Do you hear the conviction measured with grace oozing from the address “The Present Crisis in Nazarene Worship” written and delivered by Dr. William Greathouse in 1989 at Nazarene Theological Seminary? You should. The address speaks profoundly to his person. Instead of appointing himself as the all-knowing, supreme authority on worship, he begins with confession. This is a reflection on his own personal viewpoint and bias. The purpose of the address is to stimulate thought and to offer fresh encouragement. The conviction arrives when he tells us nothing we do is more important than worship—that worship is about a living encounter with God.
No one influenced my convictions about worship more than William Greathouse. He joined the church I pastor in 2000 and remained a vital, active member of the worshiping congregation until his death in 2011. He was a constant source of encouragement to me in preaching and pastoring. He was the model of humility and accountability. I rarely preach a message that at least one of the sources did not originate in the hands of William Greathouse.
The early morning service Dr. Greathouse attended was formed as he formed me. While he grew up in the liturgy of Methodism, I grew up in evangelical fervor. In the processes of time, the service included responsive readings or recitations of creeds; praying the Lord’s Prayer; reading the texts apart from preaching; closing each service with the Lord’s Table; singing the Doxology. My favorite hymns became “Come, Thou Almighty King,” “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and “Our Great Savior.” It is transforming to watch lifelong Nazarenes learn to love High Church traditions. Dr. Greathouse was the cheerleader.
The influence of first service spilled into the much more contemporary second service. Minus the organ and baby grand piano, the excellent guitars and percussion and keyboards do change the rhythms. However, the worship is God-exalting, Christ-centered, and Spirit-driven. This service also includes the creeds and the Lord’s Prayer; reading the texts apart from preaching; closing service once per month with the Lord’s Table. The median age of this service is much younger and extremely responsive. It is a living encounter. It is thoughtfully planned and amazingly participatory. Søren Kierkegaard would be pleased at the prompter and actor assignments.
I leave each service completely filled with the honor of having participated in worship, with people who I love, to the God who deserves our best. Our Monday morning staff meetings begin with evaluation of Sunday’s activities, especially worship. How do I describe the sacredness of singing the Doxology following the Lord’s Table to the rest of the team? How do I communicate the power of watching 60 to 70 senior high students climb into mourner’s benches during open altar prayer? How do I express the love and appreciation and sanctity I feel for both? How does the church explain why young couples attend the liturgical service and 80- and 90-year-old saints choose the contemporary service? My bias is that it is a Spirit thing, far beyond my understanding. I do not know a worship war in the church. And maybe that has to do with the spirit and legacy of people like William Greathouse.
HOWARD L. PLUMMER serves as senior pastor of Hermitage (TN) Church of the Nazarene.