Journeyman Project Dispatches from the Life of Patrick Fowler: Christianity Explored


Lessons from the History of Worship

Recently I completed a book on the history of worship in the church, and I found it to provide a lot of powerful insights for my life and ministry in the future. I wanted to share those major points with you here. I hope you enjoy and provide your reaction to these short comments…

Church, in the form that I know it, is the product of innovation by Methodist and Baptist leaders intended to reach unsaved people living life on the American frontier (hence the name, Frontier tradition). Choirs, hymns, special music, emotionally-compelling sermons, conference-style meetings, unscripted prayers, small groups, and altar calls are largely the product of evangelistic efforts.

The problem of the Frontier churches innovation of worship was the loss of the church's strong emphasis on the social programs of the church: caring for the sick, reaching out to the hurting, protecting the innocent. In American society, we expect the government to do these things...but historically, the church was unique because it did these things--hence the reason why most hospitals in the U.S. are religious institutions. Without this element of the church, our emphasis on the gospel - an offensive message - has caused us to be characterized as brainwashing our members.

Liturgy plays a HUGE role in the church that I am historically connected to--its the foundation of worship for over 1,000 years...compared to the 200+ years of American traditions. As a leader for the church, I need to understand and experience this element of the church. I should familiarize myself with the Common Book of Prayer.

Worship teaches theology better than sermons. Worship repeats concepts in memorable ways. Most people cannot remember the subject of a sermon after a few weeks, but they can remember the songs they sang! Because of this, our worship needs to teach accurate theology, and it needs to include elements that ground us in the essential elements of our faith.

In our century, the Catholic church and Protestant denominations are drawing near to one another in their worship, paving the way for greater unity between believers than we've seen since the Protestant Reformation. Unfortunately, this unity is thwarted by a generation of Protestants who don't want to be connected to any other church or group of churches (denomination), who don't see any value in coordinating their efforts outside their local church.

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