Worship Made To Order OR An Ordered Worship

"I don't like the worship at that church."
"My husband and I are shopping for a church. What style of worship does your church have? "We are looking for a place with a great band and worship leader."
"When my friends and I were in college, we would often leave [the service] after the worship was over."
"I'm looking for a place where I can feel connected with God and worship in my own way."
"I'm just not getting anything from the worship here anymore."

These are all fairly typical statements made in Christian circles today regarding the church and its "worship." I often hear my friends saying similar things, and even I-- who am grounded in a deep theological understanding of worship-- find myself wondering about such things. However, all of these statements reflect the fact that something has gone terribly wrong in our churches. Worship has become the production of a few performers on stage providing a concert for a crowd of people who are seeking to transcend their mundance lives, a cathartic experience that makes the self feel better because the emotional stress (and perhaps guilt) of the prior week has been purged. Such an experience allows us to re-enter the fray and frenzy of our madly paced lives where we serve the empire and its gods. Let me put it even more bluntly-- what often passes for worship today is nothing more than an idolatrous celebration/ceremony that continues to hold up the general attitudes, values, and actions of a way of life that is anti-Christian. We have become a generation of spiritual consumers, shopping for the best product that makes us feel good and different. When the ancients danced, sang, and sacrificed bulls to Baal, they felt exactly the same way.

We live in an age where worship is made to order-- like my burger at Red Robin. It is very tasty. Of course, some people prefer a different burger place or they don't even like Red Robin or burgers. These people seek a different product elsewhere. This makes a lot of sense when it comes to food (although I have a hunch that even our eating/food experiences have somehow changed from the idea of the land, meal, community, hospitilatiy and conversation that are suppose to be eating); however, worship is not something that should be custom-made for the individual. First and foremost, Christian worship is not suppose to be an individualistic experience-- it is primarily corporate and the worship I do in solitary is to flow out of and connect to the worship of the whole body of Christ.

Although worship should not be customized to the individual, it should be an ordered experience. The word that describes this best is "ordo." It is a latin word used to describe the how-to of worship-- the experience of the church gathered together and the daily life of the Body of Christ in the world. What does ordered worship look like? First, it is scripted by the Christian year. The Christian year represents an alternative shaping of time. The new year begins approximately 35 days prior to the secular calendar that is used in the western world. It celebrates a period of time known as Advent (which culminates in Epiphany not Christmas), then proceeds to a time called Lent, then Easter, then Pentecost. The time in between these periods is called Ordinary Time-- and even in this ordinary time there are special celebrations and rhythms. Second, this alternative time has specific rituals and liturgical practices that are supposed to accompany it. Third, the whole of Christian time is scripted by the daily office of prayer (prayers, meditations, and scriptures) and the lectionary. Fourth, simple everday tasks such as eating together is scripted by this "ordo." Finally, our weekly gatherings are to have a certain structure and process. Our life together is supposed to be ordered-- it orders me, it orders us. Rather than me customizing it, it seeks to customize me. Rather than me demanding something from it, it demands something from me. Rather than me trying to create this experience, this experience seeks to create me.

Finally, I do want to add that this "ordo" is not just some old, rigid thing. It is constantly being improvised on. It is very much like playing a piano. You can't play it anyway that you want. There is a simple order to it. Each key has its own notes and in order to play it rightly you must learn the scales. Once these have been mastered, you can play the grandest music that you wish within the confines of the piano itself. The same is true with the ordo. It must first be learned, made to be a part of your fingers. Once your fingers have been ordered by it, you will be able to improvise and make a wonderful sound with your life. However, most of what passes for "worship" today is like the child who doesn't know how to play bangin on the piano-- it's cute but it's not music. The kid enjoys doing it, but its doesn't qualify as playing the piano.


  1. Hey check this out and let me know what you think, it comes from someone standing in your backyard-


    pretty sure I do not agree with him. but its something to consider.

  2. Very good post... starting with the last three sentences in the next-to-last paragraph, the ending was, well, beautiful and compelling to read.

  3. to play devils advocate, as you know I am prone to do, is the form of worship you have described here any more christian than the consumeristic model that, you and I would both equally agree, is not conducive to the structures of the gospel? A better, less antagonistic, question is, perhaps, how do these practices of the 'ordo' not just make the gospel contingent upon yet another set of practices? In other words does not what you have described just turn the church back in upon itself at the end of the day? While I will agree that its better than having faith turned in upon the individual, is what you have describe that much better?

    N.B. I ask these questions because this term they have been asked of me. I see value in these practices but I am coming to realize that the end result should also be kept in mind. Sorry, Justin, if I took the post some where you had not intended to go. If i was in fresno we'd have this discussion over lunch, but the blog comment will have to suffice for now.

  4. Interesting article, Eric. Dr. Thorton always seems to pique my interest. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with him. On the one hand, I find it reassuring that Christians are repenting of their past. Yet at the same time, he is correct in our shame of our own faith. Christians are often the ones in inter-faith circles to water-down their faith into generic terms and statements in order to create a melting pot faith. This is unfortunate. These other faiths often do not water down. What would be more true for us is to articulate our faith with vigor and clarity. Yes, we have similarities but we have obvious differences. We must declare both in generous dialog.

  5. Eric, in regards to your challenge, I think I see where your thoughts are moving, but I'm not sure that such a thought fully comprehends the Ordo. The Ordo is not just the thing that we do on Sunday morning but encompasses every aspect of life. As far as the Ordo being specifically Christian (I'm guessing this is in contrast to just religious), the Ordo might not be all that unique, except that the ethic that proceeds from it centers on the person and life of Jesus Christ.
    I do think that the ordo might create a contigency-- perhaps such a thing is unavoidable. As far as the church turned in upon itself... hopefully the Ordo propels the church beyond itself-- towards God and world. It should do this on its own-- the prayers should turn us outwards. If not, then I must ask where these prayers are coming from.
    To finish, I think the end result of such practices should be a transformation of world and self because the Ordo itself is really a re-ordering, a re-newal, a re-formation, a re-volution.
    Nevertheless, it seems to me that many mainline, Catholic, and Orthodox congregations seem to only implement the Ordo on Sundays-- perhaps this is why such a practice seems to turn in on itself.

  6. I think you're right in the last part of your assessment, if it is something only done on Sundays it turns us in on ourselves. I do think that the direction it moves us in though is necessary. I am also glad to know that the end result of your thought is movement into the world and into God. As the prof. whose challenged my thinking this term would say the two are one in the same because the God we worship is by definition always moving into the world. AS a result our practices must be, such that the results are carrying us out, in mission to and for the world. I also sort of still have a blog. I'll send you the url. I don't post much though.