“Authentic” Worship

Just last night, I was reading a book recommended by dear members of one of the churches where I serve. It comes from the Evangelical tradition, written by a highly influential minister that I’ve been mostly unfamiliar with. I haven’t avoided his work purposely; I just don’t enjoy listening to Evangelical sermons on the radio, watching them on television, or (usually) reading their materials. Part of my problem is that I have a considerable library of excellent theological writing that I still need to read through for the first time — including Luther’s Works.

Because of the recommendation, I began reading this book last night and found it rather easy to read. Most of what is written there so far is edifying. My only criticism is that the author seems to have little appreciation that our Christian growth and identity are rooted in Law and Gospel, the basic messages of holy scripture through which God acts upon us. Instead, he (so far) has expressed that our experience as Christians in cognitive contact with the events of Jesus’ life is what provides our growth in the faith.

One thing gave me pause, since I had never noticed its use before. The author described the worship of his congregation as “authentic.” On the surface, it meant little to me. Then I wondered what the alternative would be. Inauthentic, false worship? Still, it made little sense, because I could only think of false worship as that which focuses upon false gods. On the other hand, the Bible is replete with examples of people who want to worship and express their spirituality in a way of their own choosing instead of God’s way. Could the author simply mean that his church worships as God has directed in Holy Scripture, instead of incorporating the spontaneity that characterized the Israelites’ decision to bow down before a golden calf, or the independence that characterized the sin of Jeroboam? I was skeptical.

By a happy coincidence (if there is such a thing), Gene Edward Veith calls attention today to an article in Touchstone by Michael Horton, which sheds light on the term “authentic worship.” “Authentic” is paired with “spontaneous” and contrasted with “predictable and disciplined.” In other words, it’s pretty much the opposite of worship in the churches I serve, where the attendees always know what sort of things will happen before they arrive. Yet I still wonder if the author of this book and I are still understanding his expression in the same way. Is his “authentic” worship also predictable and disciplined? Is it spontaneous? I wonder.

The Horton article contains a lot of other food for thought. Since he is a bit closer to the Evangelical world from which this book comes, I’m inclined to believe that he understands its language better than I do.

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