Ok listen I don’t like labels, said it before and I’ll say it again, but if you didn’t know me and you met me or saw me at church you’d say I’m a charismatic. Ok so yes perhaps that is one term you could use to describe me. Let’s get that out of that way so I can’t be accused of hidden bias. Also I’m not having a rant or a sense of humour failure, as actually I’ve been researching liturgy, as part of my church placement recently…
So, I was brought up in a pretty middle of the road Anglican church so I have some experience of more formal liturgy even though I now worship at and work for a Fresh Expression church. And so having done a placement in a more formal church I’ve been thinking about it more. I suspect there may be more posts on the subject but for the meantime here’s some thoughts on repetition…
So, something that comes up from time to time to do with charismatic worship is repetition. So yes modern worship songs are repetitious. Heard it before, yawn yawn. But you know over the years in conversation on liturgy, one thing that people always say (yes always) about the merits of formal liturgy are that the repetition of words and phrases week in and week out, is vital. It’s formational even.
Much of the way formal liturgy is structured is around scripture. Scripture forms the backbone of it from the obvious readings and Psalms, to huge chunks phrased as canticles and prayers. Then many of the regularly repeated prayers are based on passages from the bible too. This is all worked out by teams of people from The Liturgical Commission, who put it all together and write the prayers and words that are said each week.
Much thought and prayer I am sure goes into these words. I am not denying that. Thousands of people say those words each week, and encounter God through them. Thousands of people pray liturgical words each day even, let alone each week. There are some truly wonderful prayers and passages of liturgy in our worship books. Even I as a raving charismatic can appreciate them, words like these from Compline:
Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That you, with steadfast love, would keep
Your watch around us while we sleep.
From evil dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Tread underfoot our deadly foe
That we no sinful thought may know.
O Father, that we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, your only Son;
And Holy Spirit, by whose breath
Our souls are raised to life from death.
or, from Morning Prayer:
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
now and for ever.
But repetition. A number of people have said to me in conversation, including two Bishops, that the repetition of words and phrases is so important for Christians, that these words become part of us, as we remember them, they become embedded in us, they stay with us and sustain us. At times of great need one might recall a prayer from church, or at a moment when a friend suddenly needs help, what can we say but recite a well known prayer that has stuck in our minds from years of saying it.
So then why is it then that the common gripe about modern worship songs is that they are repetitive? I personally find that it is often music I turn to in times of prayer or need, the words of a song come to my mind, I sing, even if it is just one line. Are these words, often repeated any less of a prayer? Any less formational because they are repeated in song? In fact these days there are some modern songs based on liturgy, ‘I Believe (The Creed)’ by Hillsong is based on the Apostles Creed, Matt Redman’s ‘Benediction’ is based on a liturgical blessing too and there are of course others.
I’ve spent the course of my latest essay discussing how charismatic worship can fulfil the role of liturgy and do you know what it can and does. Not in the same way of course but repetition is certainly a part of it. You can’t have it both ways, either repetition of words helps to form us or it doesn’t, but you can’t claim it does in one form and not another… and if nothing else I would refer you to Revelation 4:8.