“The spirit of wickedness in high places is now so powerful and so many-headed in its incarnations, that there seems nothing more to do than personally to refuse to worship any of the hydra’s heads.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
I have no interest in resurrecting the debates over styles of worship music. Whether your church uses a pipe organ or a banjo makes little difference to me. But the form of worship, what the worship team or praise band does once they begin to play, that may have some important implications which we often overlook.
Or at least that’s what James K.A. Smith suggested in a recent post, and I must admit I’m inclined to agree with him.
Speaking to praise bands he says,
“I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience.”
He goes on to discuss how the tendency to turn the worship experience into a concert (regardless of whether the concert is folk, rock, or Gospel) encourages passivity in the congregation and a consumerist understanding of worship. It becomes something we take in, not something we take part in.
Luke Larson recently pushed back on Smith’s post, and there are no doubt areas of it that could be challenged or at lease nuanced. But still, after years of participating in worship at evangelical churches and schools, I think Smith may be on to something.
What do you think? Is the form (not musical genre) of corporate worship inherently neutral? If so, why? If not, what might the worship-as-concert form be teaching us?