If you haven’t read the first part of my review of Pagan Christianity, you can click here to check it out. This review will focus on chapters 3, which talks about the typical order of church services. As in my first review, I’ll use the following conventions:
- “church” written without italics and unbolded will refer to the church building.
- church, written in italic, will refer to the church service or meeting.
- church, bolded, will refer to the people–the core meaning of the word.
Sometimes the distinction is going to get a little hazy, but I’ll do my best.
Chapter three talks about the typical order of a Protestant church service: where it comes from, the changes it’s gone through over the years, and why the authors feel it causes problems in the church.
The typical Sunday morning order of worship starts out with music and/or a greeting, followed by more music. If you attend a charismatic church, make that a lot of music–fine by me.
After music come the announcements and the offering, though sometimes that is saved until after the sermon. Many pastors will give a prayer.
Now comes the sermon. After this there will usually be another prayer, sometimes an altar call, more singing, communion, a closing song and/or blessing, and you’re out the door.
Different churches mix up the order a bit, but this is more or less the order of most churches I’ve been a part of or visited. I think the authors’ point here is that the order is predictable and fairly consistent from one Protestant church to the next. The style changes, but not the bones–or not much.
Viola and Barna retrace church history as it played out after the early church period, an interesting read for me as I haven’t studied a lot of church history. The gist of it is that church gradually changed from a believers’ meeting, to the tool of evangelism we consider it to be today. (Please invite three friends to next week’s service!)
Also, the authors believe that church is to be lived in community, that worship should be done in community, and that the church must grow together into a true expression of Christ in the midst of our world. They stress that the church of today has become too focused on the individual and has left off the importance of being the body of Christ together.
While I agree with them on this, we are still individuals. We do not die to sin as a group, but as individuals. We are responsible for our own actions, including our decision to accept or refuse the sacrifice of Jesus to save us from Adam’s sin and our own sins. Nevertheless, the authors’ point; that we should, as a body, show a true picture of what the Godhead is like, is well taken. I don’t think they mean to intimate that individuals don’t interact with God on a one-on-one basis, but their main emphasis is on community, since this is the church’s current need.
Viola and Barna’s goal in scrolling through all this history seems to be to prove that the Protestant order of service is not a product of scripture, but rather of human device. For me, this was unnecessary though interesting. It never occurred to me that the Catholic or Protestant order of service was Biblical. I’ve always simply accepted that this was the way we ended up doing things and that it was okay. The authors say, “No . . . it’s not okay.”
They use a couple of passages in the epistles to guide them when attempting to reconstruct the sorts of church meetings the early Christians participated in. One of them is 1 Corinthians 11-14. By coincidence (?) I’m working on this very section of 1 Corinthians in my own Bible study, so I’ve already covered some of it and will be doing the rest of it in the coming weeks. We can infer a great deal about they way in which the Corinthian church conducted their meetings from what Paul says in this part of his letter. (And Paul presumably had taught them how to hold a meeting.) Though he is correcting excesses, Paul doesn’t tell them to stop letting everyone participate, but merely tells them to take turns nicely, etc. When the Corinthians came together, they each had “a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” (1 Cor 14:26) We don’t do that today. Why is this a problem? What’s wrong with the way we do things?
Our order of service prevents individual believers from ministering to one another and learning how to minister to one another, prevents Jesus from actively running the meeting by speaking through whomever He chooses, and not only allows, but forces one or a small handful of players (the pastor and possibly the worship team) to take complete control of the ball. In sports, this is discouraged, but in the church, it has come to be expected. The authors contend that this was not the way the church was intended to function. Paul’s depiction of the church as a body in which each member has a genuine part to play doesn’t speak to us of one large tongue and many small ears (the authors’ illustration).
I think that, though God does and has worked mightily through the institutional church, He has been swimming against the current to do it. I was thinking yesterday . . . musing. I wrote that last post on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and was talking about how our physical bodies were designed by God to heal themselves–at least to some degree. What if God designed the church the same way? What if the organic church movement is a part of the body trying to heal itself? Jesus is coming back for a glorious church without spot or wrinkle. In these last days, is He preparing His church to meet Him by restoring what we’ve lost? Is the whole process of church history from the restoration on just one long healing process, bringing us finally to this point? If we miss this, are we missing God or just skipping over a useless fad? What do you think?
Grace and Peace,