Photo courtesy of Julia Stratton
That’s how many denominations exist within the Christian faith, Religion Professor Dyron Daughrity said. Each of these denominations have found their own variation of expressing awe and gratitude to God, adding to the plethora of definitions of worship.
Pepperdine hosts a community of students from a variety of denominations within the Christian faith, creating opportunities to learn from people who may carry out different practices around the same beliefs.
Daughrity explained the differences as he traced the main branches within the faith. Worship in Christian churches was cohesive for the first few centuries before the split during the Medieval Era, when Latin influences formed the Roman Catholic faith and Greek influences led to the beginning of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Daughrity said. The Protestant Reformation led to the third branch of Protestantism.
Worship in Catholicism centers around Communion. Junior Chase Manson said the importance of the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Sacrament is something distinctly Catholic, encapsulating everything that Jesus taught.
Before taking Communion, participants engage in a call and response prayer with the priest. Manson said his favorite part of Mass is when he recites, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
“When we come to worship, we are not worthy of the gifts that God has given us,” Manson said. “But we are called by God and He has given us everything, and we are still worthy of communion with Him.”
Manson attends Mass at Our Lady of Malibu weekly.
“Mass is prayer, one large prayer where we celebrate the mysteries,” Manson said. “There are a lot of mysteries in Catholicism, which is part of the beauty of it.”
Manson converted to Catholicism during his first year at Pepperdine, though he had been introduced to Catholic theology at his Jesuit Catholic high school. He calls Catholicism “logical” and “easy to follow.”
Catholicism teaches its congregation why it worships in Catechism, which is a written version of the Catholic beliefs, Daughrity said. The church sets up private and corporate worship. Private worship can be done through the shrine, an altar dedicated to different figures such as Mary and Jesus. Manson’s experience in Mass is an example of corporate worship in the Catholic faith.
Manson sees private worship as a special and holy time. He found God in his individual meditation with the rosary – a string of knots or beads used when reciting prayers. The Ignatian Prayer, which focuses on an intimate relationship with God, has led him to reflect on himself and how he sees God in his everyday life.
“I really love the ability of Catholicism for me to spend intentional time and reverence for God, His word, the Gospel, and how it has impacted our lives,” Manson said.
His faith has helped him find more ways to see God. His connection to Catholicism is strengthened in its ties to social justice and he believes that God is present in the poor and vulnerable. Catholicism has opened another outlet of worship for Manson through social justice.
“We should uplift [the poor and vulnerable] because they are children of God,” Manson said. “I am a politically aware person and how I see God is in helping those that need help.”
Senior Eleni Stratigos grew up in a Greek Orthodox Church, learning the Greek language by attending services as well as the Greek dances.
“What I do like about my church is the service we have every Sunday is the same exact one they were having thousands of years ago,” Stratigos said.
She said her service has some similarities to a Catholic Mass. She uses the word “ritualistic” as they would sing the same songs, take Communion and use candles and incense.
Stratigos said sensory details such as iconography, stained-glass windows, scents and Byzantine music at every service allowed her to connect to worship in a holistic way.
“If I were to smell incense, it can take you to that sacred moment back at church,” Stratigos said. “It’s hard to sit in church and listen to everything they’re saying. But sometimes you can zone out and reflect on iconography and the sounds.”
Stratigos’ faith was challenged when she came to Pepperdine, only knowing the songs in Greek and finding few students who shared the same Orthodox roots and beliefs.
“It was hard for me to transition how I connect with God,” Stratigos said. “If I were to compare the church style to what we have at Pepperdine, it’s an older branch of the religion with a lot more tradition involved.”
Stratigos found the environmental setting of Celebration Chapel to be helpful for her to connect in worship and she continues to try different styles at Pepperdine.
Daughrity listed three forms of Protestantism: Historic Protestantism, Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. Historic Protestantism, also known as Mainline Protestantism, includes denominations such as Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and Anglican. These can be traced back to the early Protestant Reformation.
Sophomore Benjamin Hancock affirmed the emphasis on theological and scriptural study as a valued form of worship in his Presbyterian denomination. He was raised in a traditional Presbyterian Church that incorporated organs, hymnals and choirs into their worship.
“The idea that you are worshipping in the same way that so many Christians before you gives an undeniable feeling of reverence,” Hancock said. “It is also a communal feeling to be joined not just with Christians past but to all raise one voice together in song.”
Hancock said his denomination’s way of worship allows him to connect with the traditional theologians of the Protestant Reformation.
“They too valued not only the musical worship style but rigorous study and discussion,” Hancock said. “Their dedication to God and to seeking Him inspires me to do the same, and the traditional worship only increases that.”
Hancock currently attends Malibu Presbyterian Church, which he describes as both traditional and communal. Though he hasn’t found any churches that worship in the traditional style he is used to, he considers the contemporary worship gatherings as a different, yet valuable experience.
“Worship to me is any action seeking God,” Hancock said. “This could be anything from working out, to discussing Scripture, to singing songs. All of these things, when done in pursuit of God, are worship.”
Moving away from Historic Protestantism’s emphasis on traditions, Evangelicalism downplays liturgies and welcomes outsiders unacquainted with traditional styles of worship. Evangelicalism is a more recent phenomenon with a freer, less formal and more spontaneous approach.
