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by John D. Witvliet
At Play in the House of the Lord. Why worship matters
Christians exhibit a peculiar double-mindedness on the subject of worship. Nothing is as likely to stir passions in local congregations as a proposal to change the form of worship. Even modest modifications—the introduction of a hymn in a church that sings all praise songs, for example—can lead to bitter divisions. And yet at the same time, there is abundant evidence that the church regards worship as a matter of secondary importance. The typical survey of the history of Christianity can go on for several hundred pages with only a passing reference to the worship practices of earlier Christians. Many works in systematic theology probe the implications of a given doctrine for personal and social ethics while entirely neglecting its implications for worship. Many Christian artists, musicians, and architects save their best work for contexts outside the worshiping assembly. And worship courses often function as the plankton on the seminary curricular food chain.
These new works by Bernhard Lang, Frank Senn, Geoffrey Wainwright, and James White move in a decidedly different direction. As Lang notes, this is a topic "too intriguing, too puzzling, and too beautiful to be passed over in silence."
1.The first contribution of these four books is their impressive survey of the dazzling variety of Christian worship practices. Many of Christianity's most poignant and colorful moments have happened when believers have gathered for worship.
Imagine being served daily doses of Origen's allegorizing exegesis in the schoollike daily worship services in third-century Caesarea. Origen, Lang teaches us, was a pioneer of exegetical preaching, working through the entire Old Testament every three years. (Wouldn't Zwingli have been pleased?)
Imagine the terror of standing alongside the self-assured Puritan iconoclast William Dowsing, whose destructive axe undid centuries' worth of painstaking artistic craftsmanship in a fortnight. At least, White reminds us, Dowsing appreciated the ...