Soap Box: The Cost of Reinventing Worship

I have finally (I think) put my finger on the source of my discomfort with alternative worship, that is, worship that attempts to distance itself from "old" or "organized" models of expression. Granted, my revelation only pertains to churches/denominations that have established and long-standing forms of worship rooted in some form of a biblical-historical-liturgical past.

We often attempt to reinvent or add creative spin to worship experiences for a variety of reasons: to increase accessibility, to re-imagine authenticity, to build community, to underscore a theme or a theology, to shake up the way things have always been done, to appeal to a younger audience, to resist hierarchy. Even our most well-founded and well-meaning attempts, however, become burdened with our own preferences, styles, and agendas. In the process of upheaving worship to reinvent it, too often it becomes an exercise in self-indulgence. Are we willing to implicitly or explicitly reject all that has come before - all the centuries of liturgical-theological development - for the sake of creativity? Are we willing to bear the burden of severing ties with the saints and the practices that have gone before us? Is it not arrogant and selfish to assume that we as individual or small groups of worship planners know better than centuries of liturgical-theological development? On some level, all attempts at rebuilding worship from the bottom up risk becoming an exercise in arrogance and self-propagation, since they begin by scrapping the way things have been done rather than refining existing practices. The question to ask when reinventing worship should not be, "Does this make worship more interesting?" Rather, the question should be, "Does this make worship more faithful?" And so, why would we not want to rely on our liturgical roots - on the ever-emerging faith of the saints over time - to guide us as we learn better how to worship the God who is present in the midst of our assembly?


  1. Wow! Yes! Right on! I think you have expressed something I have felt for a long time but never had the language to get it out there.

    Obviously, Lutherans and other reformed traditions had a spell where worship was reinvented, but I think the idea of "Does this make worship more faithful?" was a driving impulse.

    Love it.

  2. I think by keeping the ordo somewhat intact there will be faithfulness to the worship of our grandparents and foremothers and forefathers in the faith. I mean, Justin described worship c. 150 A.D. as happening in much the way it still happens among most of us in the catholic tradition (see With One Voice, p. 6).

    But I won't go so far as to say that we must have our singing and chanting accompanied by a pipe organ. I'm preference in worship style is fairly traditional (LBW and ELW by the book) but I don't think that's the way it has to be or should be. Our foremothers and forefathers and grandparents should have a say in how we do worship but not the whole say.

    I see nothing wrong with appealing to a younger audience (although I don't like the term audience when it comes to worship), nor to shaking up the way things have always been done. But I think that some reinvention or a creative spin should happen in the framework that we have inherited.

    And maybe the question shouldn't be "Does this make worship more faithful?" but "Is this worship still faithful?"