinary – I see squirrels on many of my lunchtime walks – but, since it ran across the path right in front of me, I paused to watch it for a moment. It kept stopping every few feet and looking furtively about in that way that squirrels do, before finally disappearing behind a tree. It was probably in view for half a minute or so.

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Worship concertFor the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)

Christians love to talk and dream about the glory of God. In fact, I would venture so far as to say that the manifestation of God’s glory is one of the most highly prized and sought-after phenomena in the charismatic and pentecostal segments of the church.

Biblical references to God’s glory being manifested abound. Whether it’s the bush that burned but was not consumed, Moses being allowed a glimpse of the glory from behind as God passed by, or the priests being unable to minister into the temple because the glory fell, there’s plenty of biblical precedent for awe-inducing encounters with the glory of God.

In keeping with these Old Testament accounts, many Christians tend to equate God’s glory with highly experiential phenomena. So, for example, we will talk about an intense worship time when God’s glory descended, or a conference where God revealed his glory. In fact, when you really think about it, these experiences of God’s glory tend to mostly be exclusively in-house affairs – events where Christians gather in eager anticipation and apparently experience the presence of God in an extraordinary way. In recent years, there’s even been a trend among some churches and groups of claiming to see visible “glory clouds” of gold dust when people break through to a particularly deep level of worship.

Now, let me say that I have no particular problem with the idea that God can choose to manifest his glory in this kind of experiential way. Indeed, at face value, the Old Testament examples I quoted above all seem to corroborate this. However, I don’t think this is how God primarily chooses to reveal his glory; in fact, I think it’s probably relatively unusual for him to show his glory in this kind of way.

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A song for Monday morning

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a song, so to help you start your week, here’s Keith Green’s wonderful arrangement of the classic hymn Holy, Holy, Holy.

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