Sunday, April 3, 2011

What Is Casual Worship?

In a local paper a church ran an advertisement describing their worship as done in a "casual atmosphere."  This atmosphere was further defined as "friendly, uplifting and relaxed."  Somehow it seems that there is an inherent contradiction at work in the combination of "casual" and "worship."  The word "worship" is of Old English derivation, meaning "worth-ship," "worthiness" or "honor."  Obviously it indicates the respect and honor we render to another, which is still reflected in British usage today.  The book of Hebrews calls on us to "offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (12:28,29).  Elsewhere worship is described in terms of bowing down and kneeling, clearly references to deep respect and reverence.

Casual, as indicated in the ad, is a state of being relaxed and at ease.  Casual is what I think of when I am lounging in my living room in front of the TV.  Perhaps they would like me to have that image of their worship. Do they provide comfy couches instead of those unforgiving hardwood pews?  Yet, can one ever be entirely relaxed and at ease when we are confessing our sins?  How does a person stand in awe of the Almighty God and not be humbled?  Relaxed describes time with friends and family, not with the creator of the Universe.  

What ultimately makes "casual worship" at a church any better than something I could do in my own home?  Somehow church should be different.  Dr. Arthur Just's book on worship is entitled "Heaven on Earth."  Isn't that what worship should evoke?  The ancient cathedrals endeavored to create an 'atmosphere' of transcendence that lifted the eyes to heaven above through soaring spires and grand architecture.  Yes, God is also very close, close enough to 'taste and see' as we encounter Him in Word and Sacrament.  Yet even here the mystery of his presence brings us to that line between the earthly and heavenly that we struggle to understand, let alone adequately describe.  Casual doesn't come close to touching this.

I guess I'm not quite ready for casual worship.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Doing a search on casual worship trends led me to this site and I have read very few pieces with which I agree more on this subject. I am deeply concerned that I am unable to find a church in my community that I feel takes worship seriously. I even drove to a reformed church over 30 miles away expecting that it would be a meaningful worship experience. The music leader was dressed in jeans and we spent 30 minutes singing fast paced 7/11 songs (7 words sung 11 times). Only my wife kept me from leaving the service before it finished.

There is no sense of awe, no sense of the holy in most churches. I am sure they are afraid that many of the people would leave if true worship actually took place. Maybe they would be better off if some did leave. But that might mean loss of revenue or prestige of having a 1,000 people on Sunday morning. Regretably, I worship God more effectively when I stay home on Sunday morning than when I go to church. I go merely to set an example for my daughter for church attendance. But I come home angry almost every week.

Steve in Ohio