Worship Made To Order OR An Ordered Worship

“I don’t like the worship at that church.”
“My husband and I are shopping for a church. What style of worship does your church have? “We are looking for a place with a great band and worship leader.”
“When my friends and I were in college, we would often leave [the service] after the worship was over.”
“I’m looking for a place where I can feel connected with God and worship in my own way.”
“I’m just not getting anything from the worship here anymore.”

These are all fairly typical statements made in Christian circles today regarding the church and its “worship.” I often hear my friends saying similar things, and even I– who am grounded in a deep theological understanding of worship– find myself wondering about such things. However, all of these statements reflect the fact that something has gone terribly wrong in our churches. Worship has become the production of a few performers on stage providing a concert for a crowd of people who are seeking to transcend their mundance lives, a cathartic experience that makes the self feel better because the emotional stress (and perhaps guilt) of the prior week has been purged. Such an experience allows us to re-enter the fray and frenzy of our madly paced lives where we serve the empire and its gods. Let me put it even more bluntly– what often passes for worship today is nothing more than an idolatrous celebration/ceremony that continues to hold up the general attitudes, values, and actions of a way of life that is anti-Christian. We have become a generation of spiritual consumers, shopping for the best product that makes us feel good and different. When the ancients danced, sang, and sacrificed bulls to Baal, they felt exactly the same way.

We live in an age where worship is made to order– like my burger at Red Robin. It is very tasty. Of course, some people prefer a different burger place or they don’t even like Red Robin or burgers. These people seek a different product elsewhere. This makes a lot of sense when it comes to food (although I have a hunch that even our eating/food experiences have somehow changed from the idea of the land, meal, community, hospitilatiy and conversation that are suppose to be eating); however, worship is not something that should be custom-made for the individual. First and foremost, Christian worship is not suppose to be an individualistic experience– it is primarily corporate and the worship I do in solitary is to flow out of and connect to the worship of the whole body of Christ.

Although worship should not be customized to the individual, it should be an ordered experience. The word that describes this best is “ordo.” It is a latin word used to describe the how-to of worship– the experience of the church gathered together and the daily life of the Body of Christ in the world. What does ordered worship look like? First, it is scripted by the Christian year. The Christian year represents an alternative shaping of time. The new year begins approximately 35 days prior to the secular calendar that is used in the western world. It celebrates a period of time known as Advent (which culminates in Epiphany not Christmas), then proceeds to a time called Lent, then Easter, then Pentecost. The time in between these periods is called Ordinary Time– and even in this ordinary time there are special celebrations and rhythms. Second, this alternative time has specific rituals and liturgical practices that are supposed to accompany it. Third, the whole of Christian time is scripted by the daily office of prayer (prayers, meditations, and scriptures) and the lectionary. Fourth, simple everday tasks such as eating together is scripted by this “ordo.” Finally, our weekly gatherings are to have a certain structure and process. Our life together is supposed to be ordered– it orders me, it orders us. Rather than me customizing it, it seeks to customize me. Rather than me demanding something from it, it demands something from me. Rather than me trying to create this experience, this experience seeks to create me.

Finally, I do want to add that this “ordo” is not just some old, rigid thing. It is constantly being improvised on. It is very much like playing a piano. You can’t play it anyway that you want. There is a simple order to it. Each key has its own notes and in order to play it rightly you must learn the scales. Once these have been mastered, you can play the grandest music that you wish within the confines of the piano itself. The same is true with the ordo. It must first be learned, made to be a part of your fingers. Once your fingers have been ordered by it, you will be able to improvise and make a wonderful sound with your life. However, most of what passes for “worship” today is like the child who doesn’t know how to play bangin on the piano– it’s cute but it’s not music. The kid enjoys doing it, but its doesn’t qualify as playing the piano.

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