Adventist styles of worship
As I become acquainted with different cultures, I am intrigued by the broad variety of Adventist styles of worship. I expect that these varieties will increase as the Seventh-day Adventist Church grows steadily around the world. Are there any principles that can guide us in connecting culture with worship?
History shows that culture greatly influences worship. While the community of faith in its worship is not to be of the world, the church, nevertheless, exists in the world and that worship takes place in a cultural setting. In that context, we may take into account five principles regarding Adventist worship and culture:
- Adventist worship is transcultural. Christ and the eternal gospel transcend culture. While the Christian message is preached in a cultural setting, it must overcome the setting and transcend the limitations of culture. The gospel is eternal, but culture is tied to time. The gospel is “ecumenical”; that is, it must reach the whole world.
- Adventist worship is contextual. The form of worship adopted in any given locality will incorporate components from the local culture. Great care must be taken to ensure that this contextualization does not include elements that are incongruous to the gospel of salvation. At the same time, it is important to place the gospel and Christian worship in the context of the culture in which they occur. Some theologians use the term incarnation to describe this process. Whatever the term, worship should not adapt to culture, but should adopt helpful elements in a culture to aid in the communication of the gospel.
- Adventist worship is counter-cultural. What this means is that worship must not conform to the world, but must transform the worshipers and their culture. While worship is not necessarily anti-culture, we must realize that there are components of culture that are contrary to the Christian norm and mandate, and therefore must be rejected. Where such is the case, the church and her worship may have to speak against certain cultural practices and issue a call to “come out” of cultural Babylon.
- Adventist worship is cross-cultural. Christianity cannot be limited to one cultural expression, to one nation, to one ethnic group, or to one language. It is counterproductive to refer to a church as “American,” “suburban,” “Latin,” or any other such limiting prefixes. Culture is limited by space, but the gospel in worship knows no longitudes or latitudes.
- Adventist worship is multicultural. Even in its local setting, the church need not be identified with one given culture, language, or economic stratum of society. The church must be multicultural and provide a worship that serves varied cultural backgrounds. The better the church accomplishes this, the more effective will be her evangelistic and service outreach. After all, the Lord of the church Himself emphasized that His church was to be “a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7, NRSV).
Bert B. Beach (Ph.D., University of Paris, Sorbonne) is the director of inter-church relations at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. His address: 12501 Old Columbia Pike; Silver Spring, Maryland 20904; U.S.A.