Alan Edwards wants to be an enthusiast but not quite sure what form it should take
Hip Hop, Jesus Rocks, Let Me See That Left Foot Drop’ – one of the chants taught by the Federation of Christian Cheerleaders at South Western Assemblies of God University.
‘Extravagant worship is being offered to our King across the planet, increasing in intensity…cutting across all denominational barriers’ – the words of Sister Darlene, inviting us to the recent Extravagant Worship Conference in London.
I came across these two expressions of the diversity of worship as I finished reading Erryl Davies’ excellent new book on the Beddgelert Revival, an early nineteenth century Welsh spiritual awakening.
As in 1904, this Welsh revival saw ecstatic scenes, not only as conversions occurred, but in the services and experience-sharing gatherings which were practised by eighteenth and early nineteenth century Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, in whose chapels the revival took an exuberant form.
Jumping in the air or, in cases of great rapture, jumping across the chapel during the hymn singing was a feature of the Beddgelert Revival. Judged against this athletic praise, the hand raising and dancing found at HTB is positively restrained. I wondered how extravagant is extravagant and what would the definition of extravagant worship be?
Does extravagance lie in movement as in the Beddgelert jumpers or the Christian cheerleaders – in music with Booth’s Brass Bands or modern Gospel Rock – or in vivid colour – Anglo-Catholic Ritualists bringing brightness to their churches in the dark slums of Victorian England – in encounters with danger – the snake handlers of hillbilly America – or is it in going over the top in terms of what most folk would expect to be proper for an act of worship? On this count the snake handlers would probably regard all other groups as being Laodicean, although they too would have to accept second place to seventeenth century sectarians who stripped naked.
Is the key-note sustained enthusiasm? Not just singing a worship song vigorously the inevitable two or three times but in letting rip and carrying on glorying as long as the Spirit or circumstance moves. I recall a Fifties Sunday evening at a Church of the Nazarene chapel, a glass roofed former billiard hall, when the hymn ‘Showers of Blessing’ was announced. No sooner had the piano struck up than a torrential storm began and the rain’s rhythmic beat led the congregation to repeat the refrain over and over again until the storm slackened some fifteen minutes later.
Possibly extravagance lies in the numbers involved. Impressive as SSC’s Albert Hall rally was, it could not compare numerically with the 144,000 worshippers of St John’s vision. Having begun with a Welsh revival it is worth noting that the music group in Revelation played harps.
This will not surprise sons and daughters of St David who know that Welsh is the language of heaven. David, however, had his own form of extravagance, drinking only water, a most unusual form of teetotalism in his day and one mercifully unlikely to be found at the National Pilgrimage to Walsingham.
Despite Chesterton’s disdain for the ‘wicked grocer’ (doubtless a Baptist), extravagant use of alcohol can be found in unexpected Protestant circles. A tenet of ‘Big Jim’ Taylor’s wing of the Exclusive Brethren was ‘Alcohol [in this case whisky] is a gift of the Lord and the saints ought freely to use the same’.
Perhaps the last word should be with the extravagant truth hymned by George Herbert who was in tune with Sister Darlene when he wrote, ‘E’en eternity’s too short to extol thee.’