Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Shape of the Worshipping Church

Anyone following the CT postings of the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson?
Hitchens is author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Wilson is senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College and author of Letter From a Christian Citizen, and is as sharp and amusing as Hitchens. And apparently much more persistent, at least in this debate. The link is to part 3, and the first 2 parts are well worth checking out. The topic: "Is Christianity Good for the World?"

My last post was about allowing the members of a church body to freely exercise their gifts. I mean all the gifts of the Spirit, of course, both structural and charismatic. The interesting thing about this is that this was the pattern of the New Testament church, as the charming and lovely Mrs. Swegle pointed out. You can find it desribed in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, where Paul tells the Corinthian church to have their psalm, their message in tongues (interpreted), their prophecy, their revelation, their teaching--and to do it decently and in order, with everything done for the good of the assembly rather than for the reputation and standing of the speaker(s). Two, or at the most three, messages in tongues; and two, or at the most three, prophecies. This is a rather vague outline of worship but parts of it are pretty clear:

  1. Gifted people were expected to exercise their gifts in the meeting.
  2. More than one gift was expected to be exercised.
  3. More than one person was permitted to exercise his/her gift (but no more than 3!).
  4. Prophets were expected to subject their utterances to the judgment of other prophets.
  5. There was a known, though not specified, order in which these things were done.
To be honest, as I told a chaplain friend yesterday, I don't know of any denominational churches in which things are done this way. I don't mean there aren't any Pentecostal or charismatic denominational bodies doing it like this, only that I don't know of any. Does anyone else?

So here's a question, based on the idea that "form follows function." If this is the function of the worship service, what should the form of the body be to adhere to this function? How should a congregation structure itself so as to allow this kind of worship? What form would best create this true New Testament worship? Would mega-churches? House churches? Small churches? Mid-sized? Elder-led? Denominational? Independent? Co-pastored?

This is "ecclesiology," and it's more important than we think--and not for the reasons we think. Ecclesiology isn't so much about authority as about creating a structure that releases the work of the Spirit. We focus on "decently and in order" while neglecting "let all things be done." Because we think authority and order are the function of the church, we give the local body a form that keeps it from its full function--the exercise of all the gifts of the Spirit. So, give me your thoughts. What kind of form should the local church take to fulfill its function?

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