Worship That Shocks Culture


culture shockImpacting culture in and through our worship will require the church to take risks. It will require entrepreneurial innovation instead of routinized imitation. And it will require leaders and congregants to become artisans instead of assembly line workers.

The Department for Theology and Studies of the Lutheran World Federation drafted an extensive statement in a 1996 response to the contemporary challenges of worship and culture. They wrote, Christian worship relates dynamically to culture in at least four ways. First, it is transcultural; second, it is contextual; third, it is counter-cultural; and fourth, it is cross-cultural.[1]

Worship Is Transcultural

We worship the resurrected Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We know the grace of God transcends and indeed is beyond all cultures. In the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus we witness the transcultural nature of Christian worship. There is one Bible translated into many tongues.

Christian worship is universal through acts of worship such as the people of God gathering and proclaiming the Word of God; congregants interceding for the needs of the Church and the world; worshipers participating in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism and then through the sending of those worshipers out into the world. The centrality of these transcultural elements promotes a sense of Christian unity and gives all churches a solid basis for contextualization.

Worship Is Contextual

Jesus whom we worship was born into a specific culture of the world. The mystery of his incarnation is the model and mandate for contextualization of Christian worship. God can be and is encountered in the local cultures of our world. Various cultural values can be used to express the meaning and purpose of Christian worship as long as they are consistent with the values of the Gospel. Contextualization is necessary for the Church’s mission in and to the world so that the Gospel can be deeply rooted in diverse cultures.

Contextualization respects the fundamental values and meanings of both Christianity and local cultures as long as the biblical, theological and historical foundations of Christian worship are preserved.

Worship Is Counter-Cultural

Jesus Christ came to transform all people and all cultures and calls us not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).

Some components of all cultures are sinful, dehumanizing and contrary to the values of the Gospel. Counter-cultural worship challenges oppression and injustices wherever they exist in earthly cultures. It also transforms cultural patterns that idolize self or the local group at the expense of a wider humanity.

Worship Is Cross-Cultural

We worship a Jesus who came to be the Savior of all people. He welcomes the treasures of earthly cultures into the city of God. Worshiping across cultural barriers helps enrich the whole Church and strengthens the community of the Church. This sharing can be ecumenical as well as cross-cultural as a witness to the unity of the Church through the Gospel. Care should be taken that the music, art, architecture, gestures, postures and other elements of different cultures are understood and respected when they are used by churches elsewhere in the world.[2]

Terry York and David Bolin wrote, “Congregations must speak to and among the surrounding culture in a voice so unique, authentic, and unified that it turns heads: ‘what was that? It sounded like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I’ve never heard anything like that around here.’ Even though those responses from the culture will often come as ridicule, they might just as often come as inquiry. Either way…the church will be influencing culture instead of just reflecting it.”[3]


[1] Adapted from Statements on Worship and Culture, Lutheran World Federation, accessed online from Lift Up Your Hearts http://www.worship.ca/.

[2] Ibid., The four subheadings and selected texts were adapted from the online resource.

[3] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 39.


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