December 29, 2006
I trust everyone had (or is having) a good Christmas break.
I’m picking up Mark’s question here:
“I guess my question more focused then would be: To what extent, if any, do we accommodate the unbeliever in our worship service if we have a concern to be missional?”
I suppose a quick answer is an obvious one: it depends. It depends on where you are, your context, who you expect/don’t expect to come, what kinds of people they are, their assumptions, their background, etc. Depending on what you assume about your church services and those in attendance, Christ-centered, seeker-aware services can vary. I think what matters is not the model as much as what you do in individual circumstances—that’s where the rubber meets the road.
With that in mind, here’s one that involved me recently—and here I recognize I’m spreading some dirty laundry, but I hope its heuristic value mitigates that so it’ll be received rightly.
At one time, it was customary at my church for our ministers to fence the table very directly and very publicly: they said, point blank, if you’re baptized and a member of a church that preaches the gospel, please feel free to participate. If you are not baptized and a member, please abstain; and if you’re thinking of making a decision for Christ, please talk with us after the service (it’s probably important to know we celebrate the Supper weekly—much appreciated!).
However, some members complained. The fencing sounded exclusivistic and unwelcoming. It was too cold and members felt uncomfortable bringing their friends. And before you know it, over a few of months the pressure to accommodate caused the fencing to dwindle to words like “Don’t feel pressured to participate if you don’t want to, but if you do want to you’re welcome.” I’m quite sure this was not our clregy’s intention, but nevertheless it was a reaction to concerns that we weren,t being appropriately “missional.” And in my mind, the result was tantamount to inviting non-believers to partake of the Supper.
I noticed the shift readily (though I waited a couple months to make sure I wasn’t making things up), expressed my concern, and was thereafter told about the complaints. My feeling was this: I understand and appreciate that fencing the Table can feel exclusivistic, but it is supposed to be that way. It’s for us, not for them; the Table isn’t open to just anyone—no, it’s open only to anyone who belongs to the Son. In fact, it’s actually dangerous for them if they do take it because they’re robbing from the Lord’s Table (i.e. not ours), and if we let encourage them to do so, we’re liable. I felt making non-believers feel on the “outside,” even though uncomfortable, it not only completely appropriate, but is exactly what they should feel. Sure, we shouldn’t deliberately use the Supper to make people feel uncomfortable, but the feeling of exclusion could also be used by the Spirit to draw outsiders inward. I felt this understanding of the Supper needed to be kept before us when we contemplate how to celebrate it. (BTW, thankfully we went back to normal fencing shortly thereafter—and not to my credit, we have an amazing pastoral staff).
Anyhow, I thought this vignette might be relevant to balancing mission with accommodation. For me, we should do our best to be as accommodating as we can. But for the right reasons: there are some things that by definition are supposed to be very un-accommodating, and we should beware of them. Granted, it’s tough to know which things those are sometimes, nevertheless this is essential, and we should expect the Gospel and things that flow from it to rub folks the wrong way sometimes.
December 26, 2006
Last year I’m sure everyone can remember the “Battle for Christmas.” It was an unfortunate name because the battle really wasn’t over Christmas, but over a tolorant phraseology that could be used to promote an inclusive celebration. The result was angry evangelicals (something new, huh?) barking loudly that Jesus was the reason for the season and, therefore, the term ‘Christmas’ should be used over the religion-neutral phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ or the like (nevermind that the term ‘holiday’ is a decidedly Christian term). This year it seems that evangelicals have ‘won’ the war as major store chains have decided to use the phrase ‘Merry Christmas.’ I’m sure the angels are rejoicing.
I find that the entire Battle for Christmas is telling of the focus of the evangelical world. As my father brought up in the Christmas Eve service this year, it’s sad that the evangelical world got caught up in a battle that was more worried about phraseology than the mission of the church. The infamous Battle of Christmas was more condemning of the church than the ‘secular’ culture that wanted to abandon the usage of the term ‘Christmas.’ We should have been focused on telling the world about Christ than arguing over the title of the holiday. It’s a shame that the world does not both know and worship the real reason for the holiday. If the church was focused on her mission the Battle for Christmas could have been altogether avoided because the church would be focused on and driven by proclaiming the gospel to all people so that at the name of Jesus every knee would bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord of all.
I suppose getting all hopped up about phraseology of holidays, displaying the Ten Commandments, and the issue of homosexual marriage is easier than pursuing the mission of God in the world. Being missional is always more hard than being comfortable.
