Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Contemporary Worship Is Gnostic

More from the article.

In recent decades, liturgical worship has largely been displaced in many section of the American Church by the advent of the church-growth movement.  This is true for both mainline churches and as well as more evangelically oriented denominations.  The influence of these worship practices can also be felt in "mixed" or "blended" services, where so-called "contemporary worship" is combined with otherwise liturgical forms.  Contrary to the claims of many, the forms and structures of worship that the church-growth movement offers do suggest a particular theological orientation.  As we shall argue below, this orientation and the assumptions that the church-growth movement brings to bear on Christian worship, stand at odds with the theological assumptions of Nicene orthodoxy. 

Judged in light of actual practice, for the church-growth movement and its preferred style of worship the operative theological assumption appears to be that the human person's relationship with God is rooted primarily in interior experiences and feelings.  This fact is not surprising in light of the sitz im leben of this theology of worship within the tradition of American individualism.  This experience appears to be primarily brought about by singing songs with a similar structure and cadence to contemporary soft-rock music.  These songs contain biblical-sounding phrases and are often projected onto large overhead screens.  The songs use these biblical-sounding phrases in a repetitive manner.  The goal of their repetitive nature is to actualize a particular experience of God.  Since the words themselves are less than meaningful, the act of worship is intrinsically unstructured by the act of cognitive comprehension.  This makes the act of worship formless, non-determinate, and sub-cognitive even when a certain formality is adopted by worship planners.  Hence, through a sub-cognitive experience of particular emotions, the Spirit is received and the divine-human relationship is facilitated. 

From the perspective of traditional Christian orthodoxy, this is a highly problematic way of understand the divine-human relationship as it is actualized in the Divine Service.  By the abandonment of worship centered on the embodied mediation of Word and sacrament with its attendant historic structures of worship, the God of creation, law, and Incarnation is also abandoned.  Even when sacramental mediation is in some sense retained, it is subordinated to the primary mediation of the experience of the secret Gnostic self.[1]  By the embracing this form of worship, American Christians have steered their worship away from historic creedal Christianity into the territory of Montanus, Marcion, and Valentinus.[2]    Being severed from the embodied means of grace and the situatedness of the created order, the disembodied Gnostic self (implied by contemporary worship) is able to mold itself by its own actions.  Unlike liturgical worship, which centers on the believer reception of him or herself from God's action within embodied forms (i.e, Word and sacrament), the participant in contemporary worship relies primarily on the sub-cognitive experience and activity of "praise" to facilitate the divine-human relationship.  This radically changes the primary focus of the Divine Service from grace induced receptivity to autonomous activity.  If the individual is able to establish his or her own relationship with God and mold its own reality through autonomous action, then the self is necessarily conceived as something self-generating.  This represents a form of autopoiesis,[3] thereby making the individual self something divine.  The reality of the self is no longer the subject of divinely sanctioned determinate freedom lived within boundaries of protology and eschatology, but rather the subject of a non-determinate, divine, self-generating freedom.  Here the Gnostic myth of the divinity of the inner person is given full reign.


  1. Doesn't this come down to a question of culture? Is the taken form of worship (i.e how it is expressed)dependent/reflective of the culture? How did Israel worship? How did the Acts church worship? What about those in the 1930's compared to those now? Which one is less self generating?

  2. Me again. Has nothing to do with the topic of this article. Thought I would throw this one at you and see what you're thoughts are (by "thoughts" i mean "it would be really helpful if you wrote out 1500 words on the matter and settled it entirely" ;).

    Divine violence (note: DIVINE. I.e when God orchestrates/commands/enforces the violence). There are multiple O.T examples. How do we reconcile this issue of judgement, wrath and justice that God demonstrates on (often) innocent lives, with His revealed loving, fatherly, merciful and gracious character? I am speaking on this in an upcoming apologetic series. Gaining some research and oppinions. I respect what you have to say.