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Multi-generational Worship


In my last post I wrote about some expressed concerns with the Contemporary Church's trend of offering alternate worship services based on style preferences and generational differences. Over the past week I've encountered a few others having similar conversations. First, my friend, Bart Damer, sent me this announcement from North Point's Buckhead Church in Atlanta. Their singles gathering, called 722, has announced that they are making a change in how they do ministry.

The Lord has brought them to a place where they have had to honestly assess why they do what they do, even at the risk of them putting themselves out of a job. They asked themselves, "Are we doing something not already being done to reach those who are not being reached? Or are we merely providing people with an option to attend something that is already happening elsewhere in our church?"

722 is a worship and teaching gathering for singles in a church, sixty percent of which is made up of singles. North Point and Buckhead already have worship gatherings on the weekends, in which they do essentially the same kind of worship and teaching as in 722. In eliminating the alternate service "option", they are encouraging multi-generational worship in one large gathering with many representative styles and age groups growing together and appreciating one another. Northpoint and Buckhead are very influential churches within the Contemporary Church, so I am excited to see what kind of effect their decisions will have on other churches and ministries. Click here to watch the short video of the announcement made by the Director of 722 last week.

Second, Ryan sent me this post from Between Two Worlds. It is an excerpt from Shane Rosenthal's "An Interview with J. I. Packer: The State of Evangelicalism" in Modern Reformation. J. I. Packer, author of the Christian classic Knowing God, is very wise. What he has to say here pertains especially to our topic at hand: multi-generational worship.

Shane Rosenthal: What do you think about a niche marketing approach that has by virtue of the different worship styles - teen pop, alternative, and adult boomer - created generational segregation?

J. I. Packer: We have separated the ages, very much to the loss of each age. In the New Testament, the Christian church is an all-age community, and in real life the experience of the family to look no further should convince us that the interaction of the ages is enriching. The principle is that generations should be mixed up in the church for the glory of God. That doesn't mean we shouldn't disciple groups of people of the same age or the same sex separately from time to time. That's a good thing to do. But for the most part, the right thing is the mixed community in which everybody is making the effort to understand and empathize with all the other people in the other age groups. Make the effort is the key phrase here. Older people tend not to make the effort to understand younger people, and younger people are actually encouraged not to make the effort to understand older people. That's a loss of a crucial Christian value in my judgment. If worship styles are so fixed that what's being offered fits the expectations, the hopes, even the prejudices, of any one of these groups as opposed to the others, I don't believe the worship style glorifies God, and some change, some reformation, some adjustment, and some enlargement of spiritual vision is really called for.

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Whistle While You Worship 3


Worship While You Clean

I did not originally intend for this to be a part of the Whistle While You Worship series, but its necessity certainly presented itself to me. Last week my wife handed me a brochure that came in the mail. She was wondering if I was serious a few months ago about wanting to hire someone to clean our bathrooms. You see, I had a terrible experience and attitude the last time I cleaned the shower. The chemicals were overbearing, the physical exertion was excruciating, the emotional trauma was almost too much to handle. It was then, on my knees in the shower, that the brilliant idea popped into my head to obliterate this nonsense by hiring a cleaning person. It's a win-win, right? She makes money, while I don't have to suffer. Well, it's been three months, and no, we haven't hired anyone, and yes, it's been three months since I scrubbed the shower. My wife saw how much I complained and hated doing it, so she picked up my slack the last couple months.

The front of the brochure reads, "Life's Too Short...To Clean Your Own Home!" Below the blurb is this photo of a family in their bright, clean home, spending time enjoying one another with smiles on their flawless faces, almost as if to say, "Life is perfect, my family is perfect, my house is perfect, and it's all because we didn't have to scrub our own scum." But there's more to the story this picture implies. It continues, "Life would suck, family would suck, and our house would suck if we had to clean it ourselves."

Open the brochure (which, I might add, is done very well) and read, "We'll Clean Your House...You Live Your Life." This company is capitalizing on the human misconception that cleaning isn't a part of real life. Cleaning is an inconvenient means to the end of enjoying life in a clean home. The problem is, cleaning is a part of real life, demanding our worshipful attitude and God-honoring work ethic just as much as anything else we do.