But, in the words of the great philosopher Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, “If it was easy then everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”
December 21, 2006
Posted by setsnservice under Ecclesiology Leave a Comment
I really appreciate the way Mark you raised this question, can the local church strike a balance between worship (defined in traditional Reformed terms as sacraments and preaching) and missional activity? I find it very awkward that we have divided these two from one another in our consciences, part of the heritage baggage we are working through is the labor of redefining ourselves after the break with Mother and unfortunately how we understand worship expresses that baggage. As Art noted worship is both mission and discipleship, its both outward labor and inward labor. Imagine a church without mission or worship? In the past we’ve at times relegated mission to the private labor of professional individuals and/or the shared duty of all Christians in light of their evangelical piety, we evangelize because that’s what good Christians do, so we said…
But I think things are beginning to be different today and the presence of Postmodernity with its focus on narrative and community is encouraging the Church to re-raise this question with a second one attached, imagine a church without mission or worship, where’s the tension? This second question is being raised because the Church is again doing the labor of ‘theology proper’, defining God particularly as a ‘social-trinitarian’ I am and for timely cultural reasons. I don’t want to say that the ‘social-trinitarianism’ of theologians like Miroslav Volf or John Franke or Wolfhart Pannenberg is only due to the spirit of the time, but its due in part and perhaps for good reason to that. Its not enough in my opinion to say well they’re just breathing the air of postmodernism because we could change the terms for each age of the Churches reflections and argue that same point, the Reformers were just breathing the air of Enlightenment, something we wouldn’t want to easily grant.
With this redefinition of God’s nature or we might say futher filling out of God’s character as its been revealed in scripture is the secondary work of filling out the character of the Church as a community and its missional task as containing a communitarian shape with a Divinely ordained end in mind (missiology, ecclesiology, and eschatology in trialogue). In my mind there can’t be tension between mission and worship because worship is not just sacraments and preaching which both presuppose a community, but also worship is the missional living of a community, not just individuals. We need to raise afresh the question of what it means to reach people as the new people of God, and not as individuals with private faiths and solitary journeys. If we religate missional living and labor to the terms of individuality, then the tension between worship – which is obviously communitarian in shape - and mission that has in some social conceptions in the past had idividualism for its shape, the tension will remain. But if we allow mission to be concieved in primary terms as a communal labor, which is both biblicaly credible and culturally timely then the question imagine a church without mission or worship, where’s the tension?; becomes entirely appropriate to voice… By welcoming the world into our communal worship (its sacraments and preaching) we are saying listen this is the body of Christ, we are his witnesses and, this is / we are, who(m) he is calling you unto. We can be both come structures or go structures in this (to use the old church growth language). Worship and Mission without tension!(?)
- Tony Stiff
December 20, 2006
In regards to your question Mark, I’m wondering to what extent the church has taken its view of worship (preaching and sacraments) from the epistles instead of the gospels-Acts. I’m not saying that the two are opposed to each other, but from a cursory reading one can understand that the gospels and Acts are outward focused while the epistles are more focused inwardly on maturing the believers (I’m aware that there are overlaps in both cases).
I’m sure that Peter and Paul’s preaching ministry can be considered worship, as they were preaching the gospel to unbelievers….becoming all things to all men. I’m also sure that their ministry to the believing community via their epistles can also be considered worship. So I think the church needs to find a balance when she is participating in worship: reaching those who need Christ (taking her cue from the missional outlook of the gospels and Acts) and also maturing believers (taking her cue from the discipleship reflected in the epistles).
Perhaps it might be good to broaden our definition of worship not just to include mission but to be the necessary consequence of the church’s mission. By seeing God’s word being proclaimed to unbelievers and seeing unbeliever’s lives transformed by the Spirit there is nothing else to do besides worship the God who continues to work in history.
Everything in life should be viewed as a means to worship, since that is what we were created to do. This includes the missional aspect of Christianity.
December 19, 2006
Posted by setsnservice under Ecclesiology 1 Comment
There has been an upsurge of popularity among systematic theologians to define the nature of God in terms of a ‘social-Trinitarian’ portrait. In other words instead of laying out the attributes of God and saying this is who God is, or instead of speaking of God in a comparative sense to other religious views, there are many systematic theologians today saying we need to understand that God is first and foremost ‘social’, and this is demonstrated by the very nature of the Trinity itself.
The implications would be that if we are going to be a Church which reflects God’s image we must be ‘social’, and since we live in a world that encompasses many people’s our ‘social-ness’ must take on a global mentality. Yet while there may be many people in the world there are really only two groups of people, those in union with Christ, and those who are orphan’s without Christ, which means that in order for the Church to reflect the ‘social-ness’ of God we must be a missional people. Both our call toward ‘social-ness’ or community formation and our call toward being ‘missional’ cuts against the grain of popular values today. Consider Tod E. Bolsinger’s comments in his book It Takes A Church To Raise A Christian;
And in a culture that tells us to march on with ever greater self-reliance and self-expression, the Bible tells us that the story of our life is not our own, and our journey is not our own. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and his people come along with us (or, to put it a little more accurately, we go along with them). And along that journey, a God who is inherently community changes our human community into his image. (pg. 23)
So how do we as the Church reflect the ‘social’ nature of God, how do we live the Trinity, to put it shortly? What does that look like as we wrestle with rubrics like community or fellowship or welcoming? And have we placed mission in its proper focus in our ecclesiologie’s?
- Tony Stiff