Worship & Culture 15: One Way

God does not accept us because we have offered worthy worship.  In His love, He accepts us freely in the Person of His beloved Son, who in our name and on our behalf, in our humanity, has made the One offering to the Father, which alone is acceptable to God for all humanity, for all nations, for all times, and who unites us with Himself in the One Body, in His communion with the Father….

There is only one way to come to the Father, namely, through Christ in the communion of the Spirit, in the communion of saints, whatever outward form our worship may take.

—James B. Torrance, “Christ in Our Place” in A Passion for Christ: The Vision that Ignites Ministry, 37

Worship & Culture 13

We often think that the diversity of languages and cultures and peoples and political states is a hindrance to world evangelization—the spread of Christ’s glory. That’s not the way God sees it. God is more concerned about the dangers of human uniformity than he is about human diversity. We humans are far too evil to be allowed to unite in one language or one government. The gospel of the glory of Christ spreads better and flourishes more because of 6,500 languages, not just in spite of it.

A great part of the glory of the gospel is that it is not provincial. It is not a tribal religion. It breaks into every language and every people. If there were no diversity of languages, if the spectacular sin of Babel had not happened with its judgment, the global glory of the gospel of Christ would not shine as beautifully as it does in the prism of thousands of languages.

And finally, the praise that Jesus receives from all the languages is more beautiful, because of its diversity, than it would have been if there were only one language and one people to sing. “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

It was the spectacular sin on the plains of Shinar that gave rise to the multiplying of languages that ends in the most glorious praise to Christ from every language on earth. Praise the Lord, O Bethlehem, let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

—John Piper, “The Pride of Babel and the Praise of Christ” (message)

Worship & Culture 12

Nevertheless, the church has been sent to all ages and nations and, therefore, is not tied exclusively and indissolubly to any race or nation, to any one particular way of life, or to any set of customs, ancient or modern. The church is faithful to its traditions and is at the same time conscious of its universal mission; it can, then, enter into communion with different forms of culture, thereby enriching both itself and the cultures themselves.

—Margaret Mary Kelleher, “Vatican II and the LWF Project: Points of Convergence,” in Worship and Culture  Foreign Country or Homeland?, ed. Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, 62-63

Worship & Culture 11

Nothing is more traditional among faithful Christians, says Anscar Chupungco, than the constant inculturation of the liturgy, including the resultant spread of the creative assimilations. Somebody started to anoint the newly baptized or clothe them with a clean white garment. Somebody began to light candles at evening prayer or light a fire at Pascha. Somebody started to use an Advent wreath or a Christmas tree. The original stories are complex, partly hidden, but they involved cultural practices. And they have spread nearly everywhere.

—Gordon Lathrop, “Every Foreign Country a Homeland, Every Homeland a Foreign Country: On Worship and Culture,” in Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, ed. Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, page 17

Worship & Culture 10

Scriptural imagery portrays diversity within the church as a characteristic of flourishing life in Christ: one Spirit grants a diversity of gifts, one body of Christ has diverse members.

—Benjamin M. Stewart, “What, Then, Do Theologians Mean When They Say ‘Culture’?” in Worship and Culture  Foreign Country or Homeland?, ed. Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, 46

Worship & Culture 9

On the one side is the local, the particular cultural context of a given people, a given group of congregations. How can cultural richness be reflected in worship? What are the thought patterns and linguistic styles that should shape how prayers and sermons and liturgical texts are written? What aspects of indigenous music should find their way into hymns and other music in the church? What aspects of the aesthetics, the artistic styles, the symbol systems, the architectural prototypes in a given culture should be reflected in the rooms in which worship takes place? What gestures and postures from the culture can be meaningfully incorporated into Christian worship? What are the cultural manifestations of gathering into a community, of offering hospitality, of expressing reverence? All of this can be termed localization, or contextualization, or inculturation.

—S. Anita Stauffer, “Christian Worship: Toward Localization and Globalization,” in Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, ed., Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, 41

Worship & Culture 8

Lathrop suggests that Lutheran liturgical hermeneutics offers two guiding principles for decisions about the relationship between worship and culture. The first is that “in worship, the center must be clear: the assembly gathers around the gift of Christ in Word and sacrament.” The second guiding principle is that the gifts of diverse cultures are to be welcomed and honored, but “these cultural patterns must not become their own new law or usurp the place of the center…They must be broken to the purpose of Christ.”

—Margaret Mary Kelleher, “Vatican II and the LWF Project: Points of Convergence,” in Worship and Culture  Foreign Country or Homeland?, ed. Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, 64