Friday, December 3, 2021

IHS and the Name of Jesus

The letters IHS are displayed prominently in many worship spaces. Most often they are embroidered into the paraments that are laid on the pulpit and communion table, and they also appear in the center of many sanctuary crosses. But what do they mean?

Early in life I was taught that they are an acronym for "In His Service." That's not an unreasonable interpretation, but it's not quite right. JESUS, written in Greek, looks something like this: IHSOUS. This three-letter symbol represents the first two letters, plus the final one:

I is iota
H is eta
S is sigma

Do you have one of those sweaters with your three initials stitched into the front? IHS is essentially that, a monogram of the familiar Greek name of Jesus. It is known as a Christogram, a graphic abbreviation of the name of Christ.

Because Greek letters do not match up exactly with our Latin alphabet, there are variations on the "IHS" symbol. Sometimes the first letter, iota, gets turned into a J:

And sometimes the sigma at the end becomes a C:

Or, if these two variations are combined, the symbol can also look like "JHC." Maybe you have heard someone take the Lord's name in vain by saying "Jesus H. Christ." This is where that unfortunate phrase comes from: people have incorrectly assumed (or joked) that H was the middle name of Jesus Christ.

Other Christograms include the Chi-Rho symbol. It looks like XP, the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ:

The shortest abbreviation for Christ's name is X, or Chi, which is the first Greek letter of the name. Lots of people complain about the word "Xmas," saying it takes Christ out of Christmas. But in the history of the church, this shortcut is actually a very faithful abbreviation of the name of Christ.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Origins of Thanksgiving Day

Every third-grader in America knows that Puritan colonists in New England celebrated Thanksgiving starting in the 17th century. But it took 300 years for the United States to make it an official national holiday with a consistent nation-wide schedule. In his book Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday, James W. Baker writes about some interesting stops along the way to our present-day observance. Here are some Thanksgiving factoids that you can use as conversation starters around the dinner table on Thursday.

Eating. Feasting was probably a part of the earliest Puritan celebrations, but the meal only came after a serious period of fasting and prayer. In fact, the first observances were not harvest festivals at all. Instead, Thanksgiving was an alternative winter holiday that the Puritans celebrated in opposition to "pagan" Christmas revelry that contained too much feasting and drinking. So Thanksgiving celebrations were really not about the food at first. Annual fasts were a way to think back about the past year and give thanks for all the blessings received from God, not just the ones that came from the ground.

Turkey was probably a featured dish from the beginning, and in the earliest days this required hunting. But by the time of the American Revolution overhunting made it difficult to find a bird in the wild. But this didn't stop some intrepid sportsmen. "Turkey shoots" allowed everyone to pay for a chance to shoot at a bird tied up to a stump, with the best shot taking the prize home. (And that was often the shooter who was most sober by that time of the day.)


School. Much of what we think we know about Thanksgiving came from elementary school curricula. Before the 1890s, Americans didn't really associate the day with Pilgrims and Indians. But post-Civil War America was fractured and in need of a unified identity. Americans experienced societal changes brought on by emancipation, reconstruction, mass immigration, and growing industrialization. Public schools saw that the stories of Pilgrims fleeing persecution fit their goal of bringing the country together, teaching national virtues such as individual liberty and freedom. The fact that these European settlers supposedly cooperated with Native Americans also fit the ethos of a country becoming increasingly multi-cultural. So schools packaged several holidays to create a new American identity: Thanksgiving, the Presidents' birthdays ("I cannot tell a lie"), Memorial Day, and Labor Day. Thanksgiving Day pageants at elementary schools became rituals that reinforced an idea of the "united" states.

Football. Before the NFL there was college football. The first Thanksgiving Day game was played in 1876 by the two best college teams from the previous year. This was pretty much the beginning of the modern game, coming shortly after Harvard had adopted rules changing the sport from a soccer-style contest to one that resembled rugby. (NPR's Only a Game once aired a story with more details about the development of football as a Thanksgiving fixture.) In 1891 Harper's Weekly reported that families used the Yale-Princeton game as an excuse to get out of the house and distract them from boring dinner conversations. Thanks, football.

