Let’s talk options . . .
In Part I of “What’s Our Model?” we talked about the rejection of “Churchianity” by a sizable segment of the culture of North America. That is, a large section of the population has said “No thanks” to what it perceives church to be. Keep in mind, these people have not turned their back on spirituality but do continue to search for meaning in their lives. They’re just not finding what they’re looking for within what they see as an outdated, country-club church culture.
So, what are our options? Is there a model of church, of worship, guaranteed to bring these people into our sanctuary? No. Not only is there not one specific model, we should not even desire one. Herein lies the real beauty of our situation!
As a worship community, we have the opportunity and obligation to “do church” in a way that will be relevant to our ministry in this place, downtown Memphis, Tennessee, at this time, the year 2014. In short, we have the freedom and responsibility to do what we feel is right and suitable in the service of our Savior.
But wait: Let’s back up for a moment and ask the fundamental question: “What constitutes church?” The traditional answer has always confirmed the “marks of the church” as the preaching of the gospel of Christ and the right administration of the sacraments, “Word and Sacrament” ministry. That’s all that is required! Of course, we rightfully add that it is in worship that we, as servants of our Lord, are filled with the power and strength to carry out our service to the world in general and our community specifically. It is under these circumstances that we meet to hear God’s Word, take part in His sacraments, acknowledge our sin, receive absolution, praise Him for our forgiveness, and encourage one another.
The question still remains, “How?” The surprising answer is, “In whatever way we decide is most appropriate to our situation.” But isn’t this contrary to Scripture? No! There are denominations in North America that have spent most of their history trying to carry out “authentic first century worship;” most eventually realize that there is absolutely no precise model of how worship was done in the New Testament. Sure, you can look for it and try to assimilate it but you’ll eventually realize that you are putting your preferences on what is largely silent. Yes. Worship style is a matter of personal preference. As long as the Word is preached and the Sacraments rightly administered, there is really no “right” or “wrong” way to do church.
I believe that there is an important fundamental truth to be grasped here: Denominations don’t create like-minded believers; like-minded believers create denominations. This is especially evident in worship styles. For example, people with a decided Pentecostal/charismatic bent are not going to feel at home in a strictly liturgical service, and this certainly cuts the other way. Another example: those whose individual beliefs are very much against the use of alcohol are not going to be comfortable in those denominations that condone its use in moderation. No, those people are going to band together with other like-minded individuals. This is how humans tend to operate, and we must come to acknowledge that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.
Nowhere, perhaps, is personal preference exhibited more clearly than in the traditions of a particular church body or congregation. These traditional elements, most often the direct and honest expression of a common history, can be beneficial or detrimental to the carrying out of the Great Commission depending on their value and relevancy. These customs must be scrutinized closely, and those found irrelevant to the society and its time must be cast aside. Traditions can present a real stumbling block to those who are not part of that shared history and can be downright dangerous if they come to represent the views of a niche inside of a niche inside of a minority.
Clearly, it would seem that worship should be relevant to the perceived function of a congregation to its worshippers. In other words, outlook is going to influence function. If a congregation has a healthy approach to mission to the world around it, it will have a much different look and feel than one that exists primarily to service its existing members. As so many denominations in North America have found, this is an extremely difficult line to walk!
We must be willing to lay aside our personal preferences, if necessary, to more effectively carry out the Great Commission here in the City of Memphis in 2014. The church terrain has changed and will probably never return to the landscape we enjoyed in the past, and that’s okay. We live in a world of new challenges and new opportunities in which to share the love of God in Christ crucified with our community, and these new situations must be met with new thinking.
Are we ready to do that?
Next Time: One person’s suggestion . . .