Thursday, July 20, 2006

Distinctly Christian Worship: A Response

Josh Malone has posted some intriguing questions regarding the “Christian” nature of our worship gatherings in today’s Evangelical churches. You can read his post here. Below are a few clips from his post and my response.
It seems to me that most current worship/arts folks define "Christian worship" very broadly and typically without any inclusion of the Lord's Supper…. This kind of worship might be something, but it does not appear to be distinctly Christian... Is the proclamation of the Lord's death and resurrection by the means which God ordained, the Lord’s Table, the focal point of our worship or do we worship according to our preferences? Seems as though we’ve made other things “sacramental” (music/preaching) and redefined Christian worship apart from its distinctiveness.
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Wow, what a juicy post Josh! I was actually going to bed early until I read this post… now I feel like I can’t sleep until I think through a response! You have some great thoughts that I find very challenging.

Outside of my childhood involvement in main-line church denominations, I have never been in a church that observed communion weekly. It is interesting thinking about the fact that the more “Evangelical” I became, the less emphasis I experienced being put upon the Lord’s Table. All this to say that I am not sure that, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup…” necessarily specifies a frequency requirement for the gathered church (1 Cor 11:26). So, even though pre-Reformation communion was likely observed weekly, since the Reformation, Evangelicals have obviously taken a much looser view on the frequency requirements of this ordinance (e.g. some quarterly, some monthly, some twice a month, etc…). Consequently, an argument for the weekly observance of the Lord’s Table is grounded more in historical and not Biblical observations.

So have modern “worship/arts” ministries left out a very central component of the gathered church in worship? Maybe. I certainly find it very interesting that the importance of creeds, baptism, communion, and other liturgical elements are being seen as favorable among new generations of believers and unbelievers alike. In defense of all those who work and serve in arts ministries around the world, I think the primary reason they classify their ministries as “dance, drama, music, media, etc…” is because they see these areas as the “how”, not the “what.” In other words, the “what” is music, prayer, scripture, preaching, communion, baptism, etc… and the “how” is the creative means by which the “what” is supported and or presented.

I do also take you to task on the issue you raised in regard to preaching (for some reason this has been a hot-button for me lately). I think the scriptures make preaching a central means of grace in the worship service. This can be seen in Rom 10:14-17 and all throughout the NT starting with Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:14-41. Now I do understand that much of the preaching we observe post-gospels was not done in the context of a believers gathering; however, I think the NT clearly models God’s central use of the spoken word within the gathering as a means to teach the scriptures and share the gospel. (NOTE: Depending on your doctrinal view of the church, one could argue that Jesus regularly preached to the church as he gathered Jewish believers around him and taught. Did he sing in his gatherings? Likely. We at least know he did it following the last supper with his disciples in Mk 14:26.)

In closing, there is no ordained “order of service” or “liturgy” within the entirety of the NT. Is God’s word vague because He desires us to keep asking, “how did the early church do it?” Should we use the historical texts and archeological evidence to mold and shape our gatherings to become more identical with early Christendom? For the most part, my answer would be "I don't think so." If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard people say that house churches are more Biblical than churches that meet within church buildings!! We’ve got to be very careful to not become enslaved to historical context to the point that we restrict the freedoms granted us by God in His Word.

In closing, I have been thinking A LOT about what Biblical worship should look like and I have been somewhat troubled by what worship in the church (international/visible) has become. Posts like this keep me searching the Word and praying over what God is calling the Worship and Arts ministry at Parkview to do in order to better proclaim the glory of God to the lost, hurting, and hopeless within this world. Thanks for the challenge Josh!


John Carlson said...

Excellent reply Scott. I've decided however I'm going to stay out of this. I posted my own comment on Josh' blog, but I'm finding I'm waaaaay out of my league here compared to you guys. I should probably go back to being a wedding band saxophonist. (grin)

- J

Anonymous said...

The death and resurrection of Christ is, in my opinion, the single most profound act that changed the course of human history forever. That we don't revere that or are in complete awe of it says much about where we are as a church. Having grown up in the Catholic church, communion was a huge part of every Sunday worship. There was a sense of mystery, celebration and wonder in that ceremony that the Evangelical church has lost. Beginning with the decision to pass both elements at the same time in order to shave off minutes of "worship time" so the sermons could be longer. Only having communion once a month, or once a quarter for whatever reason. We make everything so cerebral, Jesus isn't that complicated. His Word is clear. If it were not for His death and resurrection, there would be no Christianity. Therefore, cause to celebrate the Lord's Supper often?? Absolutely, it is what we hang our salvation upon. His body broken for US, His blood poured out for US. It isn't that difficult to understand. Jboats

John Carlson said...

Ya Jean - I totally agree with you. I've felt since I've been here that we certainly do tend to short change communion (and baptism) which to me are two of the most meaningful aspects of ministry and the Christian life. I'd love to see a communion/prayer/worship service every so often by itself, with no teaching. Have pastors invovled to guide things along with spiritual leading, moments, etc. but not an official message. Just a thought. All that said, for me, no one practice is a make it or break it thing for me in worship, simply because our feable attempts, even at our best, don't come close to what I feel will someday be praise and practice like we've never known. It all pails in comparison to what I know of my personal relationship and personal worship of God, and what I expect our worship of Him will be like when we see Him face to face. And I know you know this too! Sometimes I like to imagine a "desert island" scenario - if I was stranded alone on a desert island, what would my worship of God be like if I had no "modern day devices, materials, etc." to worship Him with? So anyway - all that doesn't mean that we shouldn't obviously put our best effort forth with what we do in services. For me, it's all just still one small part of the worship for me in the larger context of our whole life as worship to God - only one hour (or an hour and half etc!) on Sat. & Sunday. But I totally hear ya. Great comment. - John C.

Julie said...

Some excerpts from my response to Josh's post...

I would argue that what makes worship distinctly Christian is not the mediums used , but the object and message of our worship - Christ. The Lord's table is definitely one key way the lord instructs us to remember him, and should be celebrated as such. (Luke 22:19)

The first time the word worship is used in the bible is actually referring to Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac... there was no table, no song, no preaching even. Simply faith and trust in offering the son that God had told Abraham would be the one to continue his line, the one who would recieve the promise. (Heb 11:17-19)

[ TANGENT: There ARE some interesting paralells to the Lord's table in that story, however, as Abraham's sacrifice was to be a burnt offering (Gen 22:2), burnt offerings being referred to as food offerings unto the lord. In fact, there's a reference to washing hands and feet before you apprach the altar. (Exodus 30:18-21) The blood was offered first, separately. (Lev 1)]

On the subject of music being more OT than NT, and not distinctly Christian, I disagree. New testament examples of worship include the angels worshipping at the birth of Christ (Luke 2:13-14), Jesus and the disciples in the upper room (Mat 26:30), Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:25). Not to forget pictures of worship in Revelation, we have the choir of 144,000 before the throne singing a new song (Rev 14:1-3) and all who had conquered singing songs of Moses (Rev 15:2-4). As believers, we are also instructed to speak to one another in hymns and songs (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16).


First Theology said...

Scott et al-

Good thoughts - I think you and I have some of the same concerns, but I see a bit less flexibility with regard to partaking of the Table. It's cool that you've been wrestling with some of the same stuff and are working thru it all too. Hopefully this conversation helps us move toward more clarity and conviction on worshiping our Triune God as he has ordained. I posted a rejoinder on my blog - - to address your concerns. For the sake of everyone I won't repost that here (it got kinda wordy), but I'd encourage anyone who is interested to check out a bit more of my rationale there. Thanks again for the good dialog.