Francis Chan in a video session of Crazy Love brings up an idea that I’ve been kicking around in my head for a while—what would happen if we took the Gospel to a group of people, devoid of our cultural traditions about church, and they had nothing to build a church by except the Bible in their hands? Would their church look much like our churches in America do today? Probably not.
A couple of weeks back, Dave Miller wrote about the idea of our culture dictating our worship “styles” and asked whether or not we were harming the God-intended cross-cultural unity of the church by demanding conformity to our own personal preferences. While I believe the Gospel both impacts us in our culture and draws us to transcend and not conform to many parts of our culture, I also think we will always be left with the tension of trying to figure the balance between cultural influence and worship in spirit and in truth.
But I do believe both Francis Chan and Dave Miller are on to something with their ideas. And I think part of our problem stems from the fact that church worship has become more of a production than a heartfelt and spirits-united corporate event of praise to God. Perhaps our worship needs to be more organic.
Organic is a word we hear tossed around a lot today, especially in regards to food. The term simply means something which is natural and less processed. This is an apt term when it comes to worship as well. Much of the worship that goes on in our churches week after week (whether large or small, whether with praise teams and guitars or with a song leader and organ) is processed. A few (or less) people sit down, ponder what songs to sing, and then page numbers are written down, titles and sometimes words are printed in bulletins, and PowerPoints are made for projection on the screen. The piano plays, the guitars strum, the drums beat, all while the guy in the suit and tie keeps time with the wave of his hand or the guy in the t-shirt and hole-filled jeans closes his eyes, keeps one hand on the guitar, and raises the other in the air.
Contemporary or traditional, it’s the same—someone selected the music, someone told everyone else exactly what to sing, someone went through the process of delivering the live production.
Certainly it’s the way things are done in the culture—produce, rehearse, practice, present… but is that the way church worship was done in Scripture?
In the Old Testament you did have groups of men put in charge of singing at the temple, and you even had a song book—or a psalm book, of which we are still commanded to make use in the New Testament (Colossians 3:16). But in the New Testament, worship gatherings of the church became located in houses, upper rooms, jail cells, and fields. There was structure and order but things also appear to be less planned.
While we have hints of the look of corporate worship throughout the Gospels and Acts, one of the clearest pictures comes from 1 Corinthians 14. As Paul wrote, he addressed several problems in the church at Corinth, including problems with their corporate worship times. These involved everything from the abuse of the Lord’s Supper to ecstatic and nonsensical tongues speaking for show to the chaos of people talking over people, etc.
The church at Corinth needed more structure and order, and this was something that Paul clearly commanded for them as “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (14:33). Yet even within these commands for structure we see Paul also encouraging and commanding the continuation of worship that is not greatly processed and pre-planned. For what does he say?
1 Corinthians 14:26-32 26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.
Now let us put aside for the moment our personal feelings about the nature and continuance of tongues, and our interpretations about what exactly prophecy entails and its correlation to modern preaching…
Paul’s point was that when they came together for their worship gatherings different people would come with different things according to their different gifts. Different people would bring different songs, different people would bring different lessons, and different people would speak and deliver a message from God. And Paul saw this as good, so long as it edified, was godly (biblical), and done in order.
And what if that was how we came together—not so worried about time (will we make it to the restaurant before the Methodists?), not so worried about personal style, and not so worried about making sure no one else sits in my pew?
What if we came together as a family for worship? What if we showed respect for each other and love for one another, not trying to one-up each other, but Robert, Amanda, Liam, Courtney, and Timmy each came with their own songs (maybe even their own instruments) to both lead us in something familiar and teach us something new? And Walter and Ryan both came with a message to share? And Lilly and Cameron and David all came with testimonies and prayers of thanksgiving about how God had changed their lives that week? And in the midst, we all gathered together and feasted, and broke of the bread while sharing of the cup… all under the watchcare and guidance of the elders and each other?
Would it be different? You bet… Would it upset our cultural comforts? Absolutely… But would it also help to overcome the artificial barriers and divisions we create based on ensuring our productions meet our personal preference and styles? By the grace of God…
But ask yourself as you look through the pages of Scripture, what is more biblical: our weekly staged productions or a natural family-like gathering where many can share according to their gifts? And perhaps what our churches need is a return to the organic…