For the last few weeks, Illumine's worship has centered around history, and we've looked at the different (and similar) ways that Christians throughout history have worshiped. We've tried to "embody" the particular styles and priorities of generations past in our own worship events just so we could walk in their shoes and see God as they did.
It's been interesting. While you can't really get a good picture of the history of Christian worship without intensive study and reading (starting quite naturally with the Biblical books of Acts and Hebrews, then using books like "The Bloodstained Path to God" by Daniel and Sarah Habben or Peter Brunner's "Worship in the Name of Jesus"), we have at least been able to get a taste for the how and why things were the way they were from 1-1500 AD.
What have we seen? Your takeaways may be different than mine, but I'd say this: no period of worship history has reached the perfect ideals toward which it aspired. The early church touted a concept of unity - Christ's love for all people - yet it remained fractured from place to place, class to class, and culture to culture. As the church went mainstream in the years following Emperor Constantine (Is it cool with you if I reference Wikipedia? Thanks.) we saw the event of worship, the formal gathering and the stuff done during it, begin to trump the important purpose of worship - a connection between people and their God, their hearts and his Gospel message. Then we saw the incredible artistic, musical, and architectural triumphs of a maturing Middle Ages church crumble under the weight of the hope that they would win God's approval - something only Jesus can do.
No period of worship history has been perfect, and as we turn from the past and look to the present, we have to admit that ours may be the worst. All the struggles and errors and mis-steps we can see with 20/20 vision as we look to the past exist in us today. Churches today value "unity over truth" or "truth over unity" - just pick your poison. They think that more programs or bigger and better events will be the key to faith, when the only key is the miracle of the Word meeting with individual hearts. Today's church (and that includes most of us) tells itself that we can do something in worship that is worthy of God, when the fact is our worship is not worthy of God, because our worship is full of the same terrible things that have marred every service over the last 2,000 years: sinners like me.
Thank the merciful Lord (remember kyrie eleison?) that sinners aren't the only things that have been present in every worship service ever. Thank the worth-giving Savior that he, too, came to those gatherings. Thank the long-suffering Spirit for listening carefully to every one of our warbled prayers and un-tuned cries. Thank the eternal Word for faithfully delivering the promised hope found in the Bible and the undeserved-but-still-free love of God through the sacraments so that no matter how bad we are, no matter how much we've messed up and missed the ideals of our Father in heaven, we can still rest in his arms in worship.
To be honest, that's the kind of history I want to be a part of, as often as I can.
-Pastor Kent Reeder