I can't help but think about all the Scriptures concerning God-ordained, Jewish customs of cleanliness, especially in relation to worship in the house of God. The entire Law involves cleansing and preparation for worshiping God, and much of it pertains to worshiping Him particularly in His house, the Temple. Our lives, our calling as God-worshipers, reflects this very cleanliness and preparation. In a sense, our homes are little God-houses, sanctified for the worship of God. Do we view our homes in this way, as a place of daily worship? If I did understand this, then the very act of cleansing my home would be sacred, heartfelt, and joyful.

Instead, I have been lazy. Laziness is a symptom of my lack of worship. Laziness speaks to the fact that I often don't view my house as a place of worship. Rather, I see my house falsely as a place to merely eat and sleep and nominally enjoy family and friends in between my real life of worship activity. This is wrong. My home is a sacred house of God, demanding my fullest attention down to the smallest detail. Why? Because God lives here.

Trust me, by no means have I arrived. The Lord began showing this to me the other day whilst I was scrubbing the shower tiles and vacuuming the house. I spent about four hours basking in His presence, dwelling on Him, and preparing a dwelling place for His presence. I delighted in Him while I cleaned. And talk about instantaneous fruit of labor, not only did I get a clean house out of the deal, I got a happy wife. In honoring God, I honored my wife, and she absolutely loves a clean house, even more so when I clean it and do it well. Let this be an encouragement to all, especially myself, the next time the opportunity to cleanse the temple arises.

Some people already enjoy the act of cleaning, and some may even make a living cleaning for others. I would encourage you to worship while you clean. Intentionally honor God in what you do. Adore Him as you scrub scum. You are preparing a temple for the most high God, whether it is your own house or someone else's. And for those of you who do hire cleaning persons, feel no shame. But, "whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). The priests had a number of responsibilities in the Temple. I'm sure (at least I hope) if you have chosen to hire cleaners, you have lots of other responsibilities in which you can be worshiping God. Also, be aware that your cleaning person is preparing your house, your temple, for you and God. Honor them for doing so. My hope for all of us is that when Jesus comes into our homes, He won't have to cleanse our temples of filthy idols and pagan worship, kind of like He did in Mathew 21:12.

The next WWYW post will be about our bodies, temples of the Lord, "Worship While You Eat." If I never get around to writing it, you know why.

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Christ Plays in Prayer 2


We are looking at the third section of Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, particularly what he says about prayer in community (read the intro to this series). Using Luke's Pentad of Prayers at the beginning of his gospel I am setting out to identify a biblical order and function of prayer in a worship gathering; how we, the community of Christ, can most effectively participate in the activity of the Spirit when we gather. Today we look at the two prayers of petition out of the five. The first is Mary's prayer, the Fiat mihi, the first of the five.

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

This is Mary's response to the angel's message that she will conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. I cannot say this any better than Peterson says it, so I'll simply quote him, and then comment.

"Prayer begins when God addresses us. First God speaks; our response, our answer, is our prayer. This is basic to understanding the practice of prayer: we never initiate prayer, even though we think we do" (273).

Prayer, whether spoken or sung, begins with God. He speaks his word to us, He sings his word over us, and our response is prayer. In this case, Mary petitions the Lord to "let it be" to her according to His word. She submits to the will of God by "amen-ing" His word. We see here that response is only possible when there is something to respond to. In fact, isn't that always the case? It sounds obvious, but how often do we try to conjure up prayers and praise without first hearing from God?

Not only do our prayers begin with God, they end with God. The last prayer in Luke's Pentad is Simeon's prayer, the Nunc dimittis.

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).

What the Holy Spirit promised Simeon had finally come to pass; he held "the purpose and meaning of life in his arms," Jesus. And just as Mary responded to the word of the Lord, so Simeon does. Peterson points out,

"Mary and Simeon...are a complementary pair: the young girl starting out in submission to God's word; the old man ending in submission to God's word. God's word not only initiates all prayer, it provides the grammar and vocabulary of prayer and brings all prayer to wholeness, to completion" (276).

