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.