Friday, December 26, 2008

TIME FOR ANOTHER REFORMATION?

An anonymous commenter responding to an old post here has got me thinking some radical stuff! It was a comment on the nearly-year-old post on congregational singing versus solo performances and he/she said, among other things, "At times I'm asked to sing solos in church, and I don't mind singing because it's something I'm passionate about, but what disturbs me so much is the feeling of being judged by the congregation because of my 'performance'."

That led me to some thoughts about the nature of the church in general. No doubt I am going to ramble on in this post; I hope you'll bear with me. We have today this dominant attitude of going to church to be an audience. The congregation is audience for the preacher; we are audience for the "performers" who sing (choir, instrumentalists, soloists). This is wrong, for starters. This wrong is either born out of or promoted and sustained by, among other things, that platform or stage upon which our "performers" do their act. Have we not copied that physical arrangement from the entertainment world?

Even the pulpit....Oh, you may say: That puts the Word of God at the center of our attention! I say it puts the Preacher at the center of our attention....and we sit there in the audience waiting to see how well he performs on any given Sunday.

We're approaching the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. That reformation was born out of a spiritual awakening to the truth of salvation by grace alone apart from works. It separated the church from the man-centered corrupt theology of Rome. Unfortunately, the reformers despite their sound soteriology brought a lot of baggage with them. Many of the trappings of Romanism were carried over and still influence the idea of what "church" and "worship" should be like.

Lately, I have been wondering if we are not making a mistake in modeling the worship assemblies of the church so closely after the practices of Tabernacle/Temple worship of the Old Testament. I think this is what Rome did in the beginning (and continues to so do) and this concept has been maintained by the reformers, thus dominates in Protestant churches today.

The Tabernacle/Temple was the place where God came to meet with men. All the nation of Israel was commanded to worship there. Those assemblies were ceremonial in that they looked back in history to God's work among them and looked forward in type to the coming Messiah. They were not meetings of God's church in the same sense as in the New Testament. (This may be related to the conflation of Israel/Church which occurs to varying degrees in reformed theology. I'm not going there today!)

Anyway, it goes without saying that the OT services were filled with pomp and circumstance, very elaborate and liturgical. But...when we look at all that is given us regarding the New Testament church, there is none of this. No great choirs, no trumpets, no parades of priests, no palm-waving.....The church met together house-to-house; their focus was on prayer and fellowship, and the Word of God. God gave teachers and elders to those congregations to guide them and lead them, but there is no indication that those individuals "ruled" over congregations in the manner we see today....quite the contrary: humility and servant-hood are the main characteristics of the elders God ordains.

"I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, "If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me." -Soren Kierkagaard

I'm not a big Kierkagaard fan, but that's pretty near the mark, isn't it? We have gone from the church of Acts 2 to the modern-day iteration which meets in a 25 million dollar building, has a 5 million dollar annual budget (70% of which goes for salaries/benefits of "employees") and feels content that their obedience to the Great Commission is fulfilled by their 10% annual donation to the Cooperative Program. They have no local outreach. Jails, nursing homes, homeless shelters, food kitchens, all that stuff is left to the "liberal, social-gospel" churches.

The "audience" of 2500 comes once or twice a week to be entertained by the talented orator (preacher) and the great singers, then goes home to their niche in the world, happy to have done their bit for the Kingdom of God.

I wonder what it would be like to attend a real N.T. church? Imagine no stage, no performers, but a group of believers hungry for the Word, gathering together regularly to pray with and for one another, to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (even if off-key) without all the smoke and mirrors, bells and whistles, and velvet-covered pews? To have God-ordained elders stand in the congregation and say: Thus saith the Lord...and teach the Word as God gifted them to so do. To see and be among brothers and sisters whose hearts are truly broken over their sin and broken over the state of a lost world in which they live, those who have been made new creations in Christ and genuinely care nothing for the trappings of this life, easily giving whatever they might have that another has need of......To be a part of taking the Gospel to the streets, to the undesireables, to the social outcasts, the poor, the dirty, the wicked denizens of our cities, just exactly whom we would be like but for the Grace of God.

something to think about.......

2 comments:

Ed Franklin said...

On the positive side, I must give credit to Berean Wife for her comment on the "Little Leaven" post. Rather than continuing the wait for her "church" to minister to nursing home residents, she mobilized her own family and went to work. Fact is: we are the church. The "church" is not that multi-million dollar edifice sprawling across 25 acres of blacktop, filled with ossified, paralyzed, complacent "saints."

mefrye said...

Bro. Ed,

Great post and one that rings true for just about every church. I count myself blessed to live in an area where the churches are small and struggle greatly. There is something about the struggle that brings out the better parts of those who follow Christ.

I had the opportunity to preach at a small church in a small town earlier this year. I preached from Luke 7, Jesus' encounter with Simon. After some research I discovered that honored guests were offered a place at the center of the room with the host. So, I preached the sermon from the center of the room. People were visibly uncomfortable, but I was the most comfortable I had ever been in delivering a message. Several times I found myself on my knees at eye level with and right in front of people.

Again, you have touched on something very important to me and something that has been a concern for me as well. Thank you for posting this.

God Bless... Mike