Discerning The Spirits: Making Wise Choices In An Era Of Liturgical Change -- By: John D. Witoliet

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 09:2 (Spring 2000)
Article: Discerning The Spirits: Making Wise Choices In An Era Of Liturgical Change
Author: John D. Witoliet


Discerning The Spirits: Making Wise Choices
In An Era Of Liturgical Change

John D. Witoliet

Near the opening of the book of Philippians, Paul records his prayer for the Philippian Christians:

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9–11).

At the heart of this prayer is Paul’s desire that his readers will exercise the classical virtue of discernment. He wants them to be able to make good choices, to “determine what is best.”1

In doing so, Paul gives us the anatomy of this virtue. He points to three necessary building blocks for discernment: love, knowledge, and insight. And he describes the desired result of exercising this gift: holiness and righteousness that will contribute to the glory and praise of God. In this way, the virtue of discernment energizes and empowers the thoughtful, mature Christian life.

In matters of worship, this is exactly the virtue that Christians need today. We already have passion on the subject of worship. The charged rhetoric of worship wars shows no signs of abating. In most congregations, there is no lack of opinions about worship matters and no lack of willingness to share them.

We also have voluminous liturgical resources at our fingertips. Our bookstores, magazines, and web sites provide us with more songs, prayer texts, and worship service outlines than have been available at any period in church history. Worship conferences have increased ten-fold in the past ten years. And even evangelical seminaries are finally offering courses on this central activity of church life.

But for all this energy and all these resources, we often lack the discernment to make good use of them. In fact, what we may need most is a healthy prayer of confession to admit our lack of discernment.

To help make such a prayer concrete, let me provide some examples of the lack of this virtue, drawn mostly from experiences described by my students at Calvin Theological Seminary, Tyndale Seminary, and Northern Baptist Seminary.

In one congregation, a group protested the use of Scripture choruses because they simply repeated the same line ten times over. The same group went on to ask their choir director to sing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” (True, Handel might have a bit ...

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