Uniform: identical, without variations.
Conform: to be in harmony, of one accord.
Yesterday, I took part in my church’s first internal experience of our new fully-Emergent Worship Service. It was something entirely new to lead God’s people in this thing we had never done before. There was excitement, nervousness, and perhaps even outright anxiety in some, but above all, there was this sense of exploration. With one early Traditional Worship Service with a more casual atmosphere and dress code, and one high Traditional Worship Service at 11 o’clock where it is not uncommon to see very formal dress attire, suddenly people were being asked to explore a world of divergence, and the deviation of the uniform. While Traditional Worship calls for uniformity, i.e. everyone stand together, sing together, speak the liturgy together, Emergent Worship calls only for conformity, i.e. we will all worship, but how we do that will be as varied as we are and our circumstances allow. This was driven home for me after reading this article about rapper and performer, Kanye West, demanding that everyone in his audience stand and dance to a religious song, only to discover that two of the people he publicly berated for staying seated were disabled, physically unable to stand.
Mr. West demanded uniformity, that every person do the exact same thing at the exact same time without exception or deviance. However, in this imperfect world, not everyone is able to do things the same way. Some are physically disabled, others have mental challenges such as Autism, and still more have personality traits that thrive in freedom and exploration. Why should we pigeon hold everyone? Why should we not celebrate the diversity of humankind, and allow God to bring us into conformity, being united and harmonized in other ways? Today I stood the entire time while others sat. Some chose to participate in our central Emergent element that took the concept of placing prayers of lamentation upon the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and had us placing upon our wall notes describing elements of worship from our past worship experiences that truly impacted us, that were so profound that they elevated our worship on that occasion to new heights, the highest we have ever known. It was a wall of gratitude and remembrance of what God had done for us in the context of worship. It might have looked like chaos from the outside, but when we had finished it was clear that we had all been united in spirit and moved to the same place, we just all took a different path to get there.
The longer I am in ministry, and maybe just alive, the less I am interested in uniformity. I don’t even think it’s practical to expect people to be uniform. One of the greatest gifts and strengths of the Body of Christ is our diversity being used together for the glory of God and the building of the Kingdom of God. As long as we all make it to the gates and into the Kingdom, I do not need all of us to take the same spiritual journey. We follow a Savior who was pleased to heal the blind alone in many different ways: through the word (Mark 10:46-52), through touch (Matthew 9:27-30), through the use of saliva (Mark 8:22-24), and through the application of mud (John 9:1-14). I believe that Christ can align our disobedient hearts to be in union with his own by multiple means as well. There is beauty in Traditional Worship, but it is not the path of all people. There is expression and creativity in Emergent Worship, but not everyone feels at ease with it. So they both exist in my church, and I pray that God can unite us in our love and hope to live out our faith. May we become conformed to Christ, not one another, much less some earthly ideal.