Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Heritage Anglican Network: The Senses, Creativity, and the Arts in Worship

One criticism that is leveled at conservative evangelicals like myself is that we make no place for the senses or creativity and the arts in worship. This I do not believe is accurate characterization of the conservative evangelical view on these particular subjects. It is certainly not mine.

I see no problem with worship as a multi-sensory experience provided that such an experience truly engages all the senses in the worship of God and is not used simply as justification for the reintroduction of ceremonies, customs, and usages that were rejected at the Reformation for valid reasons. I have no objection to the use of bright colors in the communion table cover, the pulpit and lectern falls, and the kneeling cushions. I find nothing in the Scriptures that says that the environment in which we worship must be somber or colorless. God has filled the world around us with color.

I have not objection to engaging the olfactory senses in the worship of God provided that it not used as an excuse for offering incense during the service. This is not to say that frankincense might not be burned in the worship space on a special occasion before the service to set that occasion apart from other occasions. This was the practice of the seventeenth century Anglican poet priest George Herbert at his little parish of of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton St Andrew, near Salisbury. Or frankincense essential oil might be rubbed on the legs of the chairs in which the worshipers are to sit during the service.

If the bread used in the Holy Communion is to have strong value as a sign, it should look like bread. It should smell like bread. It should have the texture of bread, and it should taste like bread. What Jesus took into his hands when he gave thanks was not white paste wafers. It was also not modern Jewish matzo. It in all likelihood bore a resemblance to the flat unleavened breads of the Mid-East of today.

I certainly see a place for creativity and the arts in worship. Here again I must add the same caveat for multi-sensory worship experiences.

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Charlie J. Ray said...

Whole wheat ho cakes?

Unleavened whole wheat "pan" cakes?

The focus of any Reformed worship service is the preaching of the Gospel and the "right" ministration of the sacraments.

Since the sacraments are a "visible" preaching of the Gospel, the Word and Sacrament go together. The downplaying of the preaching of the Scriptures is not just a problem in the Anglo-Catholic churches. It is also a problem with modern neo-evangelical and charismatic churches. The common theme among the minimalists is pietism and experientialism versus sound doctrinal and expositional preaching.

Robin G. Jordan said...


Which does the better job of visually proclaiming the gospel--real whole grain bread or white paste wafers? The English Reformers concluded the real stuff. Mid-Eastern flatbread, which Jesus used at the Last Supper, is as you describe it. Right ministration of the sacraments includes the use of the right matter, which is arguable real bread--not white paste wafers, not Bunny bread, but real "wheaten" bread. Anything less is minimalism.