Shopping. Many people lament that Thanksgiving has become "Black Friday Eve." But the holiday has been linked to Christmas shopping for a long time. Thanksgiving Day became a national holiday thanks to the advocacy of Sarah Josepha Hale, who wanted an official proclamation from Congress to consolidate all the various state and regional celebrations that fell on different days. In 1863 President Lincoln declared a national holiday on the last Thursday in November, but it would not officially become the law of the land until 1941, and only then after some wrangling with the retail industry. In 1939 the last Thursday in November fell on the 30th, which shopkeepers disliked because it created a shorter Christmas shopping season. So President Roosevelt moved it up a week to November 23. This outraged traditionalists who bemoaned that the holiday had been hijacked by consumerism. The same thing happened in 1940, with some states and territories refusing to move away from the traditional "last Thursday." (Texas couldn't decide and held two Thanksgivings that year, with one on each of the last two Thursdays of the month.) Finally, in order to reduce the chaos, Congress passed a law in 1941 that required Thanksgiving to fall on the fourth Thursday of November. You win, Walmart.

Church and Worship. Thanksgiving has long held an ambiguous place in the life of the church. The Puritans definitely used it as a time to gather in worship. But nowadays, since Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday, churches often completely ignore the day. Even if there is a mid-week service at your place of worship, meeting during Thanksgiving week runs the risk of interfering with travel plans. 

Giving thanks is a spiritual discipline that we're called to do regularly, not just once a year. Unfortunately, none of us gives thanks naturally. Gratitude is something we have to learn and practice often. But the good news is that the more we give thanks, the easier it is to recognize the blessings that we already have. It is like strengthening a muscle: the more we use it, the easier it is to exercise it in the first place. Giving thanks is a response to the good things God has done, but it is also a process that shapes us into being more generous and grateful ourselves. For a great essay on the transforming power of thankfulness, check out Martin Copenhaver's article in The Christian Century:

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Four-Fold Pattern of Worship

Putting together an order of worship consists of organizing a sequence of prayers, songs, sacraments, exhortations, and other actions. Over the past forty years many denominations have created worship resources that organize these various elements into four primary parts:


Entrance. The service begins by gathering the people to worship God. Some churches use this time for informal announcements and greetings. Others start with music right away, using an organ prelude, choir intro, or praise chorus. Once the people are gathered together, then the pastor or worship leader prompts them to prayer and/or praise. This first "fold" of the service acknowledges that worship takes preparation and time. Indeed, there is a significant transition that takes place when the worshiping congregation assembles, moving from the cares and duties of everyday life into the presence of God.

Proclamation of the Word. Christian worship has always involved the reading, hearing, and interpretation of the scriptures. How these are read and preached vary greatly from congregation to congregation, but beneath these variables lies an essential logic: worship is a response to God's revealed action. God should have the first significant word in a service, and the tone of the entire worship experience should involve an ongoing remembrance of what God has said and done, as revealed in the scriptures.

Response. Many Christians, especially American Protestants, end their services with the sermon. But if our services are structured around the principle that God acted first—in our creation, preservation, and salvation—then our human action is always secondary to God's action. The four-fold order assumes, therefore, that a significant part of the service happens after the sermon. The offering, pastoral prayer, confession of sins, passing of the peace, and affirmation of faith can all happen after hearing the Word. These acts are our response to the grace that God has revealed through the Son and Holy Spirit.

From the first century onward, Christians have shared a meal as part of their response to God's saving work. This meal has been modeled after Jesus' words of institution as recorded in passages such as Mark 14:22-25 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, where Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to his disciples before sharing the cup. These four verbs create the framework for many eucharistic prayers, such the the prayer of Great Thanksgiving in the United Methodist Church. Such prayers remember and celebrate the actions of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, after which the pastor breaks the bread and gives it, along with the juice or wine, to the congregation.

Not all worship services include Communion. When it is not celebrated, the service is commonly called a "Service of the Word" instead of a "Service of the Word and Table." Even if the meal is not served, there should still be a significant action of giving thanks in this third fold of the service. Sometimes that might be limited to something as simple as saying the Lord's Prayer. But other activities such as baptisms and the welcoming of new church members are also very appropriate.

Sending Forth. Christians look forward to the time when worship will not cease, when we will constantly be physically present with the risen Christ. While we wait for that reality, our services have to conclude and we must re-enter the world. Just as the first fold begins with an entrance, this fourth and final section of the service prepares the worshipers for a return. The sending forth is usually not long, perhaps consisting of just a song and a blessing. When done properly it reminds the worshipers that they are commissioned to go out into the world, sent out to share messages of hope and peace, thereby witnessing to God's work in the world.