On a practical note, as I was reading this section I couldn't help but feel confirmed in the way we use musical praise in our main weekly worship gatherings. We feel the bulk of our music is most effectively placed after the preached word and during the Table portion of our service. This way everyone has heard the word of God, has received communion, and has a whole lot more to respond to in unified thought and expression. This unity is important, especially in the context of the main weekly gathering, because those whom God has put in leadership truly believe they have received from God his special word to be delivered to the church at that time. Having the bulk of musical worship before this word lends toward disunity and an experiential time in which response is dependent upon what each individual has heard from God prior to gathering (or upon what God is speaking through a given song). That's not to say the prayers aren't initiated by God, nor is it to say they aren't true expressions glorifying God. I'm just saying it might be worth reconsidering, especially biblically (according to His word), how we structure our worship in order to better aid worshipers in receiving and responding to God's word in unity.

Aside: Some prayers and praise songs inherently proclaim God's word in them, so as to allow worshipers to receive God's word and respond to it in one swift movement. Also, experiential worship is a good thing when done biblically and when it is the true God one is experiencing.

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Trends and Controversies in Worship


Last month I attended the Willow Creek Arts Conference in Chicago. One of the breakout sessions I sat in was co-led by Rory Noland, well known for his book Heart of the Artist, and Jon Klinepeter, who has been mentored by Rory for a number of years. This breakout was advertised as a discussion in current trends and controversies in worship, specifically to get 20-somethings back into the church. I thought it would be a "how to have an effective alternate service for young people" kind of session, but it turned out to be quite the opposite.

The focus was not on creating alternate environments for different generations, but rather creating one environment that consists of multi-generational worship. I was challenged by the concept. Due to my past church experiences of clashing styles between the youth and elders, I had drawn the conclusion that offering alternate worship environments was the answer. This led me to an approach to worship that is quite different from how the churches I've served in have traditionally done things. So, the natural and easy thing to do was take the 20-somethings and have a gathering that serves our tastes. While this generation-segregation approach may be somewhat beneficial for youth, young adults, and others in order to facilitate life stage community or have life stage specific teaching, a multi-generational approach has benefits of its own.

Now, I understand cultural contexts are entirely different here, but the principle in Numbers 8:24-26 may still apply,

This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.

Notice the way the Levites worked. When they reached fifty they took a supporting role. They let the 20-somethings do the work, and supported them, prayed for them and mentored them. The younger people picked up the work; they began to "build upon the foundations" that were laid before them.

Rory made the point that many churches refuse to evolve by refusing to involve the upcoming generations in the worship gathering. When this happens eventually those churches find themselves asking, "What can we do to keep from dying out? How can we get twenty year-olds back in the church?" But all too often those questions are followed with statements like, "Well, they certainly can't bring in those loud drums or electric guitars." Likewise, many times churches find the young people saying, "If we cant have it our way, then let's go do our own thing."

The challenge laid to church leaders by Rory and Jon is to develop worship teams that have a "younger look with an older presence." In Rory's current role he shepherds the worship team, which consists mostly of younger people, and never steps onto the platform himself. He suggested that if you have people in the church who are young and can do the work, sing the songs, and play the instruments, they should be doing so. Those who are getting older in years should love, support, and mentor them.

I think this type of relational bridge and intentional mentorship will build a greater respect in the hearts of younger generations for what the older generations value and appreciate culturally, artistically, and in other ways. They will become more open to incorporating the historical and traditional elements of worship into their own worship expressions. Rory and Jon point out that Millennials (today's 20-somethings) are generally open to having older people around and open to old ideas and traditional practices. They say that younger generations crave this relationship because they are a divorced and fatherless generation. The relationship Millennials desire to have with their parents and grandparents is much different than the relationships between children and parents of the previous three generations. The Baby Busters, or Generation X (born 1965-1976), rebelled against everything their parents, the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) stood for, as did the Boomers against their parents (today's seniors). Millennials desire the values of their parents and grandparents.

Okay, enough lofty sociology. Insert illustration. Here is a tangible artistic expression of this concept, "The Banjo Lesson" by Henry Tanner. Here you see the child is actually playing the banjo, his hands are doing the work, but the older and more experienced man is coaching him along.

