Christian Worship Worldwide – Review

Charles E. Farhadian (ed.),
Christian Worship Worldwide. Expanding Horizons, Deepening Practices
Grand Rapids/Cambridge, Eerdmans, 2007: ISBN 978-0-8028-2853-8

[A review, first published in Anvil 25;4 (2008), 330-1, and reproduced by kind permission of the Reviews Editor]

This collection of essays, part of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies Series, is one of many questions and few answers, but arguably none the worse for it. Its central concern is with the exchange of worship practices between cultures, both historically (from the west to the rest) and in the present, when the flow has gone into reverse. Charles Farhadian’s introduction (1-24) identifies the central issue: how may Christians distinguish between elements of worship that may be transcultural and thus fixed (say, the general shape of the Eucharist), and those that may be contextual, and determined by local custom. In addition, which practices may be transferred in their original form, without adaptation (the cross-cultural) and which are counter-cultural, standing out against the receiving culture, and enabling us to examine our own distinctions between what is fundamental and those things to which we are merely accustomed.
All these are useful questions, and particularly so, as Farhadian shows, as the centre of gravity of world Christianity shifts southwards. Yet this is not simply an exercise in cultural relativism, part of the wider analysis of globalisation; rather it is an attempt to relativise those elements that are culturally particular, in order better to isolate those that are genuinely common. The temptation is great to make one’s own worship practice normative for others, and a barometer of spiritual health.

So much for the questions, here usefully framed. Next is a series of case studies of worship from around the world: in the Mar Thoma church in Kerala, India; among Apostles and Zionists in Zimbabwe; amongst Pentecostals in South America, and several others. These studies are by turns stimulating and startling and several stand as the most comprehensive accounts of their subject available. There are along the way useful materials for the historian of Western mission. What is often missing, despite the best efforts of the editor in the short prefaces to each, is much analysis of the question the collection is intended to address; the reader is often required to make many of the broader connections himself.

Part III concludes the book, with essays by C. Michael Hawn, Bryan D. Spinks and Lamin Sanneh, each circling around the analysis that the introduction suggests. Again, there is much suggestive and useful material here, and very little that can actually be faulted, but often also a sense of bets being hedged. Hawn comes closest to nailing colours to the mast, in a most useful examination of how a western congregation might approach using elements of worship from the worldwide church. He suggests an exploratory set of criteria to apply: does this dance/song/ritual draw attention to itself, or does it fit into the progression of the liturgy ? Does it give a voice to the otherwise voiceless ? Does it unify the body ? Does it provoke prayer for the worldwide church ? The challenge presented by this collection is to order our worship in such a way that our relationship with fellow Christians worldwide can be made more immediate, alongside the (hitherto dominant) visible continuity of worship with that of the saints who preceded us. Christian Worship Worldwide, without providing any blueprints, succeeds splendidly in posing the questions that need answering as we begin.

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