Historic Faith in Timely Forms

I have mused over this concept for a few years now. Ever since I helped out with a church plant wanting to launch a “liturgical” service, this has been a persistent question.

It seems that most of the questions or pushback I have encountered on matters pertaining to worship have to do with what I would call “historical expressions” of worship, not the fundamentals of worship. When we launched the liturgical service, most people assumed this meant that we would be abandoning the projector screens in favor of a printed bulletin.

My question to them was always, “Why?”

What difference would it make if we read a Confession of Sin, or the Nicene Creed, from a stapled collection of papers we hold, or off a screen that’s on the wall in front of us?

Is it the appearance of a video screen and projector that gets in the way of anchoring the “spiritual act of worship” in a corporate setting to our historic Christian faith?

Why should we favor a technology with a born on date of the 15th century (printing press) over one with a 20th century date (video projector)?

The fundamentals of what we do in worship is the same, but it’s the forms that we often get hung up over.

Across continents and centuries, the Christian church gathers to worship a holy and gracious God, who calls us to worship, confronts us with our sin, assures us of His grace and forgiveness in Christ, forms us into a community being fashioned by the preaching and receiving of His word (sermon and sacrament), and then unleashing us back into the world to be His people, in His world, for His glory. These are the fundamentals of any worship service. This is the liturgy.

As I think through my own personal take and philosophy on this, here’s what I’ve come to a conclusion about:

As a church, we want to be anchored to the rich history and tradition of the Christian faith without being overly-fixed to any one instance of it’s historical expression.

In other words, a “hymn” is not preferable to a “praise chorus” simply by the date of origin, but by it’s theological content and artistic expression. Hymnals (songs bound in books) are no better than projection screens by virtue of their antiquity, as both are relatively modern technologies (one being born in the 15th century vs. the 20th).

The question I want us to ask and wrestle with as a church is, “How can we celebrate and join in the historic nature and fundamentals of the Christian faith, without being limited to any particular, historic expression or form, of the Christian faith?”

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Desiring to Know the Real Reason

English: Saint paul arrested

English: Saint paul arrested (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love this simple statement Luke includes when he recounts the trial of Paul in Acts 22.  Paul had been preaching the gospel, sharing his story of encountering Jesus, and it caused a stir.  People were upset.  They couldn’t handle what he was talking about.  And their reaction was to hand Paul over to the authorities.

 

The Romans did what they were trained to do – get the truth out of Paul any way that they could.  Their interrogation methods included flogging.  Nothing like a few lashings to get to the truth.  But before they made it that far down the particular path, Paul explains that what they are about to do us unlawful, for although Paul is a Jew, he was also a Roman citizen by birth, and thus he had some legal protection from being bound and interrogated without cause.
What strikes me about this story though is not Paul’s social and political savvy, or even his practice of what some have labeled “riot evangelism.” (Not arguing against this either.  The demonstration and proclamation of the Gospel should cause a stir!).
No, what I find fascinating is that the Roman tribune came to back to Paul, “desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews.” (v. 30).
Do our lives and our words have that kind of effect?
 
Not just the effect of causing a stir or a controversy.
Not just the kind that instigates a riot.
Not just the kind that shakes the comfortable and complacent out of their apathy.

But the kind that draws others closer, “desiring to know the real reason.”  

 
The real reason for the hope that we profess.
The real reason for our experience of God.
The real reason why some would struggle to the point of wanting to condemn, ostracize and even punish  us for what we believe, what we proclaim and what we demonstrate with out lives.
That’s the kind of impact I want to have.  To see men and women and children be so moved with desire to want to know the real reason why I believe the gospel.  This is why I’m excited to see more interest being taken up in the realm of “gospel neighboring” and if you haven’t yet stumbled upon Andy Stager’s  blog and podcast on this subject, you really should go check it out here.
It’s when we live with such radical hospitality, in close proximity to others in our communities, that the distinctiveness of our lives shaped by the Gospel will begin to have the effect of disrupting the perceptions and preconceived notions of Christianity and Christians themselves, and that space for desiring to know the real reason is created – in relationship.
Can you imagine what would happen if our words and lives had this as their aim and intention?
Can you see your family members, neighbors, and coworkers being so drawn to ask you that kind of question – “Tell me the real reason why……
….so-and-so seems out to get you?
….you’re not holding that grudge against that guy who threw you under the bus?
….you’re not falling apart when your husband lost his job?
….you’re neither a fundamentalist, prude, nor are you a anything-goes kind of person?
….you love your kids and yet your world doesn’t simply orbit around them and their schedules?
….you’re life has changed so dramatically?
….you go to that church?
….you are a Christian?
Can you imagine the folks in your particular sphere of influence asking you these kinds of questions? That’s the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of people God wants us to be as we seek to live a distinctively Christian life in the world He has placed us.