Monday, May 23, 2016

Here Comes the Baggage

Yesterday I briefly noted some of the different approaches taken within Christendom to remembering the Lord Jesus. If you haven’t read that post first, this one will probably make less sense than it might otherwise.

The New Testament does not lay down many hard and fast rules about the mechanics of worship, only that we are to “remember” our Lord in the sharing of the bread and the cup and to examine ourselves prior to doing so. Arguably this is the most important part of the Christian life. One can be as active in church as humanly possible, as diligent and and hard-working as anyone, and even passionate about meeting with the people of God.

Unnecessary Qualifications

As those who call themselves “Christian” we ought to be conscious of the necessity to remember our Lord in all that we do, but all the more conscious of doing so when we presume to be gathering in his name.

Bearing all this in mind, when I read Joseph Guirguis expressing concern that the “remembrance meeting” [Wait! There’s another name for it I forgot to mention] at his church comes with a lot of baggage, I have difficulty arguing:
“There seem to be many unnecessary qualifications that we have in our heads concerning participation in this meeting. It’s almost as if there is a graded system.”
That can happen, and it’s unfortunate if it does. Contrary to what some young men may infer, in general, older Christians are not consciously looking to place obstacles in the way of younger men who would otherwise worship audibly.

In fact, we love it when they do.

An Aside that I Wish Wasn’t Merely an Aside

Bear in mind that when I talk about participating audibly in worship, it is not because I think that there is some New Testament-approved methodology to worship that ought to be followed everywhere or that any particular evangelical tradition of worship should be preserved indefinitely just because that’s the way it has always been done. Rather, it is because in most churches today it is ONLY during the time set aside for worship that audible participation by anyone other than those organizing the meetings seems to be permitted. Such a thing was not true of at least some first century churches; it appears it was possible to for men to participate in a variety of ways whenever the church gathered together.

Perhaps that’s something we should consider getting back to. But since most of us are hardwired into our traditional routines, let’s talk a bit about the system that presently exists rather than the one we’d love to get to but can’t.

Getting Young Men to Participate Audibly

I have often heard older Christians discussing how to encourage younger believers to participate more when we break bread together. Most recognize that there is a learning curve to doing so, and accept that from time to time a less mature Christian may choose to audibly participate in a way that is less profitable than it could be. That’s part of learning, and, if anything, I find that older Christians have a tendency to shy away from criticizing such efforts rather than rushing to correct someone who may have misspoken.

Still, I recognize that young men can feel that they are being scrutinized, measured and observed when they stand up to participate. This is unavoidable in any situation in which someone takes a risk by speaking out and is not immediately patted on the back and praised by all present. It is also a greater risk and a much more terrifying experience for those who are by disposition self-conscious, sensitive or shy.

Older believers need to be thinking about this and not be over-critical about a young man’s first efforts. And while there may be the occasional failure of graciousness on this front, I think for the most part young men receive a fair bit of encouragement to share their thoughts audibly. If Christians are putting hurdles in one another’s way over participation in worship, in my experience they are neither malicious about it nor particularly frequent in doing so.

Good, Bad and Better Offerings

That said, while we want to encourage every man to participate consistent with his ability, maturity and desire, there are quantifiable “goods” and “betters” in worship. There are even, dare I say it, “bads”.

As I replied to Joseph’s post:
“While we should never look down on what our brothers are offering to the Lord, and while taking part audibly should never be done in a competitive spirit or with a desire to exalt ourselves, it remains true that some offerings are notably better than others. The word of God tells us so. Abel ‘offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’ (Hebrews 11:4).

If the purpose of gathering is to remember the Lord (Luke 22:19) and to “proclaim his death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:25-26), then those hymns, prayers and little meditations that more accurately and scripturally serve to remind us of him (rather than ourselves or other things) and proclaim his death (as opposed to our blessings, distinctives or other, unrelated truths of scripture) are to be preferred over those thoughts that are more general and less related to the reason for our gathering.

Yes, Joseph, we can all worship anywhere at any time, and that is a wonderful thing. But there is something to be said in scripture for gathering (Hebrews 10:25) to the Lord’s name, not just living worshipfully. And when we gather, we may choose to offer poor sacrifices, good sacrifices or better sacrifices.

Why not make an effort to offer the best sacrifices?”
The host of the blog where Joseph’s post appeared comments in response that “it’s the partaking of the bread and cup that does the proclaiming,” not men standing up and sharing. With this I quite agree. But it seems evident that what we say audibly before and during partaking of bread and wine can either support and enhance (or else entirely undermine!) the very thing we are proclaiming. That is to say, if we spend 45 minutes prior to breaking bread discussing something entirely unrelated to the person and work of the Lord Jesus, it is hard to see that simply engaging in a familiar ritual satisfies the testimonial purpose for which it was given.

So we should not put hurdles in one another’s way by being over-demanding of young men or over-critical of what they may share, but we also must recognize that leading the people of God in audible worship is a responsibility with more than a little at stake.

Study to Show Yourself Approved

Everything that matters takes effort, including public worship. Developing in every area of knowledge requires going through a period of time in which we know less than others around us. Those of us who have lived long enough recognize that there is never a time when we stop learning, and that where remembering the Lord is concerned, we are always in the process of becoming more scripturally accurate, more spiritually alert, more careful in how we express ourselves and more conscious of the unique privilege we enjoy when we do so.

Yes, God is much more concerned with our hearts than with an outward show of erudition or eloquence. As the psalmist put it:
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Amen to that. But there is a difference between quietly offering the stammerings of an ineloquent but humble heart to the Lord in the privacy of our own spirits, and attempting week after week to lead the congregation of God’s people in expressing worship in ways that are less profitable.

All believers are to remember the Lord, but not all believers are equipped to lead the Lord’s people in extended reflecting. Those that do speak up need to balance their liberty in Christ and their desire to share what he has done for them against the rightful sense of awe that should be present with any spiritual responsibility.

That, and the awareness that he is in our presence just as he was present in the camp of Israel.

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