The Negotiable and the Non-Negotiable in Global Worship

If you have not seen this powerful defense of culturally diverse expressions of worship by a late, great theologian, I think it’s well worth pondering. He clearly lays out what dare not change from place to place, as well as what may profitably vary:

However much, therefore, worship and prayer may vary in linguistic and behavioural forms, as they inevitably and rightly do when they are expressed in the habits of different societies, peoples, cultures and ages, they nevertheless have embedded in them an invariant element which derives from the normative pattern of the incarnate love of God in Jesus Christ. In so far as worship and prayer are through, with and in Christ, they are not primarily forms of man’s self-expression or self-fulfilment or self-transcendence in this or that human situation or cultural context, but primarily forms of Christ’s vicarious worship and prayer offered on behalf of all mankind in all ages. However, precisely because our worship and prayer are finally shaped and structured by the invariant pattern of Christ’s mediatorial office, they are also open to change in variant human situations and societies, cultures, languages and ages, even with respect to differing aesthetic tastes and popular appeal, if only because these variant forms of worship and prayer are relativised by the invariant form of worship and prayer in Christ which they are intended to serve. Hence when worship and prayer are objectively grounded in Christ in this way, we are free to use and adapt transient forms of language and culture in our worship of God, without being imprisoned in time-conditioned patterns, or swept along by constantly changing fashions, and without letting worship and prayer dissolve away into merely cultural and secular forms of man’s self-expression and self-fulfilment.

–T. F. Torrance, “The Mind of Christ in Worship: Thee Problem of Apollinarianism in the Liturgy.” In Theology in Reconciliation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), 213.

The Place of Song in Worhip

How shall I sing that majesty
Which angels do admire?
Let dust, in dust and silence lie:
sing, sing , ye heavenly choir.

Thousands of thousands stand around
Thy throne, O God most high;
Ten thousand times ten thousand sound
Thy praise; but who am I?

They sing because thou art their Sun;
Lord, send a beam on me;
For where heaven is but once begun
There alleluyas be.

I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,
With all my fore and light;
Yet when thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.

Enlighten with faith’s light my heart,
Inflame it with love’s fire;
Than shall I sing and bear a part
With the celestial choir.

–John Mason (17th-century hymnwriter)