Some of the bad fruit that can come from having alternate, style-oriented, generation-segregated services is:

1.) It can fuel an unhealthy sense of entitlement, instead of encouraging the appreciation of ways in which other generations enjoy worshiping God.

2.) It may undermine church unity, because the services rarely come together, and when they do it becomes an argument of worship styles.

3.) It often feeds the sinful nature of our consumer culture.

Jon says that in his experience "the luster of having your own thing [worship service] limits you to your own thing," and that having multiple alternate services causes "the older to miss out on new life and the younger to miss out on rich heritage." Ultimately, Jon feels, "it's not a reflection of the kingdom of God to divide just because I like to worship with guitar and not with organ."

Personally, I believe the heart of a worshiper is to say, "Better is one day in Your house," not, "Better is one day if I can do it my way." In order to keep the church reaching current generations it must include all generations functioning in their proper roles.

I have been challenged to make sure that as I get older, I have people who can take my place; that I can mentor and love and support and champion in their expression of and leadership in worship, while I, eventually, take a back seat; while I, like the the elder in "The Banjo Lesson," let the youngster put his hands to the strings, and cheer him on, even if I don't always like how he does it. This week I'm taking my first step, as I'll be standing off platform, taking much delight in sight a 19 year-old lead our congregation.

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Albums and Albertine


I frequent Bob Kauflin's blog, WorshipMatters. His latest entry is "Listening to Music - Erosion or Accumulation?" In it he quotes Russ Bremeier of Christianity Today and what he has to say about two kinds of music albums: 1.) the ones that "erode" with time and 2.) the ones that "accumulate" your liking.

As I was reading, and before Russ mentioned this particular album, I was thinking to myself, "You know, I really like Brooke Fraser's album Albertine." Then, sure enough, he names that album as an "accumulator".

Then, as Bob was commenting on Russ' note, he confirms Albertine as one that has accumulated his liking over time. And before I read Bob's last paragraph, I thought to myself, "I bet Bob is going to say something about the lack of gospel content in Brooke's album," and he does.

I bought the album for my wife a couple months ago, since she is a big fan of Hillsong United, and Brooke Fraser is one of their worship leaders. (BTW, I buy my Praise & Worship CDs from www.goldusa.com. You should check it out. If you can find lower prices for CDs, let me know.) I have listened to Albertine at least twenty times and absolutely love the artistry. This doesn't happen very often, but I liked it the first time I listened to it, and it has grown on me even more over time, especially musically and poetically. And like Bob says, the lyrical content is less gospel-centered and more typical Hillsong depth (although her songs are not meant for Praise & Worship). This doesn't bother me, though. I simply noticed it, as did Bob.

If you love leading Hillsong songs, and you're wondering what I mean by "typical Hillsong depth," Bob pretty much nails it when he says, "When it comes to songs for corporate worship, I haven’t been a big Hillsong fan. Their songs can tend to be strong on the music side, weak on the lyrical side, and heavy on the subjective side." And if you're still wondering what that means, read my series of "Contemporary Praise and Worship" posts. Regardless, I highly recommend Brooke Fraser's Albertine.


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Christ Plays in Prayer 1


The third section of Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places concerns the spiritual theology of biblical community. (I highly recommend this book to every Christian, no matter where you are in your walk with Christ.) On pages 272-76, Peterson writes about St. Luke's Pentad of Prayers, and how Luke, "whose task is to maintain and develop the organic continuities between Jesus and the his company of followers, frequently brings us to prayer." Peterson writes,

"If the Holy Spirit - God's way of being with us, working through us, and speaking to us - is the way in which continuity is maintained between the life of Jesus and the life of Jesus' community, prayer is the primary way in which the community actively receives and participates in that presence and working and speaking...Five prayers [at the beginning of Luke's gospel] articulate a language of listening and believing, a language of receptive and responsive participation as God speaks the life of Jesus and the Jesus community into existence."

