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White Horse Inn: Conversational Theology

The Worship Service

What should a properly-ordered church service look like? In worship, are Christians actors or spectators? Do we come to church in order to give God something, or to receive something from God? On this program, the hosts are wrapping up their series on worship as they take a look at the subject of “liturgy.” Though many Christians in our day may not even be familiar with this word, it simply refers to the structure and form of worship. In other words, like theology, everyone has a liturgy; the question is whether the pattern of our worship is rooted in Scripture, or in the beliefs, forms, and practices of our surrounding culture.


“In his little book, For the Life of the World, now deceased Russian orthodox priest, Dr. Alexander Schmemann wrote, ‘The early Christians realize that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit, they must ascend to heaven where Christ had ascended. They realized also that this ascension was the very condition of their mission in the world, of their ministry to the world, for there in Heaven, they were immersed in the new life of the kingdom. And when after this liturgy of ascension, they returned to the world, their faces reflected the light, the joy, and peace of that kingdom and they were truly as witnesses. But, in the church today, we so often find we meet only the same old world, not Christ and his kingdom. We do not realize that we never get anywhere because we never leave any place behind us.’

“Schmemann, I think, touches on something that we can all agree on, the heavenliness of worship. Christian worship ought to transport us to another world. In fact, John Calvin understood the liturgy, in particular, the Lord’s Supper, as an ascent to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet it seems like today, so many churches in the United States have lost this sense of reverence and otherworldliness. Many American churches have watered down worship, cast aside the creeds and done away with the liturgy, or so they think. The fact is all of us are being shaped by some kind of liturgy. The real question is what that liturgy consists of.”

Adriel Sanchez


“Therapeutic Spirituality”

Today’s spirituality is novel in the sense that it is based upon a person’s felt needs, as opposed to an authoritative person or text. Self-expression has become the new form of worship in both traditional and innovative religious practices, rather than a practice of self-denial. This spirituality adopts preference as a means of self-actualization (i.e. a way of becoming the fullest expression of yourself as a human being). The commitments to these preferences are deeply personal and subjective, which results in the expression, “Your own personal Jesus” who neither confronts with his transcendent ‘Otherness’ nor deals in categories of sin, hell, or judgment. Therapy as a model of spirituality has replaced traditional norms due to the secularization of culture (i.e., the cultural shift that has resulted in religious beliefs becoming wholly individualized and disassociated from the social sphere).  Divine Providence over mankind has been replaced by the invisible hand of economic forces. Whereas the Almighty beneficent being was previously seen as integral to daily life and well-being, today, he is seen as a cosmic bellhop who comes at our beck and call.

With the loss of life’s ‘center’ by these competing visions of reality, faith has been left only with an interior and subjective expression which allows ‘believers’ to cope with the ‘real world’ science and technology have given them. In the face of this modern nihilism (i.e., the belief that there is no true reality beyond that which is apprehended through the senses), religion has often attempted to fill the vacuum through such therapeutic modes of expression. Even in traditional, conservative contexts orthodox worship and practice may succumb to this mode of spirituality, ultimately leaving little effect upon the practice of the worshipper or in the public square at large.

Concrete, external liturgical practices (such as the reading of the law, corporate confession, a declaration of pardon, and corporate supplication) are often displaced by personalized small groups that help believers in their life journey. This is deemed as more ‘relevant’ to the therapeutic man, and an improvement upon the ‘dead rituals’ that don’t speak to the hearts of worshippers. Worship thus becomes a therapy ‘session’ something akin to Alcoholics Anonymous, a place where kindred spirits can hear one another’s stories and help one another cope with their weaknesses and failures, rather than a place of divine judgment and salvation where sinful people meet with a holy God, and through faith in their Savior, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are forgiven for their rebellion, and comforted by the assurance of their salvation.

(Timothy W. Massaro, “Therapeutic Spirituality,” WHI [blog], August 10, 2014)

More from this Series: Worship

  1. Worship According to Scripture Listen Now ›
  2. An Interview with James K.A. Smith Listen Now ›
  3. Body & Soul Listen Now ›
  4. The Worship Service Listen Now ›
  5. Gene Veith on Modern Fascism Revisited Listen Now ›