Random Musings Regarding Individuality and Worship

I thought this worth recording, which generally means it isn’t worth your reading. Some have expressed curiosity at to what goes through my head. Here is a brain dump from this morning’s drive…

Individuality isn’t nearly as good as I usually hear it portrayed. The individual is alone. Very alone. And yet we spend half our lives trying to develop/express our individuality. And the other half trying to find meaning in groups. Ironic? Being an individual is not very meaningful.

Look at youth. We all go through a period of time where we go from blissfully being defined by our family and parents, to trying to become individuals. And yet, what do teens spend most of their time pursuing? Groups — be it Facebook, texting, ‘hanging out’, youth group, et cetera… Perhaps we are going about this incorrectly.

What if we are not meant to be defined by our individuality. Or rather, what if our individuality takes on meaning in the form or presence of the member of something larger — a group? God created man as an individual. And yet, He points out quickly that the man needs a helper/companion, hence woman. We are defined by our connections. In a Godly sense, we are defined first and foremost by our connection to Him. He also defines/places us in relationships with each other, be it marriage, family, et cetera.

A corollary to this is the insidious nature of where a worldly pursuit of individuality invades the sacred. As marriages become more individual, spouses become less important and divorce becomes more prevalent. As Christians become more individual, we disconnect ourselves from the church catholic/universal with a misguided (to put it lightly) view of ‘me and my bible’. As Christians disconnect themselves from each other, we disconnect ourselves from Christ. He set up/defined the church by our corporate worship. Yes, we are saved as individuals, but aren’t we fed as a group? Isn’t there a reason that the sacrament of the altar is called ‘communion’? We are referred as the ‘body of Christ’. Isn’t this in essence defining our being by our affiliation with Him?

Our true selves, our alive selves, our spiritual selves, the new Adam, is defined by our connection to Christ and His church. We are defined by a group. Our individuality adds color to this, but is indeed secondary. Let’s stop encouraging individuality. Let’s encourage our teens to define themselves by their affiliation to Christ and the church catholic, rather than by their friends or age group (company of fools?). Let’s encourage couples to define themselves in their spouses (secondary to their definition in Christ). Let’s allow meaning to come from the external rather than the internal, since that is how we were made in the first place.

Following is a related musing which uses the previous discussion as a starting point but then begins a tangent. This is a brain dump, after all. And yes, I understand the irony of using a word whose root is the ancient Grecian pagan concept of the Muses.

This has another corollary in corporate worship. The pursuit of ‘contemporary’ worship is defined by individualism in several ways. One is that we are catering to the individual desires of the worshiper (singular), rather than the needs of the worshipers (plural). What is needed by Christians as a group as well as individuals? To be fed through the Word and sacraments (both of them). But as individuals, we desire an emotional high. As such our first and foremost goal in worship is that the Word be preached and the sacraments be administered. It makes ‘prayer and praise’ services look insubstantial/inconsequential.

Secondly, by pursuing ‘culturally sensitive’ worship, where we target musical choices specifically to the preferences of the culture (remind me again where the culture became the model for anything sacred), we abandon the catholic/universal nature of worship. We seem to be enthralled/consumed with a misguided attempt to make worship ‘welcoming’. Firstly, what is more welcoming than a familiar worship service, something that is denied the visiting worshiper when every church reinvents the wheel? Secondly, God’s worship, as defined earlier by the Word being preached and the sacraments being administered, is simultaneously natively welcoming in a way that we cannot add to and a massive turnoff in a way only God can overcome. We get sidetracked when we try to target worship towards the culture and end up abandoning worship or worse, being subsumed into the culture itself.

Sidenote: remind me again how we are so arrogant as to believe that we can do a better job in a week than the writers of the hymnal did in years, not to mention the church fathers who developed the basic form of worship over millennia. I’m not saying we have to do the same exact thing every sunday, but less variation and more time to memorize the service form and text (which teaches by the way, have you looked at the doctrinal content therein) is a good thing.

Lastly, I thought that there was once a time where the church defined art, music, and such. Not became a caricature of the profane. If you think that our musical and artistic tastes need to be in line with secular culture, please look up Palestrina, his method of polyphonic composition, and the history of sacred music. For many years (until the so called enlightenment) the church defined its own culture. We still have the ability, and indeed we do so. Look at the music of John Levitt, the latest work in the WELS hymnal supplement, the LCMS Lutheran Service Book, Liturgy Solutions, et cetera. Why is it that we then choose for our services some of the more meaningless fluff to darken the sanctuary? Especially when we can use text like this (great tune too):

This is the three-fold truth on which our faith depends;
and with this joyful cry worship begins and ends:
Christ has died! Christ is risen!
Christ will come again!


Made sacred by long use, new-minted for our time,
our liturgies sum up the hope we have in him:
Christ has died! Christ is risen!
Christ will come again!


On this we fix our minds as, kneeling side by side,
we take the bread and wine from him, the crucified:
Christ has died! Christ is risen!
Christ will come again!


By this we are upheld when doubt or grief assails
our Christian fortitude, and only grace avails:
Christ has died! Christ is risen!
Christ will come again!


This is the three-fold truth which, if we hold it fast,
changes the world and us and brings us home at last:
Christ has died! Christ is risen!
Christ will come again!

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