Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Coming to Church to Give, Not Just to Receive: A Response to Greg Peters and Andrew Jones
Pardon a long post here, but a couple interesting posts have surfaced in the blogosphere on our approach to worship in church that I thought I actually might have something helpful to say about. The first is a brief thought from Andrew Jones, which was followed up on/responded to by Greg Peters of Scriptorium. Jones says that church worship should be a time of giving (which it typically isn't unless you are preaching, leading worship, or giving your money) rather than passive receiving. Peters agrees, but says that perhaps Jones' assumption (i.e. that we are all in churches where worship is passive) is unfairly generalized. Peters is an Anglican, and as such, worships liturgically. The liturgy, argues Peters, facilitates active response on the part of the worshipper especially through the prayer-book's responses to the officiant's calls.
I don't entirely disagree with Peters, and I do respect liturgical traditions generally. Most notably I appreciate the unity that is built in. But this very ecclesiological issue is one that has troubled me for a long time: in short, if we set aside Peters' exception for a moment, how come the only people who get to contribute vocally in church are the preacher and worship leader?
But before I get to my answer to that question, there is a prior one: is there a Biblical basis for Jones' felt need and Peters' suggested solution? Does the Bible indicate that we should in fact have more than just the preacher and worship leader contribute vocally in church?
The answer, I am convinced, is a resounding "yes" (indeed it is this conviction that has had me thinking about this for some time). Two passages come to mind.
First, 1 Cor. 12-14 on the whole give the impression that everyone should be contributing in church. Of course, these chapters are correctives to a chaotic, unordered, and thus unedifying church practice. Apparently tongues were overused and congregants spoke over one another. Nonetheless Paul repeatedly emphasizes that the church is a body, and as such the different functions performed by each member toward other members are all necessary for the sake of the whole body (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:7-25ff). The text gives the impression that this is actually a major part of what it means for the church to come together. Excess is possible and should be avoided, but the various contributions of individual members is important. Most of these contributions are specifically for the whole church's regular gathering.
Second, Eph. 5:18-20 indicates that congregational worship should contain both vertical and horizontal elements. Note both the elements of "singing and making melody...to the Lord" (vertical) and "speaking to one another..." (horizontal). What's more, I am convinced that the participles that follow the command to "be filled with the Holy Spirit" (v. 18) are participles of means (i.e. that the way that we are filled with the Holy Spirit is by "speaking to one another...singing and making melody...always giving thanks...submitting to one another...") When we do these things (which are variously directed to God and to each other), we take part in being filled with and filling each other with the Holy Spirit. And to those who would argue that these are participles of result (i.e. that being filled with the Holy Spirit results in those actions), I would ask how a command to "be filled with the Holy Spirit" makes any sense without some guidance as to how we carry that out.
These texts then speak to the need for mutual participation in congregational worship. Mutual participation is no less than the outworking of Spirit-enabled ministries and filling with the Holy Spirit, among other things. This is the give and take that all members of the congregation should come to church expecting to be a part of when the church gathers.
Which returns us to the original question(s): does the modern method of non-liturgical evangelical church allow for the lay congregant to "give" in church, and if not, does a liturgy adequately cover what's missing?
Taking the second question first, I think not. While there are numerous benefits to liturgical worship, one of them is not freeing up the congregation to give in the NT sense described above. Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that Dr. Peters (or anyone else) is insincere when he responds "And also with you." What I am saying is that, sincere or not, this comes well short of facilitating other members' ministries to one another- of Biblical "giving" in worship. For one thing, it does not matter how God is enabling me to minister when I give my response- I just respond. For another, it eliminates the Holy Spirit's more extemporaneous role in guiding us in our worship, which is apparent in 1 Cor. 12-14. Perhaps a liturgy could include a time for open sharing with one another, but I am guessing that most currently do not.
And this leads me back to the first part of the question. Clearly most (especially large) non-liturgical evangelical churches facilitate this sort of ministry even less. There is little if any space not taken up with some kind of planned presentation, whether for seeker sensitive or other reasons. And this deeply saddens and troubles me, considering the above-suggested weight of what is going on in that time.
There is at least one ecclesiological exception: the charismatic church. Sadly, many charismatic churches fail to heed the clear commands in 1 Cor. 12-14 about what sorts of restraints ought to be placed on mutually participatory worship. But I for one have grown up in a Vineyard Church that did not fail in that regard, so I know it is possible! What always stood out about going to that church was that most members of the congregation came not just to receive, but to give. Worship was anything but passive. There was allotted time for any member of the small congregation (and this is also an argument for keeping congregations small, as this would be frankly impossible in a large congregation) to share with the whole church. And if you wondered, this did not have to be a specifically "charismatic" piece- it could just as easily be a Scripture or a prayer, etc. This practice was consistently edifying to the whole congregation.
Of course if you are cessationist, this will not be a helpful example to you, and I do not mean to make this whole lengthy post an argument for charismatic church (though I certainly am an avid charismatic). But I do think that this is one area where all ecclesiologies could learn from the charismatic movement. Somehow church leaders should be actively making a way for members of the congregation to minister to one another, and I am convinced that this is best for the congregation if it can happen when the whole church is gathered on Sunday mornings.