“The primary concern comes from the word itself,” Daughrity said. “It’s about bringing outsiders to Christ and spreading the good news.”
For junior Esther Chung, biblical teachings have been the core of her Southern Baptist faith. Her denomination has taught her what to look for in sound biblical worship. She believes worship is receiving the Gospel and understanding Jesus’ sacrifice.
“It’s like, ‘Wow, we are serving a God so wonderful who loved someone who didn’t deserve to be loved,’” Chung said. “How can we not worship a God who loves the people who don’t deserve to be loved?”
Chung said the combination of her Korean culture and Southern Baptist faith further enhances her beliefs. Her culture has taught her the importance of family and blood, which has helped her understand the significance of Jesus’ blood.
“It’s easier for me to understand the Gospel as a Korean American,” Chung said.
Raised in a traditional church, Chung is still hesitant to try different things. She said her church believes that worship should comprise of praying, singing and listening to sermons.
“I would feel really weird not doing those three things,” Chung said. “The more I learn, I realize that worship isn’t just going to church and being there for an hour to two hours but worship should be something that happens daily.”
Chung said Southern Baptists adhere to a strict interpretation of the Bible. Now that she has been exposed to other denominations, she said it doesn’t matter which denomination one belongs to as long as one stays true to the Bible.
“When I specifically think about Christianity, how can you worship someone you don’t know?” Chung said. “The best ways to learn about God is going to church and someone teaching you about Christ and being with different believers to get to know God better.”
Pentecostalism began with the 1906 Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. Daughrity said this form of Protestantism emphasizes the gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in the book of Acts in the New Testament.
“These include healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy, confrontation of demons, ecstatic utterances and far more heightened energy during worship services,” Daughrity said.
Junior Ikechukwu Egwuonwu considers himself nondenominational but if he had to identify with one branch, it would be Pentecostal.
When Egwuonwu was 4 months old, he stopped breathing. He was rushed to the hospital but the doctors didn’t know what to do. Pastors, including his own father, encircled the room and prayed for hours.
“My life in itself is a testimony of God’s power,” Egwuonwu said. “From the things I’ve seen in my life, spiritual gifts of God are not a thing of the past. The Holy Spirit within us healing and casting out demons is not just something reserved for Jesus or pastors – it’s reserved for all Christians.”
Egwuonwu said the key aspect of Pentecostal worship is freedom. Being a part of the worship team at his home church, he learned to always leave room for God.
“Essentially, it’s just no limitations,” Egwuonwu said. “There is an agenda to get through, but if God moves, we are totally down to throw the schedule away.”
Egwuonwu said he was exposed to the Church of Christ acapella style worship when he came to Pepperdine. This opened his eyes to another way of worship and made him more open-minded. Egwuonwu also looks for opportunities to worship with people who are not comfortable with the Pentecostal style he is used to.
“When I’m in those spaces, I have to hold back because I know some people may be uncomfortable with it,” Egwuonwu said. “It made me question these different backgrounds.”
Worship at Pepperdine
Junior Julia Stratton leads worship at The Well and Celebration Chapel on campus, developing the awareness that people come from different backgrounds in worship.
“We started doing Communion,” Stratton said. “For a lot of people, that aspect of Communion or the table is the central aspect of their service. They might worship best through Communion.”
Stratton and her team have worked to create a space where everyone feels welcome to participate in the way they are used to worshipping. In addition to adding Communion, they have also included small groups to create conversations and quiet time to write down their prayers.
“I’ve realized that growing up in one tradition for so long, I never really had exposure to other traditions and that made me ignorant in terms of a worship leader because I assumed this is how everyone worships,” Stratton said. “It’s so important for everyone to learn about other people’s background. It’s learning about your family and how your family operates and providing them with a space where they feel at home.”
Stratton was raised in a nondenominational church, which she describes as having no restrictions as they are encouraged to worship how they best connect with God. Her connection came from the freedom in proclaiming His goodness through music.
“I am one of those people who will hardcore dance,” Stratton said. “Being joyful before the Lord is the coolest thing because that’s what He wants for us, to have that joy. I love God and He gave me this joy so I’m just going to be crazy.”
She recently started seeing worship as more than a hobby, deciding that she would pursue musical worship as a career.
“My eyes had just been opened of God being like, ‘I’ve been telling you this for two years, you’re supposed to be doing worship,’” Stratton said. “He used a popular music song to speak to me and validate the thoughts I was having. I’ve just always seen God in music.”
Stratton has also been learning how to worship in silence. Attending Mass, she found herself actually being able to focus on God in the silence.
“This is a really good time of reflection where I am sitting with my thoughts and absolutely no distractions,” Stratton said. “I had never done that before. This small little thing is so groundbreaking and I think it’s really important to experience their traditions.”
Daughrity also speaks to the difficulties of serving the vast mix of preferred approaches to worship on Pepperdine’s campus. He said a liturgical approach would cause many people to be confused while extreme Pentecostal methods could deter people away.
“You have to go with the lowest common denominator,” Daughrity said. “So you emphasize the love relationship with God.”
Differences between denominations have caused a divide between people who carry out different ways of worship with the same underlying beliefs.
“If they have faith in Jesus Christ and they have the same belief, who are we to judge how they view Him as Lord?” Daughrity said. “We don’t have the right to condemn how they worship Christ.”
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