Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sunday Morning: Hanging Out or Showing Honor?

I have recently finished reading one book on liturgy and am about to dive into another.  Christians can and will disagree on the degree of formality in liturgy.  From formality based on desire for adherence to historical and denominational norms to informality derived from freedom in the gospel and the lack of specific texts in God’s word, a case can be made both directions after weighing factors of culture, literacy, biblical knowledge, historicity, etc. for the proper place and use of formal elements.

One factor I have noticed in my reading on liturgy (formal or informal) is the level of care and concern godly spiritual leaders over the centuries have had for worship.  In creating structure, they took pains to ensure that the overall movement (scripture lesson prior to Lord’s Supper), responsive readings, prayers, music, and movements worked together to as a unit to reinforce both the rightful place of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) with respective persons and work in the plan of redemption acknowledged and praised.  The original intent of the framers was always to fulfill a need based on solid doctrine and scriptural practices.

Aberrations entered both early and through the centuries necessitating changes in liturgy to accommodate alterations in doctrine and church polity.  One might ask what brought on the errors and allowed them to take so prominent role.  While the sinfulness of man and the ongoing work of Satan stand foremost, a subtle over-arching factor derived from these was the relative ease enjoyed by the church.  Consider this for a moment: moments of doctrinal clarity came during periods of great internal or external pressure—sometimes both.  During times of relative ease, error made its way more freely under the guise of inquiry or speculation.  The Church became comfortable and casual; doctrine and practice followed suit.

How does this past practice compare with today?  Western Christianity has enjoyed great ease in this world, so much so that we lack a sense of what is important.  The same comfortable and casual attitude described above permeates most every church body.  How do I know?  There are multitude examples among the celebrity pastor set, but they can be found in your backyard, maybe in your own body of believers.  Is every part of worship pointing to the Sovereign of the universe, or does it cater to me/us?  What comes from the pulpit?  Is it the terrors of Law and of God followed by the free gift of grace through Jesus Christ and sweet consolation of sins redeemed?  Review what is taught in Sunday School.  What or who is the focus?  Is it me or the Lord Jesus?  Does the congregation come with a lackadaisical attitude toward worship or with an expectation that God is present who is to be feared, or do we treat Hebrews 4:16 more like: Let us then casually draw near to the throne of grace, that we may hang out and feel loved in time of need?

Burnell Eckhardt wrote recently:
A people who have grown accustomed to being comfortable will be less inclined to take biblical injunctions against certain cultural trends seriously.  Do we still intend to maintain that homosexuality is sinful, or that women are ineligible to serve as pastors?  If your goal was to make people feel comfortable when they come to church, beware: such teaching might not fit that goal.  (Gottesdienst, Vol. 22.1)
How we treat God, how we view worship is directly related to the instruction received.  Each believer has an obligation to come before the Lord, both privately and corporately, with respect and honor.  That is His due and our privilege.  Teachers, do you prepare to effectively teach the lesson?  Preachers, do you teach the whole counsel of God concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment or offer up platitudes to not scare of the “unchurched?”

Comfortable and casual is good on vacation or other times when relaxation is in order, but the gathering of the church is not the place.  Coming into the Lord’s presence with singing, into His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise (Psa 100:2, 4) requires acknowledgement that he made us and we are His (Psa 100:3).  The Lord alone is good and has steadfast love and unending faithfulness (Psa 100:5).  Why not treat Sunday with the greatest honor?  We have an audience with our Redeemer and King.


Bonnie said...

Good point here. My 78 year old mother often comments on how disrespectful to our Lord people are at her church. May sound old fashioned but in her day, when teh music started playing, you found your seat and were quiet in the Sanctuary. She still plays piano for her church and most times, when she starts playing before a service, people will just start talking louder and look perturbed that she started playing. Now I am of the opinion that newcomers to church should be accepted and encouraged no matter what they are wearing, but church members should show respect with what they wear. I visited an African American church recently. The elderly ladies wore modest suits and elegant hats - but the younger generation 0 wow, what a difference.. Like there was some sort of contest to see who could walk on the highest heels and show off the most body parts. One gal in her mid-20's work a long tank top with strategically placed holes (sewn in the garment on purpose) and across her rear end in big neon letters were the words "I'm blessed". How sad that the Creator of all and the Sacrifice for all is held in so little regard.

John Wiers said...

Steve, you've touched on a "pet peeve" of mine and give some very good food for thought. Most evangelical churches today, have an extended "praise and worship" section which is often no more than aging baby boomer rock star wannabes jamming while a handful of the congregation mouth a few words of a CCM song that is neither musically very good nor has any serious depth of doctrine or praise in the content. My brother calls it "7-11 music"-- 7 words, 11 times. While my musical tastes run to jazz and classical, my biggest beef with most "contemporary" services is what I've described above-- some contemporary songs are quite good, of course, while some older "hymns" are horrible-- In the Garden is an example of the horrible. A whole congregation literally singing that each one has a better relationship with Jesus than his/her neighbor in the pew-- "The joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known." There is no sense of the gravitas nor dignity and respect before a holy God that historic worship in all branches of the church sought to maintain.

You mentioned that you were studying liturgy. All classical liturgies, especially those of the early church and those developed by the Protestant Reformers followed the "dialogical" format-- God speaks and we respond. Thus they always included calls to worship, confessions of sin, assurances of pardon, benedictions-- not the same as a closing prayer, by the way-- in a benediction the minister is God's spokesman reassuring the congregation of God's blessing as they leave. All of these elements are notoriously missing from most modern evangelical services.

Here's a link to a discussion of Calvin's liturgy and its biblical roots--http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-.../1626924/posts

Steve Bricker said...

Bonnie, the disrespect is rampant.

John, I agree about the structure of liturgy. The back-and-forth os good. Thanks for the link: I'll check it out.

John Wiers said...

Steve, in case you tried to go to the link in my previous post, you might have found it wouldn't go through-- at least I did. If you do a Google search for Calving's liturgy, it's the 2nd one in the list and is by Peter Wallace, a minister in my denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.