Worship and learning with the whole body involved

Part of what happened in the Reformation was a strong counter-reaction to the use of images such as stained glass windows, paintings, and sculptures in churches. Protestants in some areas entered their local cathedral and smashed and destroyed all such items in their reclaiming of the church and their purifying it of past wrongs.

Out of that rightly motivated action a theology against imagery and symbols in the church was created. It has been held to and argued ever since.

The Reformation movement happened in the same general time when the mind (or the brain) and it’s ability to reason were becoming a highly admired force in human kind. Some even argued for the rational mind being the only ‘pure’ or ‘non-fallen’ part of humankind. They would not have understood anyone saying reason could be tainted by sin just as much as feelings, as I argue today. Theology, in that broad time period, came to be seen as one of the sciences. This has produced much great thinking and systematizing of our beliefs about God based on Scripture.

However, that emphasis on the mind sent us in an extreme direction that I do not believe is biblically justifiable, and which modern understanding of the human being questions as well. Here are a few ways I believe it misdirected us:

  • It got us forgetting the God of the Bible is about relationship. In fact that thinking got us believing that right knowledge about God is the same as relationship with God. I don’t think that is true to real life.
  • It got us ignoring the senses beyond those of the rational brain, so sight, smell, touch, and to some degree hearing were demoted, and it got us denigrating emotions and feelings as inferior to thought.

There may be more, but it is clear to me that both of those together have contributed to our suspicion of most artistic expressions, or our sense of aesthetics, since art appeals to the senses and the emotions. We threw out the baby with the statues, so to speak.

Fast forward to today, and as Reformed churches we are trying to find our way back to appreciating the things of God through the other senses along with reason and mind. We are allowing for some feeling, some emotion in our worship, and we are learning how to use images and real things (Helium balloons, walking sticks, work gloves) instead of just words alone to help people grow in relationship with and understanding of God. Many of us, myself included, have studied humanity and ourselves and know that so-called “cerebral” (mental) learning is not the best way for most of us to learn. I have found out of myself that I am what is called an “aural and visual” learner so I can get things to stay in my mind if I hear or see them, better than if I only read them. And they stick even better if I can respond to them interact with them, or debate them. Much better. We have learned that children learn better, in general, if they involve their senses along with the mind and if they are in a good emotional state. We have learned that each adult has their own way to learn. What has also proven to be the case is that actually, very few people are good at learning when they are forced to sit still and rigidly listen to someone speaking.

So, the churches in the Reformed family are learning how to adjust to that renewed awareness at our own pace. Our denominational worship magazine “Reformed Worship” and the people at the Calvin Institute of Worship are helping us understand how that works and how we can put it into practice.

You will experience me doing this as I lead worship among you. I have learned that stories have more strength that propositional statements. I have learned that a visual symbol, in service to the Word, gives people something they remember for a long time. Think back to Cadet Sunday. What was the theme? What visual symbols were used? Chances are high that as soon as you remembered I wore a Hardhat and set out cones that the scripture theme comes right back to you. Now think back to two Sundays ago. Remember anything from that morning service or it’s message? Not as likely, because I did not engage your other senses as much.

I wanted to publicly state I support this move back to honoring whole body involvement in worship. It is a big part of how I approach the job of communicating the gospel.  If any of you have questions about what I say above, or want clarification, please let me know. Also, if you strongly disagree with my approach, I’d love to find a way to converse about it.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Vaughn Schiebout
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 09:11:40

    Emotions and intellect are both parts of God’s creation.
    They were both there before the fall. (They were made good in God’s eyes)
    They were both affected by the fall.
    They were both affected equally.
    They both, equally, need God’s redemption.

    That sounds like something that Abraham Kuyper taught, wasn’t it?


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