The beauty and power of praise that will come to the Lord from the diversity of the nations is greater than the beauty and power that would come to Him if the chorus of the redeemed were culturally uniform.
(Let the Nations Be Glad, page 222, John Piper, published by Baker Books)
At Songs2Serve we encourage intercultural churches to develop an intercultural worship repertoire that is appropriate to their contexts, so that the Church worships God together.
An intercultural church is a community that reflects, embraces and enjoys the diversity of its context, and by the power of the gospel transcends it and creates one new community in Christ where unity in diversity is celebrated (based on the definition of ICP Europe). So intercultural worship should empower this by reflecting, embracing and enjoying diverse worship expressions through worshipping God together.
We base ourselves on the Lutheran ‘Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture’ from 1996:
- Worship is transcultural.
- Worship is contextual.
- Worship is counter-cultural.
- Worship is cross-cultural.
1) Worship is transcultural. It has certain shared liturgical elements that are expressions of unity with the worldwide body of Jesus. You may think of the fact that we worship, pray Our Father, eucumenical creeds, baptism in the name of the Trinity, Holy Communion. This reflects that the body of Christ transcends time and space. Worship is first and foremost a lifestyle of magnifying God and meeting Him.
2) Worship is contextual. It reflects local patterns of speech, dress, and other cultural characteristics. We want to bring our message across in a culturally relevant way. Our question is: which music is most fitting to the city/context we are called to?
Mission organisations such as WEC Arts Release and Inspiro Arts Alliance studied this subject and concluded that people from urban contexts, especially the educated, often enjoy a mix of styles, ideas and instruments from the global community.
We find ourselves in a ‘fruit salad’ of music, where one culture touches the other one and influences its taste. We have contacts with different people for whom music has different functions - one culture (Western) is focused on language in music, the other wants to hear complicated rhythms, the other one melodies and another one harmonies.
In some cultures it is about the shared experience of singing together in a group - singing, clapping and dancing unites people to one another and to God- others are focused on what music does emotionally and whether it helps people in their daily lives. For some cultures singing and believing are synonymous, and meeting God means singing and dancing. That is the diversity of the context in which we work!
3) Worship is counter-cultural. Worship is critical of its culture, it distances itself from the idolatry of any given culture. This means that we want to be very much aware about aspects of the culture of our church members that contradict Kingdom principles. Therefore we will continue to submit each aspect of it to the Bible. When we meet God and lead a church in this, we adhere to His principles. For instance, in a culture it may be custom that a worship leader always has the final say ‘over’ the singers and musicians. In the culture of the Kingdom we do not find this and there we have respect for the input of each other. At the same time we hold leadership in high esteem, for that too is a Biblical given - but this can be tricky in a Western setting.
4) Worship is cross-cultural. It shows that we can respect and celebrate our differences. Worship expression may vary by culture but God is glorified in a special way through that, especially when we learn to worship Him together!