Smoky Mountain Reflections #154
You have heard it said before, and maybe you yourself have even quoted this familiar adage: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. The question I would like to ponder this month is: “Does that apply to what we do as God’s church?”. Is it possible that the repetition of the action is not really the issue? Maybe we should examine what our expectations are instead of simply adjusting the ways that we try to meet them.
Some would argue that worship styles should follow a marketing strategy (read: man-centered). While others would argue that there is only one kind of worship: historic (stubborn opposition to any change is also
man-centered). The church historically has incorporated new things that enrich the worship experience while respecting the beautiful gifts from the past. For our worship to be Christ-centered, we must, in all aspects, seek first God’s will, not our own. What is our motive? Even though we may be lobbying for the right thing, if our motive is “I want my way”, it is a sinful motive. I would argue that what we do in worship is a direct public confession of what we believe and by its very nature outreach. Therefore, what we do should be driven not by what we may think is the best method (e.g., new and dynamic vs. ancient and transcendent), but rather driven and motivated by what God’s word says and how best to convey that truth in worship.
There really is no debate about what Christ calls His bride (the church) to do; to go and make disciples. How we go about making disciples, however, is what causes debate among Trinitarian Christians. A good Armenian Baptist would point out the need for an altar call, while a solid “double-predestinarian” Calvinist would ponder the futility of outreach while still agreeing that outreach is necessary.
Evaluation of things like worship attendance, demographic trends in the congregation and the community, and evaluating the cost effectiveness of any activity the church does or participates in can and should be part of good stewardship of God’s time and resources. But the most important question is how does this worship proclaim and confess Christ? Is this activity in accord with God’s will? Results can inform our actions and decisions but should not be what drive us. Likewise repetition and comfort are great tools for teaching the faith and discipling (as we are called to do), but empty mindless or vain repetition and ‘my personal comfort’ should also not be what drive us.
In my humble opinion: Our primary motivation for any change, in all things, should be love for God and neighbor. Using love for God and neighbor as our motivation for any change respects the mystery of what takes place in worship and confesses faith in the truth of God’s love for us and ours for Him. We confess our faith in worship in these ways: First, by using God’s own words in our worship wherever and whenever possible. Second, by always evaluating and considering proposed additions or changes to the church’s practices, and using only those that confess Christ as well as or better than what they are replacing while expressing the creative power of God through His people. Lastly, keeping Christ central by keeping His Gospel and the administration of His sacraments central. The ancient historic liturgy does these things best because it uses God’s own words, while respecting and accepting the work of God’s people over millennia (which also confesses the ancient and apostolic nature of Christ’s creedal church). These things are and have been very helpful throughout history in keeping the focus on Christ, His Gospel, and His sacraments.
If the church follows these principals, much of what is done in worship and other activities will be repetitive, .… even if it uses some new musical forms or new liturgical arrangements that look and sound nothing like the historic liturgy, new teaching methods, new technologies, it still uses God’s words wherever and whenever possible. Confessing and teaching the faith in every worship service is what the church does and should do. In a market-centered world, you look to give people what they want, but what God tells us to do is to give them what they need. The ‘other-worldly’ and ‘counter-cultural’ nature of truly divine worship, being confronted with our sinful nature and a bleeding dying Savior, is not and will never be palatable to an unrepentant sinner. But the Holy Spirit works in ways that are not our ways, so we press on, living out our faith and speaking the truth in love to our neighbors, over and over again. We go to His house and receive His gifts the way the church has for millennia… over and over again. Concerning the results, we leave them to the God of creation, in accordance with God’s word through St. Paul speaking to the church at Corinth: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (emphasis added).
Have a reflective Advent, a blessed Christmas, and a wonderful new year.