What I want to point out in addition to the community forming and sustaining power of prayer, which Peterson superbly explains (read it!), is the order and function of prayer in a worship gathering, how we, the community of Christ, can most effectively participate in the activity of the Spirit when we gather. Further, I will break down prayer into the common dichotomy of "praise" and "petition" (even though I believe the mystery of prayer warrants much deeper reflection than this). Here is Luke's Pentad of Prayers:

  • The Fiat mihi (Luke 1:38)
  • The Magnificat (1:46-55)
  • The Benedictus (1:68-79)
  • The Gloria in excelsis (2:14)
  • The Nunc dimittis (2:29-32)

The first and the last prayers are related in that they are both petitions. The middle three are praises, each of which have been put to music and are more commonly sung corporately than spoken.

Before we dive into the five prayers, I should point out that Peterson in the quote above speaks of prayer as "a language of receptive and responsive participation." Take a look at a previous post entitled "Receive and Respond: The Purpose of Musical Worship." Also, here is a quote from another post called "Getting Old," in which I identify a couple reasons why our church has adopted the historical four-part worship structure for Sunday morning Celebrations: "We have moved the bulk of our music to the Table portion of the service. This way we have already received the Word and Communion and have a whole lot more to respond to in musical worship."

And so that this post ends now, I will make this a series of posts going through each of Luke's five prayers. Stay tuned.

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Whistle While You Worship 2


Worship While You Shop

A couple days ago I went to Wal-Mart to grab some deodorant and milk. Here is a typical Wal-Mart shopping experience for me: I drive (in a worshipful way of course) through the parking lot, dodging carts, potholes, people, and cars (going the wrong way in a one way); I park, enter, grab a cart, nod at the greeter, and beamline it to the first thing on my list; I never make eye contact with other shoppers, never smile, never show any care for anyone but myself, my consumer needs. After all, my life is so much more important than everyone else's, but not that this shopping excursion is a part of my life anyway; I'm just getting stuff to help me live for real.

I have been pondering how I might worship God in everything I do. Like driving was (and sometimes still is - see the first post in this series), shopping hasn't really counted in my mind as an actual life event. It's just something that has to be done, so I take off Christ and, like a robot, soul-less and lifeless, git 'er done. Shopping has just been something that happens "on the way" to my real life events. How foolish of me to disregard what happens "on the way" to what I consider most important in my life (family, ministry, my relationships). I wonder how many times in the Gospels and the book of Acts Jesus and the disciples were "on their way" somewhere, and they considered their journey just as important as their destination. I wonder how many lives were touched and transformed by their awareness to what was always happening around him. How foolish of me to think the Spirit of Christ is only at work in events that I think are important.

So this particular shopping experience was different. It was hard, and I really had to focus, but my entire attitude shifted from cold self-centeredness to joyful Christ-centeredness, as I asked God for an awareness to what His Spirit might be doing. This act of worship naturally put a smile on my face, caused me to keep my head up, to make eye contact with people I crossed paths with, and, I believe, ultimately brought glory to God. I guess I'll bring the dwarfs' whistle ditty out of the car now and into the store, "Wor-ship-while-you-shop" (whistle).

One more thing, I do think there is a difference between what I'm talking about and simply being nice. I nice person can be thoughtful and kind and "Christian" and still be self-centered and (since we're talking about shopping) consermeristic, materialistic, etc. My point is that we all, the cold-hearted (me) and the warm-hearted alike, can and should be more aware of what the Spirit is doing "on the way." This is just as much an act of worship as singing worship songs in church, and it may even be more glorifying to God considering the evangelistic nature of this kind of worship. I pray that you and I would be more conscious of what God is up to in everything we do. And I pray that joy would fill our hearts, even in the inner most crevices of the earth.

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"Where Angels Fear to Tread" Revisited


One of my favorite Matt Redman albums is Where Angels Fear to Tread. It came to me at a very formative time of my life (age 22, college years, personal reformation). I was immediately drawn to several songs on the album. Most worship albums have zero or one song I can use in leading worship. Of the eleven tracks on this album, I have led seven in corporate worship, the best of which include "Blessed Be Your Name," "Making Melody," "Wonderful Maker," and "Lord, Let Your Glory Fall."

