Thinking Out Loud

May 30, 2016

Can You Be Spontaneous and Liturgical at the Same Time?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:45 am

liturgy 1

Okay, let’s get the title question out of the way quickly: The answer is ‘no.’ To adopt a liturgical form is by definition to do away with spontaneity completely. Why pose the question?

If you were a fly on the wall at our house last night, the discussion was about the churches that would call themselves “spirit-led” vs. the ones which follow a more “scripted” worship order at weekend services. There are advantages to both of course. Many — dare I say most? — Evangelical churches lack the richness and depth one finds in an Episcopalian or Anglican setting. But when it comes to prayer, particularly if the prayer is for you and some need you are facing, you want someone who doesn’t need to read a prayer out of book.1

In many Evangelical environments, every word that is spoken is not written out ahead of time.2 This produces a tendency to “wing it.” On the other hand, those same Evangelicals often enter a liturgical environment and find it too sterile. Let’s face it, you can tell when someone who is reading something is just reading it.

On the other hand, we have Millennials reporting to be preferring a more traditional worship environment. Does this do away with extemporaneous praying? Eliminate the pastor being led to introduce a new direction into the sermon? Or is the desired outcome more a blend of what we have now, and what we had 100 years ago? 3

Cruising the interwebs, we found a piece by J.C. Holsinger at the Assemblies of God website. It’s too long to post in its entirety here but I hope some of you will click through. (Click the title below.) I like the way — from the perspective of his denomination — this article bridges the divide.

Pentecostal liturgy?

…When the Assemblies of God was formed, the founders deliberately avoided using the words sacrament and liturgy. In fact, the founders carefully called the ceremonies of the church ordinances to avoid any sacramental connection. Hence rather than sacramentalism which the word liturgy historically brings with it, Pentecostals more accurately have ordinances and ceremonies. However, these ceremonies are important in educating and binding the generations of Christians together. Therefore, continuity and carefulness in performing these ceremonies should be practiced.

I attended a wedding recently where the pastor opened the ceremony with a prayer: “As we hear these young people repeat their vows, may those of us who are married be reminded of the same vows we once took. Lord, help us to reaffirm our vows to You and to each other.” When he finished the prayer I almost shouted “Amen” because that is one of the most valuable purposes of ceremony–to educate and reaffirm important truths held in common, not just to provide a private or personal experience.

Modern society attempts either to personalize or individualize everything… A common question is, ‘What does that mean to you?” The implication is that your experience and other people’s experiences are equally valid…

Can such tendencies to personalize and individualize everything ultimately destroy the purposes and continuity of ceremonies in a society?

Consider God’s command that Joshua require the leaders of the 12 Tribes to take a stone from the Jordan River to create a memorial. What if each of the 12 leaders or the 12 Tribes themselves had said, “We want to personalize our part of the ceremony.” Or, “I would rather bring a log,” or “I’ll pick up a pretty shell from the river that is special and meaningful to me.” Instead, they heightened the meaning with all the leaders repeating exactly the same ceremony. This made it possible for the next generation to ask, “What mean you by these stones?” and to be educated about God and their responsibilities to His purposes.

Repetition and consistency of common procedures heighten the meaning and importance of ceremony…

For example, if a respected Christian couple brings their child for dedication and the minister says, “I know you are good Christians, so I am not going to ask you whether you will bring up your child in church,” does that not destroy the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to prick the hearts of all parents present as to whether they are carrying out their vows?

Do we as church leaders affirm the importance of godly homes if at a Pentecostal church wedding the bridesmaids and bride come down the aisle more appropriately dressed for a nightclub than a church? Or music is sung at a Pentecostal church wedding that has sexual overtones more in keeping with a cabaret?

What about our ceremonies for the ordinance of water baptism? Is the meaning of “being buried with Christ and resurrected with Him” lost if we allow silly comments about the coldness of the water or ask, “Are you scared?”

Ceremonies need not be formal or stiff, of course. Given our church’s history and theology, ceremonies can be relaxed and natural. However, is it not easy to cross the fine line between relaxed and natural and instead produce silliness that destroys the basic teaching purposes of the ceremony? …

Also interesting was information about an academic book releasing in 2017 by Mark Cartledge and A. J. Swoboda, Scripting Pentecost. You can read about that at this link.

Your comments are welcome. We’ll return to this topic soon!


1 There are always exceptions to everything and one is a book that is a favorite among Pentecostals and Charismatics, Prayers that Avail Much which uses what would be termed Spirit-filled language, but consists entirely of pre-formatted prayers which can be used in a variety of life situations.

