Corporate Worship and Contemporary Culture

This was written for Leadership in Contemporary Expressions of Corporate Worship in Fall 2008.

Christian worship is necessarily influenced by contemporary culture in that every worshiper is a member of culture. 1 Each worshiper speaks and understands a specific cultural language. Christ himself was part of a specific human culture in the middle east. He ate specific foods, listened to specific music, learned a particular language, and worshiped in specific ways. Stories about Christ’s life shared in scripture take place within the context of the time and place that he lived.

It is easiest for a worshiper to communicate with God and other worshipers in their native language, rather than to speak in a foreign tongue. “There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.”2 This requires the lead worshiper to know and understand the native languages of both the individual worshipers and the gathered congregation, and to plan worship in such a way that all are able to express their hearts to God.

This does NOT require worship to be homogeneous. On the contrary, many congregations will use a diversity of worship expressions, because the body is diverse. Both Jew and Greek, slave and free, are all baptized in one spirit into the assembly.3 As the gathered assembly worships, they have an obligation to please their neighbors for their good, to build them up, becoming one voice. 4 When we worship, we should submit to one another out of love for Christ.5 Submission sometimes includes worshiping in an unfamiliar vernacular for the sake of others.

We should guard carefully the content of our worship. Doctrine and belief should be held in a closed hand, while practice and methodology should be held in an open hand. We should not err as fundamentalists might and close both hands, neither should we become so liberal that we open up both hands, allowing truth to be distorted in order to accommodate culture.6

As Romans 12:2 reminds us, we are not to be conformed to the ideas of the world. Our worship should not be conformed to the world either. We can discern what is good, and acceptable by testing it against scripture. Worship practice should be flexible, and nothing should be excluded from consideration solely based on style, as long as it reflects truth, and is offered in order to glorify God.

1 See 1.2, Lutheran World Federation, “Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture,” Lift Up Your Hearts; accessed April 11, 2008.
2See 1 Corinthians 14:10-11
3 See 1 Corinthians 12, particularly verses 12-14
4 See Romans 15:1-6
5 See Ephesians 5:18-21
6 Driscoll, Mark, “Question 2: The Emerging Church,” Religion Saves + Nine Other Misconceptions, (sermon video from Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA, February 24, 2008)]; accessed 27 February 2008.