Congregations that consider themselves "contemporary" or "modern" often attempt to organize their services with a sense of flow, with one song naturally transitioning to another in a nearby key and with a similar tempo. With some planning, contemporary services can flow and follow this four-fold order in a worshipful way. Check out this book by me and some friends for some practical recommendations about how to make that happen.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Wesley's Directions for Singing

Methodists are people who sing, together. Upon opening the front cover of a United Methodist Hymnal (and after flipping through four pages of introductory material), you will find "Directions for Singing." These seven instructions, taken from John Wesley's 1761 hymn collection, describe how Methodist congregations should sing. Below is an edited version of that list, with some of the longer explanations cut down for the sake of readability.

I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

III. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

IV. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength...

V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony...

VI. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it... it is high time to...sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself...

Wesley's instructions here fit with his perspective on salvation. Individual decisions and commitments to follow Christ are necessary in our justification and sanctification, but these works of grace are supported and sustained in a community of other Christians. In an essay on Wesley's directions, Martin V. Clarke writes that the main instruction in point III encapsulates a Wesleyan theology of salvation: "Sing all." Each person, individually, needs to join in the singing, just as each individual believer needs to make a commitment to join a congregation. It is not enough to sing alone, just as it is an oxymoron to consider oneself a "solitary Christian." Wesley taught that there was no way to be holy by oneself: "There is no holiness but social holiness."

The Methodist revival was all about meeting together for mutual fellowship and encouragement. All Methodists were required to meet in small groups called societies, classes, and bands. Wesley knew that the Christian journey is difficult—there are too many traps and snares to waylay the lone traveler. The act of singing together acknowledges the inherent mutuality in relationship with God, and it encourages Christians to gather, which is a non-negotiable component of our faith.

For great insights on Wesley's rules for singing and a fun graphic depicting John and Charles as modern-day church leaders, check out this article by Charlie Buber, cartoonist and blogger who created the Wesley Bros. Charlie also created this COVID-applicable graphic for mid-2021.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Lent, Baptism & Getting Ready for Easter

For a long time it was normal for churches to baptize new Christians on Easter Sunday. The season of Lent began as a 40-day period of preparation that involved extra study and prayer, getting the candidates ready to experience their first full taste of Christian worship and Communion. Priests and bishops would fill these classes with scriptures, describing the salvation history of God in both testaments and painting a picture about the expectations of their new family, the church. Even the sponsors of the baptized—people we often call godparents today—would join in the classes. Giving things up for Lent therefore has a long tradition, as fasting during specific days of this baptismal preparation was one way of getting ready for Easter.

Baptism prepares and reminds all of us about the new Easter life that is available when we leave behind the old life. The resurrection of Jesus transforms time itself—it renews our past while creating a new future. Sometimes Christians call Sunday the "8th day" for that reason; the resurrection created the first day in a new week, making Sunday the "Lord's Day." It is simultaneously the end and the beginning. This is why many baptismal fonts have eight sides, reminding us that Christ reordered time. So in baptism we die to sin and are raised to new life, prepared to live into a new day: "When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:12). 

The waters of baptism remind us of this new relationship which God reveals in the scriptures. After cleansing the world with a flood, God promised Noah that the sins of humanity would never again provoke God to such wrath (Genesis 9:14-15). Moses led the Israelites to freedom and salvation through the parted waters of the Red Sea, taking them to a new land with new forms of worship (Exodus 14). Jonah was given another chance at ministry after being submerged in water (Jonah 2:5-6). 

But the greatest meaning of baptism comes from Jesus submitting himself to the waters of the Jordan River. These waters of baptism are shared by all, meaning that no Christian can ever look down on another, regardless of differences in race, class, gender, education, or age. Everyone who has been baptized has been reborn into the same new family: "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:27-28).

You can get ready for Easter by leaning into your baptism. Read the scriptures to remember the new life that Christ has offered you. Lay aside those things which lead to death, not just for 40 days but for good. Embrace your role as a child of God, which brings with it family ties to billions of others who have also set aside the old life.