Well, I hadn't listened to the album in about four years, but just revisited it last week. This time through, my attention was drawn to one of the four songs I wasn't particularly fond of several years ago, the title track. And after four years of learning more about God and worship, I heard its truth through different ears. Here are the lyrics to "Where Angels Fear to Tread":

If it wasn't for Your mercy
If it wasn't for Your love
If it wasn't for Your kindness
How could I stand?

If it wasn't for Your cleansing
If it wasn't for Your blood
If it wasn't for Your goodness
How could I stand?

Yet I find myself again
Where even angels fear to tread
Where I would never dare to come
But for the cleansing of Your blood

With You there is forgiveness
And therefore You are feared
Jesus, it's Your lovingkindness
That brings me to my knees

And I find myself again
Where even angels fear to tread
Where I would never dare to come
But for the cleansing of Your blood

In the beauty of your holiness
Here in the beauty of your holiness

This song is not as much a worship song as it is a song about worship. The truth Redman declares in these words is that he cannot possibly worship God without what Christ did for him. He is saying it is absurd to think he can approach God apart from the cleansing blood of Jesus. He knows that without Christ, God's holy wrath burns against him. But in addition to the terror of God's holiness, it becomes beautiful to the one who has received His mercy and forgiveness. This is a song about rightstanding before God through the sacrifice of Christ our Mediator. This is what I call a "gospel" song, or a "Christ-centered" song.

I would also classify this as one of Redman's "teaching" songs. His next album, Facedown, has more songs of the like. It was almost as if at a certain point in Redman's life he was learning tons about God and worship and simply couldn't get it off his mind, so he ended up filling his songs with these theological truths. We already talked about one of these songs in this blog, "Breathing the Breath." Another "teaching" song from Facedown is "Gifted Response," an amazing song about Trinitarian worship. I highly recommend all of Redman's "teaching" songs and all of his albums for that matter.

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Mystery, Knowledge, Worship


A couple days ago I read a post from desiringGod.org (thanks Paul) entitled "Knowledge Increases Mystery" by John Piper. Read it for yourself, but he makes two points. The first is his, and the second belongs to Jonathan Edwards: 1.) "God is more honored by worship that rises from what we know about him than by worship that rises from what we don’t know about him," and 2.) "Increased knowledge does not equal decreased mystery. It’s the other way around."

I am reminded of what the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes 1:18, "He who increases knowledge [of the world] increases sorrow," because the more he knows of the world, the more meaninglessness he sees. At the same time, it can be said, as Piper says, that he who increases knowledge [of God] increases worship, because the more he knows of God, the more meaning he sees. And what is completely flabbergasting in all of this new-found meaning is that the mystery of God increases, too, as Edwards points out, which in turn causes us to fear Him and awe Him and search for more knowledge of who He is. It's a worship circle, or better yet, a spiral moving from the inside out: mystery, knowledge, worship, greater mystery, greater knowledge, greater worship, and so on.

This also reminds me of a lesson in Eastern Orthodoxy. In contrast to the Western mind's view of theology as "faith seeking understanding," the Eastern mind views theology as "mystical contemplation," where doctrinal truth always emerges with experiential reality. The Church is not as defined as it is lived. Church is being and becoming the divine life. It is transfiguration, transformation. (This brief description comes from a Greek Orthodox teacher, Dr. Helen Theodoropoulos, GOA, Loyola University, Chicago.)

Many in the Western Church today (i.e., Western Europe, United States, etc.), are adopting this Eastern way of thinking and living, being and doing church. It is quite popular among postmodern, post-Protestant, post-everything Christians. There is much to appreciate and learn from the Eastern Church, especially, in my opinion, their architecture and visual art in worship, their welcoming and joining of kingdom worship, and their high acknowledgment of the Trinity in worship. I'm afraid, however, that much Eastern worship is stuck in a different circle: mystery, worship, same mystery, same worship. Where is "the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God," as Paul speaks of in Romans 11:33?

In sum, although I find value in some Eastern ways of worship - it is never good to throw out everything just because I disagree with something - I do see a danger in their overwhelmingly experiential worship, where mystery trumps knowledge. Yes, God is mysterious, but we ought to be seeking to know Him, searching his inscrutable ways, and not merely settling for mystery for mystery's sake.

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