Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts.
One of the more significant decisions one faces in life is the choice of a “community of faith” to which to belong. For some, it’s easy. For many, it’s not.
Amidst all the confusion that can accompany such a decision, it would appear that there are at least three basic types of faith communities from which to choose (and every locale is well represented by them). They are what I affectionately refer to as 1) formulaic “liturgical” centers, 2) emotionally active and interactive gatherings or 3) more-or-less passive, intellectual think-tanks. There are also many hybrids of these — a variety of combinations of the above “types.” Liturgical groups, e.g., appeal largely to the senses — and the inner spirit. Emotionally active gatherings appeal more to basic human emotions (“worshiping with the whole body”) — and the inner spirit. Intellectual think-tanks appeal more to the mind and to reason — and the inner spirit.
Liturgical communities are characterized by impressive worship patterns, which tend to be formal, solemn, beautiful, awe-inspiring and often memorable, even though at first one might not know just exactly what one is “expected to do” while at worship. There are also scripture readings, a sermonette, prayers and well-rehearsed music.
Emotional worship, on the other hand, involves (requires?) strong congregational participation. It is rather informal, somewhat spontaneous, employs much music, often rhythmic singing and chanting, and usually features musical instruments. Although such services often seem somewhat disorganized and uninhibited, they often provide worshipers with a time of elation, feel-good joy, a Biblical challenge via extemporaneous speaking and outer and inner warmth.
The more intellectual communities feature a more orderly setting, usually dominated by the sermon and a high quality and well-arranged caliber of musical expression (by organ, other instruments, vocal soloists, and/or well-trained and disciplined singers), which is often based on a long tradition of religious and historically sacred music compositions, or else simpler and more easily singable pieces from more contemporary church musicians. The sermon is carefully prepared and is often delivered from notes or a fully written manuscript (which can then be made available to shut-ins and other absent church-goers), and uses Biblical texts but may be accompanied as well by pertinent excerpts from the contemporary literary scene. The sermon may be strictly related to Biblical teachings per se, or it may share Biblically relevant commentary on modern-day social and cultural concerns that may have national import or simply local community interest. This service presents its worshipers with a great deal to individually think about, talk about and pray about.