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed on us your servants the forgiveness of sin and have raised us to the new life of grace. Keep us, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give us a searching and discerning heart, the courage to persevere, a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.
 (adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 308) 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Messy Origins of Christmas

Christmas observances didn't start in the time of Jesus, or even in the lifetimes of the biblical authors who wrote about his birth. As Bruce David Forbes puts it in Christmas: A Candid History, Christmas came along relatively late in the history of Christianity, centuries after the celebration of Christ's death and resurrection we know as Easter.

Indeed, from the earliest days Christians were Easter people. Jesus' birth only takes up a handful of verses in the Bible, but the death and resurrection story takes up numerous chapters in all four gospels. (Remember, Mark and John don't even mention Christ's birth at all.) When Paul sums up the core of the Christian faith in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, he makes the resurrection the focal point:
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.

Christmas came along later, and the history of its development is a bit messy. At first, Christmas rivaled the feast of Epiphany, which most churches hold on January 6. For several centuries, different churches celebrated one or the other, mostly based on geographic region. Epiphany, first celebrated in the eastern Roman empire, focuses on Christ's revelation to the nations, especially through his baptism and the arrival of the Magi. Christmas was developed by western churches and was more about Christ's incarnation as told in the gospels' birth narratives. After a time of coexistence, both holidays were deemed important. By 500 AD, rather than merging them into one day, most Christians were celebrating Christmas on December 25 and Epiphany twelve days later, with the time between marked as the twelve days of Christmas.

The church has held on to Christmas, in part, because it teaches an important theological lesson. The fourth century was a time of intense debate about the nature of Christ. Was he merely a human being, or was he actually God? Church councils were convened (especially in Nicea and Chalcedon) to settle this theological matter, and the results would define the nature of the church and its theology forever. By keeping Christmas as an annual memorial of the incarnation, the church maintains a strategic opportunity to proclaim the essential doctrine that Christ is both fully God and fully human.

Christmas has not always been embraced by all Christians. For instance, the Puritans didn't like it and set up Thanksgiving as a rival winter holiday. Even today some think Christmas has become too worldly, so they boycott the gift-giving, decorating, and partying that go along with it. Others get uptight about Christmas getting "hijacked" by a secular society that replaces "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." 

I think these Scrooge-like reactions show how we have lost sight of the original purpose of the holiday. The church has Easter as it's central and defining story. That leaves Christmas as an opportunity to engage the world, even if it means accommodating secular practices like harvesting evergreen trees and burning yule logs. As early as the mid-300s, John Chysostum saw that Christmas celebrations were effective for evangelizing non-Christians, writing that "this day has developed quickly and borne much fruit." 

If Christmas is a time when we remember that God got mixed up in a messy world by coming as a baby, then surely we can have a holiday that gets a little mixed up in the world's endeavors, can't we?


Friday, August 14, 2020

What is Confirmation?

As a United Methodist pastor I affirm that persons of all ages are welcome to participate in God's covenant of baptism. This stance is not without controversy in the wider church, as many Christians do not baptize those who are too young to make a verbal profession of faith. United Methodists, as well as others who baptize infants and children, don't think that a personal profession of faith is unimportant, but we believe that this step can be delayed until later, sometimes happening years after baptism through a process known as confirmation.

A public profession of faith can happen whenever a person is old enough to make the following vows:
  1. To recognize and renounce evil in its cosmic, systemic, and personal forms
  2. To assert that God enables you to be victorious over evil, thereby calling you to work actively to oppose sin
  3. To affirm your commitment to Christ as Savior
Then follows a pledge to remain a faithful member of Christ's church, which includes a call to be an active member in a specific congregation.

Confirmation is the process that prepares someone to affirm these vows in public. Many churches have confirmation classes for children above a certain age, usually around the time one reaches middle school. (For adults these sessions tend to be known as "membership classes.") The pastor of each church has a great deal of freedom to tailor these classes according to the needs of the confirmands. Often the sessions cover aspects of church history, theological doctrines, details about worship practices, and ways to serve the church with one's spiritual gifts.

UMC Confirmation class from Pennsylvania  photo credit:

Once someone has both been baptized and professed their faith, they are considered a "professing member" of a United Methodist congregation. In the time before a baptized Christian is able to make the profession for themselves, they are still a member of the church. There is a specific designation for such folks that we called "baptized members."

