Monthly Archives: October 2014

Letter 12: The Architecture of Worship

appealing-church-interior-design-ideas-is-modern-church-interior-design-with-bright-white-themed-1306x979Getting back to worship, much ink has been spilled over the past twenty years or so about worship, particularly worship style. While the debate has been fierce, I believe that nearly everyone involved was missing the point. What should worship be about really should be the first question. Sadly, that question is usually resolved in an unstated assumption, which prevents us from having any meaningful opportunity to determine the validity of each defense.

Church architecture offers three different model of what the church has done over the years. There may be others, but these are the three I’m most familiar with. Whether we are aware of it, how our church is laid out says much about what we believe worship to be about, often more than any formal written statement.

What I’ll call the catholic model, places the altar at the center, where the Host is sacrificed at each Mass. The altar is usually flanked by a lectern and a pulpit, various candle stands, and, if applicable, statues or illustrations of saints. The Eucharist is the focal point of the service. It links directly with the Temple worship of the Old Testament, as the focus is on the sacrifice. By partaking, we receive God and have our sins atoned for. I use the name “catholic” as it is used in the Creed, as this approach typifies both Orthodox and Catholic churches, as well as some Lutheran and Anglican churches.

The Reformed model is typical of most Protestant churches. The pulpit is front and center, with the Lord’s Table behind, and, in Baptist churches, the baptismal tank, either before or behind. While the overall focus is on receiving God in His several forms, Word and Sacrament, the Word is foremost. Communion may not be held every week, but the Word must be preached at all times and places. Indeed, in its most severe forms, think colonial Congregational churches, the physical setting is devoid of any ornament or embellishment other than the pulpit. Nothing will detract or distract from the Word.

“Worship” models are a much more recent development. The dominating feature is usually the projection screen where the song lyrics, Bible verses, message outlines, and videos are shown. Everything else is built around this. The focus is on worship as an experience. There will usually be open space at the front where people may dance or be prayed for. The pulpit is usually off to the side, and quite minimal. The worship team will also be very prominent, due to the amount of real estate they occupy. There may or may not be a small table at the back.

Each model has its own internal structure, designed to bring the worshipper to its intended point. The structure of the first two is very similar. There is a call to worship, followed by some congregational singing, followed by some readings and a congregational prayer that can serve to highlight news of the congregation. Here they diverge. In the catholic model, the priest offers a brief message, which leads to the celebration of the Eucharist, which follows its own pattern of confession, institution, distribution, consumption, and conclusion. In the Protestant model, there may be a prayer of confession placed at some point the service. There follows the sermon, which will consume the better part of the service. Both will conclude with a hymn and a benediction.

The worship model starts with an extended time of worship, and can last from fifteen to forty-five minutes. There is no break between the songs, as worshippers are expected to enter into the experience as it builds. This is followed by a time of testimony, and maybe a prayer. The preacher then gives a message, where Scripture may be read, and is followed by more worship and ministry time, where congregants come to the front for prayer. There is generally no confession.

Each of these models seeks to worship God, God of course, but they want you to come away with very different things. Under the catholic model, the central act of worship is tangibly receiving God through the Host of the Eucharist. The focus is entirely sensory and tactile. The Protestant model wants you to hear and receive the Word of God, with the expectation that you will respond to it. Worship is to engage the ears and the mind. The worship model seeks to leave worshippers with an experience that resides largely in the emotions.

These, then, are the way in which we seek to worship God. In the entries to come, I want to begin to develop and outline of worship, to supplement, and correct these models.

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Letter 11: The Gift of of Being a Church Janitor – A Defense of Cessationism

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I am interrupting my reflections on worship to spend a few moments responding to the sermon I heard this past Sunday. It was on the Person of the Holy Spirit. In general, it was an excellent summary of the Third Person of the Trinity, focused mostly on what the Holy Spirit does in the life of the Believer. Our preacher, like many in our congregation came from a Cessationist background, which he bluntly described as teaching the “Father, Son, and Holy Bible.” While this is probably a fair reflection of many churches in this country, I believe it does a disservice to those churches, as it is a reflection more of the poverty of their theological education, than their actual teachings and tradition. So, while not holding to every tenet of Cessationism, I thought it worthwhile to put forward a defense of Cessationism’s teachings on the Holy Spirit.

Cessationism was adopted by the Church fairly early on in response to a series of heresies that lay great emphasis on the immediate workings of God though the Holy Spirit on the believer, in such a fashion as to trump or contradict the teachings of the Church. This has actually been a continual issue within the Church, down to the present day. How does one respond to the person who claims to have heard directly from God?

Cessationism took as its starting point the decision to establish the canon of Scripture. This, too, was in response to several heresies. The Church took the position that the greater revelations of God were contained within the bounds of the canon. There was no need for further revelation, as we could now turn to Scripture. The Church took to heart Jesus’s warning at the end of Revelation that nothing should be added or removed from the written Word of God.

While those who emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit argue that the Church from this point denied the various gifts and the associated signs and wonders, this flies in the face of history. Certainly any history of the medieval church is full of tales of miraculous healings. Moreover, there were numerous men and women who rose up to speak with a prophetic voice. Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Savarnarola, John Wesley, Martin Luther King, Jr., amongst others, come to mind as examples of the continuation of prophecy in the Church, as they spoke God’s word to the Church and the times.

In the main, the Church has seen the Spirit’s presence and work as a much more subtle effort. The Spirit works through Scripture, for example, bringing it to mind, and applying it to our lives as we read or hear it proclaimed. The Spirit serves as God’s approval and empowerment of our work to advance His Kingdom. The Spirit is a tangible reminder to us of our salvation. The Spirit’s presence enlivens our souls, quickens our hearts, and by God’s grace empowers to become the people God has called us to be. As often as not, it does this work over time.

What a Cessationist would not do is focus on the gifts. Once you’ve dug through the underlying theology, it clear that Cessationists believe that the Spirit is very much active in the world today, and is a necessary player in all Christian endeavors. The difference, in part, is in emphasis. The gifts are adjuncts to the Church’s mission. Luke describes the gifts as the power needed to carry out our role as heralds and witnesses. (Luke 24:47-49; Acts 1: 4, 6-8) Without actually carrying out the work of the church, the gifts have no value.

A related concern is that as presented, Spirit-Seeking churches tend to dwell on only a few gifts, namely prophecy, healing, and tongues. They may admit to others, but say very little about them, which can lead to a lopsided church, which struggles to minister fully. While Cessationists may give short shrift to prophets, they do recognize a much broader range of gifts and ministries. We are encouraged to pray for the gift of tongues or prophecy, but does anyone pray to receive the gift of serving as a Nursery worker or church janitor? The Church needs all of them.

Our focus, then should be on the mission, trusting that God will bless our efforts with his power. Too often we stop short of this. We are called to be the people of God, making disciples of all people, and teaching them everything taught by Christ, much as we ourselves are to be transformed by them. That is the true measure of our faith. Many will speak that day of the miracles they wrought and the prophecies delivered, and the tongues spoken, to whom Christ will deliver the final verdict: “I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity [disregarding my commands].” (Matt. 7:22-23).

May that not be the verdict on us.

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