So begins a lengthly blog post from Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy on the subject of contemporary worship. It is worth the read. Even if you do not agree with everything he says, it is a thoughtful post and a good entry into the ever popular worship wars debate.
First we need to ask: Is there a guiding principle for right worship? St. Stephen, the first martyr, gave a sermon about the history of the Jewish nation. In this sermon he notes that Old Testament worship was “according to the pattern.”
Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. (Acts 7:44 NIV, bolds added).This phrase comes up again in the book of Hebrews.
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:5 NIV, bold added)The phrase is a reference to Exodus 24:15-18 when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai and spent forty days and forty nights up there. On Mt. Sinai Moses was in the direct presence of God receiving instructions about how to order the life of the new Jewish nation. Thus, the guiding principle for Old Testament worship was not creative improvisation nor adapting to contemporary culture but imitation of the heavenly prototype.
The article just keeps getting better. Especially significant is the last line of the quote above -- imitation of the heavenly prototype. That is something behind the whole essence of liturgical worship. It mirrors not the culture of the day (as contemporary worship forms and music do) but attempts to prefigure, glimpse, and direct the worshiper to the heavenly realm which our earthly temple prefigures. If you want some good Lutheran reading on this, get yourself Art Just's great book Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service (CPH):
... in worship Christ is summoning us home to be with Him when He invites us to sit and listen to His Word with our ears or our eyes and then come forward and receive His flesh with our mouths. Our eyes are opened to His bodily presence where He offers us the best seat at the table and the finest food. We have come home to be with God in the Father's house, a foretaste of our final homecoming at the Lamb's banquet in His kingdom that has no end. Worship is our home, our own unique culture inhabited by Christ Himself, we we know by heart its language and its rhythms for we have immersed ourselves in its life because it is His life... p. 245
Again, from Orthodox Christian Robert Arakaki:
This is a participation of the heavenly worship described in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8. For the Orthodox Church this point of the Divine Liturgy is not so much an imitation as a participation in the heavenly worship.
If the Apostle Paul were to walk into an Orthodox liturgy, he would immediately recognize where he was — in a Christian church. The key give away would be the Eucharist. This is because the Eucharist was central to Christian worship. In the days following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost the early Christians met in homes and celebrated “the breaking of bread” (the Eucharist). Paul received his missionary calling during the celebration of the liturgy (Acts 13:2 NKJV). He made the celebration of the Eucharist a key part of his message to the church in Corinth (I Corinthians 11:23 ff.).
If Paul were to walk into a traditional Protestant service with the hymn singing, the reading of Scripture and the lengthy sermon he might think he was in a religious service much like the Jewish synagogue. He may not have much trouble accepting it as a kind of Christian worship service, although he might question their understanding of the Eucharist. However, if the Apostle Paul were to walk into a mega church with its praise bands and elaborate worship routine, he would likely think he was at some Greek play and seriously doubt he was at a Christian worship service. If the Apostle Paul were to walk into a Pentecostal service he would probably think he had walked into a pagan mystery cult that had no resemblance at all to Christian worship.
You just cannot miss the difference -- whether you can explain the theology of it or simply relate the radically different experience. Good stuff in the ongoing debate about what Sunday morning should look like...