Just one note: United Methodists do not practice "first communion." Some Christian traditions require children to wait until a certain age or to go through certain classes in order to take communion with the congregation. The UMC does not teach that there needs to be a gap between baptism and reception at the Lord's Supper.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Remembering Nagasaki

On August 9, 1945, the US Army bombed Nagasaki, Japan. It was the second, and last, time a nuclear weapon was used in warfare. The bomb, code named Fat Man, was a plutonium weapon, somewhat more powerful than the uranium one (Little Boy) deployed over Hiroshima just a few days earlier. However, due to the uneven terrain of Nagasaki, there were fewer casualties than in the first attack. The flatter Hiroshima lost around 100,000 people, compared to 70,000 in the second attack. These twin bombings effectively ended the war in the Pacific, preventing an Allied invasion of the Japanese islands. Japan announced its surrender on August 15.

All warfare casualties are tragic, but the attack on Nagasaki seems especially arbitrary. Japan had decided not to surrender after the bombing of Hiroshima, figuring that the US had additional bombs to wipe out only two more cities—losses the empire could afford to absorb. But Nagasaki was not at the top of list of potential bombing sites for the second attack. Kyoto was a more strategic target, but it was removed on a nostalgic whim: US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson had honeymooned there several decades earlier and had fond memories of the place. Then on the morning of August 9th, problems with the plane's fuel pump caused  the crew to divert to Nagasaki instead of the intended target of Kokura.

The bomb that ripped Nagasaki apart also devastated the Christian church in Japan. Nagasaki was the center of Christianity in that country; it was where missionaries from Europe brought the gospel in the 1500s. During the intervening centuries Japanese Christians in and around Nagasaki had persevered under repeated and extreme waves of persecution from leaders who sought to eradicate their faith, perceived as a Western influence. Among the numerous causalities that August morning was Urakami Cathedral and all those who were worshiping inside.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Worship Language #4: Sacramental Worship

For those who speak "Sacramental" as their primary worship language, their encounters with God in baptism and the Lord's Supper are the focal points. This is often accompanied by a strong sense that the order of worship should stick to an underlying pattern—that a worship service should have preaching (Word), followed by Communion (Table). This follows a commitment to the four moves of the service, starting with Gathering and ending with Sending, with Word and Table in the center.

Signs that you might speak Sacramental as your primary worship language:
  • Luke 24:30 is a key verse in understanding how Christians should worship. Jesus's actions of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the bread are models for how all worship services should be structured. In other words, these four actions reveal an outline for worship in general, not just for what happens with the bread when Communion is celebrated.
  • Documents from the church's first 400 years provide a special model for how worship should be done today. If this is your primary worship language, then modeling today's worship after some of these ancient documents is the key to renewing the church's worship.
  • If you speak Sacramental as your primary worship language, you probably place a high priority on getting people to do the actions of worship, in the right order. Emotions and faith follow the right actions, they don't drive them.
  • Perhaps this one is obvious: you like to take Communion, a lot.
This perspective tends to predominate in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and other mainline Protestant circles.

Check out these books from a Sacramental Worship perspective:

Holy Things by Lutheran Gordon Lathrop is a liturgical theology built on the assumption that the church's worship is at its best when structured around ancient forms and patterns.

Constance Cherry, a United Methodist, lays out the four-fold structure for services in The Worship Architect. For Cherry, all worship services should have a significant portion in which the congregation responds to God's revelation. This can be accomplished by taking the Lord's Supper, but there are other elements that can fill this role. Whether one celebrates Communion or not, that responsive section of the service should be there.

Robert Webber's book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail (originally published in 1985 and revised by Lester Ruth after Webber's death), follows those who have changed their primary worship languages from Biblical Worship to Sacramental Worship.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Worship Language #3: Gap Worship

"Gap Worship" is a language spoken by people who want to bridge cultural barriers in order to win converts through relevant worship services.

Some have said that 16th-century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther called for setting Christian hymn texts to secular tunes. Two centuries later, the Wesleyan revival included robust congregational singing of easy-to-learn songs. (The degree to which those melodies were actually borrowed from popular secular songs, such as "drinking songs," is debatable.)

Charles Finney was an 19th-century evangelist who used "new measures" to move people toward conversion in his revival meetings. This included several methods of increased cultural awareness such as using colloquial forms of speech and extended times of singing to prepare people for the upcoming sermon.