2 For a look at a brief period where something resembling liturgy overlapped Evangelical history, check out the Responsive Readings section of old hymnbooks.

3 For one approach to creating liturgy in a more current culture, check out my brief 2011 review of Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne et al.

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 12, 2013

Bridging the Expository-Preaching Topical-Preaching Divide

preacherExpository preaching consists of working through a passage on a verse-by-verse basis. For many of you, it’s the sermon style you grew up with; for a few it might be the only Bible teaching form you know.

Topical preaching seeks to look at selected scriptures and build a picture of the Bible’s wider teaching on a particular subject or issue. It grew in popularity when the seeker-sensitive church movement started, and is therefore often associated with that paradigm.

Expository preaching is a necessary skill for pastors. If you can’t exegete a passage, you don’t pass homiletics or hermeneutics in Bible college or seminary.

Topical preaching is sometimes mistakenly thought of as “sermon lite.” It’s been — dare I say it? — demonized because of its association with things traditionalists don’t care for: contemporary music, casual dress, modern Bible translations, seeker-targeted services, etc.

A good speaker should be able to do both approaches, and should know when to do both.

But every once in awhile I run across an article that is waving the flag for the expository style, and therefore reiterating an implied disdain for the alternative, topical preaching; like this one last week at Arminian Today.

Now before you head for the comment button, let me say that I agree completely with all nine points in the article, because there is an engagement at a different level with the expository style.  But the rhetoric of the article is completely over-the-top; indeed there is almost a venom in the words chosen to state what is, at the end of the day, the author’s preference.

Topical preaching is more like a steady diet of fast food.  It takes great but is not good for you.  McDonald’s will make you happy and it does taste good but a steady flow of McDonald’s is not good for you.  You need healthy substance to survive.  Fast food makes one fat and lazy… A steady diet of fast food Christianity that tastes good but is not producing healthy disciples.  Fast food Christianity produces shallow, self-focused people who want their felt needs met and view God as an end to their own problems.  Lost is the holiness of God, the hatred for sin, the passion for God in prayer, the hunger for the Word of God, a zeal for evangelism, a passion to have a biblical worldview and to be as godly as one can be in a sinful world.

You can’t teach the holiness of God in a topical sermon?  A steady diet of theme-based teaching fails to produce healthy disciples? By what metrics? Where is the research on this?

Then the writer feels the need to add one more paragraph, just in case you missed it:

So why do most churches avoid expository preaching? I would answer that by saying that 1) many churches want to entertain to draw crowds which equals money and success in their view and 2) the preacher is simply spiritually lazy and will not take time to study the Word of God to teach the Word as it should be honored and taught.  In turn, topical preaching doesn’t teach the Word of God but is simply the preacher picking what he wants to say, makes his points, and then proof texts his points.  That is not teaching the Bible.  That is your teaching backed up by proof texts from the Bible.

Did you catch that second last sentence? Topical preaching “is not teaching the Bible.” Wow! That’s a rather heavy accusation to level.  Caught up in the genuine emotion and passion about this subject, the writer kept keyboarding too long.

Still, in the spirit of conciliation and peace-making, I decided to wade into this blog post’s swamp and try to post something redemptive; borrowing an idea from the music wars that have plagued many a church:

I wrote:

This may not be popular here, but I want to offer a third way.

Many years ago, as churches agonized over the “hymns versus choruses” debate, the late Robert Weber introduced the term “blended worship;” a mixture of classic and modern compositions.

I believe there is some merit in bringing that mindset to this topic. I don’t necessarily lean to either the topical or expository style of preaching, as I believe there is only good preaching and bad preaching. The problem with topical preaching is that sometimes you never get deep enough into the context of the passage to learn anything new; it tends to have a guilty-by-association link with weak or entry-level teaching. The problem with expository preaching is that you miss the beauty and majesty of how the whole of scripture fits together, how the Bible speaks to various themes, and how seemingly contrasting verses hold a particular issue in tension.

So a blended approach would involve the use of related passages, but with a particular key passage more fully exegeted. None of this approach negates any of the nine points above, but it avoids the mindset that I’ve seen exist among some who are steeped in the expository approach and seem to have a phobia about introducing cross-references or parallel passages.

Now, at risk of being guilty of the very thing that I abhor about the approach taken in the article, let me add something else:  It is far too easy for someone to get up, open their Bible to a single passage and basically ‘wing it.’ Drawing on your familiarity with the text, it is extremely easy to simply start reading verse by verse and improvise or amplify what is on the page without providing any added value.

