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Thinking for
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Class Theological Analysis Projects

"Bridging the gap between faith and culture"

By Paul Cannon, Dave Lefurgey, Rolanda Ward, Lisa Zambarano

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Introducing Contemporary Praise Worship in a Local Church Setting

By Dave Lefurgey

More on Contemporary Praise Worship as Ritual

How is singing contemporary praise-worship songs a ritual? "For our purposes, we shall understand as 'ritual' those conscious and voluntary, repetitious and stylized symbolic bodily actions that are centered on cosmic structures and/or sacred presences. (Verbal behavior such as chant, songs, and prayer are of course included in the category of bodily actions.) . . . Ritual centers on the body, and if we would understand ritual we shall have to take the body seriously as a vehicle for religious experience" (Eliade 1987, pp. 405-6; italics added).

In a contemporary praise-worship service, the participants come together with intention: they come to worship God. And in their worshipping, the individual's body is involved. Bodily involvement is exhibited in singing, clapping, raising one's hands in worship, and even swaying or dancing to the music. It is more than singing a song by rote. It is bodily presence and involvement (including involvement of the emotional, intellectual, spiritual elements of the person) as the human being worships the transcendent being.

Peter Berger, in The Sacred Canopy, sets forth the idea of legitimation through religious ritual. This legitimation is a beneficial stabilizer for both society and religion, and, in addition, is a stabilizing factor in the life of the individual. In the contemporary praise-worship service, legitimation is evident in several ways.

First, legitimation is evident in the lyrics of the songs. The words of contemporary praise-worship songs present scriptural, theological, and confessional concepts. When sung by the participants, these ideas are embraced, providing a sense of stability and harmony in their lives.

Second, legitimation is evident in the vertical relationship with the transcendent. In worshipping through the singing of the contemporary praise-worship songs, the singer/worshipper experiences an increased relationship, connection, oneness with the divine being. Assurance, calmness, inner peace is the result.

Third, legitimation is evident in the horizontal relationships of community. An enhanced sense of community is experienced and shared with other worshippers as they have been involved together in this ritual of contemporary praise worship. This enhanced sense of community can also be carried into the larger community by the worship participants where it can be a harmonizing and stabilizing element, provided that its foundational values are not in heated conflict with those of the worshipping community.

So then, legitimation is evident in the ritual of contemporary praise worship as people, through singing and bodily actions (ritual), are intentionally involved in this form of worship. Its benefits can be seen in the embracing of stabilizing values, the vertical relationship between the individual/religious community and the divine, in the horizontal relationships within the religious community, and, possibly, extending to society as a whole.

Return to the Praise Music Subproject

Main Page for this Project | Bibliography | Index of Class Projects