A smattering of thoughts, in absence of anything that seems to hold together much…
Last night I heard an Orthodox monk speak of the seed of the Spirit that lays dormant in each of us until we choose to nurture it and cultivate it. He spoke of authority in the Orthodox tradition as coming from a life of practice that is recognized by others. Authority, he said, has little to do with titles or learning or articulateness, and everything to do with the shining of God in and through a person’s actions over a lifetime. “Deep calls to deep,” he echoed the psalmist, saying that we know when we are in the presence of deep wisdom; something within us resonates with that wisdom. I most often see it in people’s eyes — I can tell who has seen much suffering and experienced its transformation into abundant life, most often, by looking at the ineffable but subtle glow in their eyes. Similarly, good Anabaptist / pietist folks like to talk about “knowing a tree by its fruits.”
Worship is close to my heart and at the center of my calling. I find it hard to express the joy of seeing a worship planned with tender care, spun out into the world with anticipation, caught up in something holy and often unexpected, breathed into life in a community, and echoing through eternity. The way in which God meets her people in worship is precious. Worship realigns our priorities and teaches us how to value the good. Worship helps us become enthralled with life and breaks our fascination with death. Worship knits us together and sets us ablaze with love. But like any beautiful and holy thing, the very experience of worship itself is far greater than any list of its “side-effects.”
We humans are worshipping creatures and authority-following creatures. The question is never “will we worship?” or “will we follow?” but rather “whom or what will we worship?” and “whom or what will we follow?” The answers to those questions begin, bit by bit, to claim and reorient our lives. It strikes me that in worship (as in life), all authority in the church comes directly from the One we worship but is manifest through the many joined in one body. Here, we seek both to express the best gifts of our community and also to offer the many voices just as they are. And in that expression and offering we are met and formed. So, though we must never worry that God’s realm will rise or fall based solely on our worship, we also must honor the power that flows through our worship: power to nurture, challenge, equip, and equally power to wound, destroy, or lull into apathy.
The questions this leaves me with are these:
How do we call out and form leaders in this area?
How do we hold them accountable to us and ourselves accountable to them in creating robust opportunities for encounter with God — opportunities that open us up and avoid the myriad pitfalls that can close us off from God?
How do we turn worship from a consumer activity led by a professional purveyor of all things holy (or alternatively from a social club with very little vision and direction), into something more communal and sacramental, something that points more to God than to our own safety zones and preferences?
NuDunkers will be talking about this topic in a Google hangout this Thursday at 10am EST. You can find more information here. Also check out the other blogs on this topic:
Travis Poling, The Body of Christ as Liturgical Authority
Dana Cassell, Worship and Authority
Josh Brockway, Whose Authority, Which Worship
Matt McKimmy, Respect my (lack of) authority
PS — I wrote another post on this topic a while back: “Let us pray” and authority