In other words, while it’s possible for either type of preacher to get up unprepared, the topical sermon must have involved some gathering of related or parallel texts through commentaries or word studies.

So I’ll take my sermon topically, please, with a slice of exposition; and hold the personal opinions — oh wait, you already do.

The most powerful thing a pastor can say in his sermon is, “Take your Bibles and look with me please to the book of …”  And anywhere Bible pages are being turned or text is appearing onscreen, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.

July 17, 2012

Why Youth Are Leaving The Episcopal (Anglican) Church

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:50 am

Logical non sequitur department: Rachel Held Evans posted this on the weekend and credits it to Julie Clawson:

“I’m finding amusing all the articles blaming the Episcopal Church’s demise and lack of younger congregants on its being “liberal.” Because accepting women and gays as (mostly) equals is obviously far more unacceptable to today’s youth than antiquated language, liturgy, robes, stained glass, and droning organ music…”

Exactly. The “liberal” issue is very real, but let’s not overlay that on a demographic issue where it doesn’t apply.

July 5, 2011

Schullergate Continues

The architect who designed the Crystal Cathedral was an openly gay man. 

You probably didn’t need to know that, but otherwise, the gist of the Orange County Register story on Sunday is that Robert H. Schuller has been ousted from the board of the Crystal Cathedral he founded all those years ago.

GARDEN GROVE – The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, who started his ministry in an Orange drive-in theater more than five decades ago, has been voted off the board of Crystal Cathedral Ministries, which has been torn apart by debt and familial disharmony for the last several years.

Sheila Schuller Coleman - daughter to Robert H. and sister to Robert A. (OC Register Photo)

The church has not released information about the board meeting where Schuller, 84, was ousted, but his son Robert A. Schuller, who was himself forced out of the cathedral by his sisters and brothers-in-law three years ago, confirmed it Sunday.

He said his father wanted to enlarge the board, which was not received well by the others.

“A majority of that board consists of paid employees of the church and that’s a serious conflict of interest,” Robert A. Schuller said.

None of the board members or church officials could be reached for comment Sunday.

Schuller said his mother, a board member, voted against it, but was in the minority.

“It’s a very sad day and unfortunately, I know how that feels,” the younger Schuller said.

The article also hints that the family infighting which led to the departure of the younger R.S., Robert A Schuller, shows no sign of letting up:

Robert H. Schuller has been at odds with his daughters over how they have chosen to run the church. The cathedral recently switched over from a traditional worship format to a Gospel-style choir – much to the chagrin of many long-time members. Coleman also required choir members to sign a covenant acknowledging Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

For readers here, the issue is very simple:  How do show honor and respect to the person who founded a ministry organization while at the same time recognizing that at a certain age it might be time to step aside?

But equally important is the question, With a power shift to the next generation, is there justification for at the same time changing the ministry’s brand identification and core values?

Thanks again to the OC Register for relentless close-up coverage on this ever evolving saga.

Related item on this blog:  A Good News Story About The Crystal Cathedral

Previous Schullergate story:  CC Land and Buildings to be Sold

 

March 25, 2011

Accidental Anglican

I realized yesterday morning that I’ve accidentally become an Anglican.

Well, sort of.

You see, as an Evangelical, we base everything on the sermon.  As the sermon goes, so goes the service.  As the sermon went, so went the service.  And you could say, as the sermon will go, so will go the service.  That’s why, for example, people don’t say, “I go to North Point;” they say, “I go to Andy Stanley’s Church;” as if he owns it or something.

We like good preaching.

We also like good worship, but that’s not really a biggie since its now been proven that the Top 100 Churches in America — as selected by Outreach Magazine — are all using the same MIDI loops of Majesty, I Will Follow, and (for less cutting edge congregations) Revelation Song.

So given the choice, we choose on the basis of a good sermon.

I have three choices this weekend.

The preaching will be great at all three.

So I’m making my choice based on some advance information on the worship.  As it turns out, I have in my computer the exact worship setlists from two of my three choices for the weekend services.  This the worship-nerd equivalent of insider-trading information.

In other words, I’m choosing based on the liturgy.  I’m prioritizing the liturgy. And as every good mainline Protestant knows, as the liturgy goes so goes the service.  As the liturgy went, so went the service.  And you could say, as the liturgy will go, so will go the service.

I can’t decide if I’m being discriminating, or if I’m being shallow.

??

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