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600 Baptists from 58 countries gather for worship conference

BERLIN, Germany (BP)–More than 600 Baptists from 58 countries and each of the six continents, met in Berlin, Oct. 15-18, for the first ever international Baptist conference on worship, an issue that is often divisive, not only for Baptists, but the entire Christian community.
Constructed around five different styles of worship, a concluding conference “declaration” stated that each style, whether creative-traditional, modern-contemporary, Holy Spirit-renewal, seeker-sensitive, reflective-meditative, Asian, African-American, African, Caribbean, Latin-American or European-American, has “relevance, meaning and power” and “all forms of worship are ‘windows’ through which we see God.”
“Integral to Baptist worship” the statement said, “is belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ, the only Head of the Church is the focus of worship and praise.” Each style or form must be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and while no one need accept all styles, we should celebrate how others worship, the statement reads. The conference was sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance.
Conference attendees found themselves united in the statement; however, there are many things about worship that Baptists need to recognize, officials said. Some of these are:
“Music sometimes is performance and does not glorify God or engage people in worship.
“The great importance of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism is not always understood.
“The Baptist emphasis on the priesthood of all believers is sometimes neglected.
“Our prayers are unbalanced between talking and listening to God.
“Our worship preparation is often left to those who lead instead of being the responsibility of all who come to seek an encounter with the living God.
“We have not always adequately taught people in our churches the meaning of worship and how to worship.
“We have often been guilty of believing our style or form is the best and only way to worship.”
While the statement did not require a vote, it reflected the consensus of spirit that permeated the meeting at the Schoeneberg Baptist Church, officials said.
“We are here to worship God, to follow the leading of God’s Holy Spirit,” said Tony Cupit, BWA director for Study and Research who led the conference. Most of participants had some involvement in worship planning and leading. “We are here to pray, listen, learn, celebrate our unity in Christ, fellowship and worship,” Cupit said.
From the opening notes of the famous German hymn of Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” to the grand benediction of George Frederick Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus, the musical part of worship was a kaleidoscope of changing patterns and styles. Songs and cries of African joy and suffering, serene Asian melody, Latin American beat and Caribbean calypso rhythms joined rich Russian and Romanian choir music in praise to God.
African American pastor, Ronald E. Bobo, of St Louis, spoke about the emotional worship in black churches, where people glorify God “with their whole being.” James Flamming, Richmond, Va. pastor, spoke of man’s need to find God, and Roger Fredrickson, former president of the American Baptist Churches, USA, shared how God helped him to forgive the man he blamed for the automobile death of his younger brother 40 years ago.
Hymns and praise choruses blended with chants and gospel melodies. Songs from Africa, Pakistan, China, Guatemala, Argentina, Germany and other countries, were sung in Zulu, English, Spanish, Japanese and English, accompanied by piano, harp, flute, guitar, trumpet, trombone, tambourine, bells, and organ.
Noel Vose, former president of the BWA whose paper on the theology of worship was discussed, said real worship has two parts — first, the Divine initiative and then the human response. He described worship as sacrifice, awe, joy communion, praise, obedience and ecstasy.
Vose said urgent theological reflection is needed on theocentric worship that focuses on God, not humankind, the image of God in worship and preaching as an aspect of worship.
For Jill Manton, lecturer on spirituality from Australia, “worship is the gracious, mysterious self-disclosure of the Mighty God to us,” yet, she said, “the encounter with God is found in ordinary life,” and, “the whole mixed bag of human existence is lifted up in worship before God.”
“Worship is deeply linked with the power and the reality of the Holy Spirit,” said Karl Heinz Walter, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation. He said the rationalism that influences much of modern thinking about God is a challenge, especially as “truth and worship have become subjective and each individual requires their taste to be satisfied.”
Other topics on worship addressed included: the theology of worship; how worship can enhance mission and evangelism; how to renew a local church through preaching; how to worship through planning and leading worship; how to worship through the sensitive use of arts and the Arts; exploring the mystery of worship; the potential for the church of international music, using the spiritual gifts of the laity in worship; the influence of other traditions on Baptist worship; building a worshipping church; how worship empowers discipleship and stewardship; historical patterns and models of worship; worship and justice issues; the impact of charismatic renewal on Baptist worship and the effect of Communism on Baptist worship.
Global Baptist leaders described how worship helps suffering people and those denied human rights. They also spoke of the effect of worship on evangelism, compassionate ministries and on worldwide fellowship.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” testified Anila Hysa from the Way of Hope Church in Albania. “Hunger, poverty, unemployment and natural disasters are with us continually,” said Simon Sircar of Bangladesh, “but we know when we suffer in the will of God it has meaning and purpose.”
“If our worship is to be trustworthy, it must be connected to hurting, suffering people,” said Sven Lindstrom, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Sweden.
“I believe in worship but I don’t believe in worship that is only vertical,” said Nilson Fanini, president of the BWA and pastor of 7,000 member Niteroi Baptist Church in Brazil that is known for its fervent evangelism and comprehensive social service ministries. The church has treated over one million people in its 29 clinics served by 100 doctors and dentists.
“The world is tired of words, words, words and wants to see actions,” Fanini said.
“One of the greatest models of unity is worship,” said Denton Lotz, general secretary of the BWA who spoke of the effect of worship on fellowship. “Worship has to be individual, but it must also be corporate,” he said. “All over the world there is a revolution of worship and we are here to learn from Baptists all over the world.”
For many, this was the first time such a panorama of options was presented.
“I came here with the feeling that we African-Americans knew how to worship and I came here to see what you do,” said Nathaniel Tyler-Lloyd, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Bronx, New York. “I leave here affirmed that we do know how to worship and informed that there is something for all of us to learn from each other and end this separation.”
“We can have lots of attitudes to worship styles,” said Paul Basden, pastor of Brookwood Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala., “but the least helpful is to judge others. Our modern day variety of worship is a gift of Pentecost and not Babel.”
“This conference was a good beginning, and there should be continuing conferences on the subject,” said Don Hustad, former organist for the Billy Graham crusades and professor of music at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., who was attending his first BWA meeting since 1975 in Stockholm, Sweden.
“Baptists are not sophisticated in our understanding of worship,” said Hustad. “We rarely study, write or research about it. I’ve been pleased at the level of understanding of those who have spoken.”

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  • Wendy Ryan