The use of popular music forms was an instrumental (pun intended) part of William and Catherine Booth's founding of the Salvation Army. William actually saw the use of music as a spiritual and strategic tool: "I rather enjoy robbing the devil of his choicest tunes, and, after his subjects themselves, music is about the best commodity he possesses. It is like taking the enemy's guns and turning them against him."

The Church Growth movement, begun by American missionary Donald McGavran in the 20th century, was founded on communicating the gospel in culturally intelligible ways. While it did not originate as a movement of worship renewal, many people applied Church Growth principles to music and singing. Congregations like Willow Creek Community Church saw popular music as one of the primary ways to draw unchurched people into their services.

Gap Worship is the primary language spoken by several varieties of evangelical churches, and it is prominent in many pockets of mainline denominations.

Here are some signs that "Gap Worship" might be your primary worship language:
  • Your key verse is 1 Corinthians 9:22: "I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some."
  • You see a clean break between the worship of the Old Testament and the New Testament: while the Israelites were bound by rituals and sacrifices, Christians are free to worship (more or less) however they choose. You may even read John 4:24—that we should worship God in spirit and truth—as a key description of this freedom.
  • You cite the overall lack of verses about worship in the New Testament as a rationale for using whatever cultural forms are most effective at winning unbelievers.
Note: The ethnodoxology movement, which seeks to use traditional arts and music in worship, fits within a gap worship framework.

Here are some books that present a "Gap Worship" mindset:

In 1996 Walt Kallestad, a Lutheran pastor, wrote Entertainment Evangelism to argue that the church needs to incorporate more popular forms from the culture. The opening quote of the book is from Walt Disney.

Zero to 80 by Olu Brown applies Church Growth principles to worship. For instance, his Impact Idea #58 is named: "Look to Culture for Creative Worship Sparks."

It's also worth mentioning church growth consultant Lyle Schaller. He wrote dozens of books for congregations seeking to grow in size. While none of them were focused solely on worship, many of his tips were about scheduling and planning services so that they would reach and accommodate as many people as possible.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Worship Language #2: Gift Worship

The worship languages of Gift and Gap are related. These names come from Lester Ruth, professor of worship at Duke Divinity School, who came up with them as a way of understanding the history of the Contemporary Praise and Worship (CPW) movement. A "gift" view of worship sees the 20th-century contemporary styles of worship music as just that: a gift from God for the renewal of the church. The "gap" perspective tends to view CPW music as an opportunity to win new people to Christ, thereby bridging a cultural gap.

The gift language of worship is widespread among Pentecostal churches and others influenced by the charismatic renewal movement of the late 20th century.

Here are some signs that Gift Worship might be your primary worship language:
  • You make a distinction between praise and worship. Praise is a style of exuberant singing that often comes at the beginning of a service. "Praise songs" tend to be upbeat and focused on who God is and what God has done. "Worship songs" tend to follow praise songs in a music set, and they are often slower in tempo and more introspective. (This distinction between two kinds of songs—a faster and upbeat praise style, followed by a slower worship set—is not as predominant today as it was in the 1990s.)
  • Two verses from the Psalms are your touchstones for describing worship: Psalm 22:3: "You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel"; and 100:4: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise." For "gift worship" folks, these verses are commands for how we should approach God. In other words, praise is something that a Christian must do to be faithful to God.
  • You see the wide-spread use of band-based styles of contemporary (or modern) worship as a God-ordained means of bringing the world together. The success of popular CPW songs from the US, UK, and Australia is a sign of God's anointing on them. If this is your view of worship, you are probably not so concerned that these songs might replace or crowd out indigenous expressions of local churches in various places around the world.
For a perspective of gift worship, check out these books: 

Extravagant Worship by Darlene Zschech, a worship leader from Hillsong in Australia, is about the role of worship in the energetic renewal of one's own spiritual life. Like with the Biblical Worship language, Gift Worship literature encourages people to see their everyday activities as worship, not just what happens in church.

The Unquenchable Worshipper by Matt Redman, the popular songwriter, also links modern worship music to personal renewal, especially as it affects one's emotions.

Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin argues that contemporary worship principles will lead to a renewal of the church.

IHS and the Name of Jesus

The letters IHS are displayed prominently in many worship spaces. Most often they are embroidered into the paraments that are laid on the ...