Tuesday, December 15, 2015

No worshipping together in Australia!


It's interesting to compare the American and Australian Gospel Coalition 'Vision for Ministry' documents. When it comes to describing the purpose of the locally gathered church the American document goes like this:
1. Empowered corporate worship.
The gospel changes our relationship with God from one of hostility or slavish compliance to one of intimacy and joy. The core dynamic of gospel–centered ministry is therefore worship and fervent prayer. In corporate worship God’s people receive a special life–transforming sight of the worth and beauty of God, and then give back to God suitable expressions of his worth. At the heart of corporate worship is the ministry of the Word. Preaching should be expository (explaining the text of Scripture) and Christ–centered (expounding all biblical themes as climaxing in Christ and his work of salvation). Its ultimate goal, however, is not simply to teach but to lead the hearers to worship, individual and corporate, that strengthens their inner being to do the will of God. [Italics mine.]
Now compare that to the almost completely reworked Australian version.
1. Weekly Gatherings of God’s People
We are brought near to God through his Son, our Saviour and high priest, and through his substitutionary sacrifice for our sin. We joyfully gather as God’s people to meet in his presence, to hear and receive God’s word as the Bible is read and preached; to pray for ourselves, our church, our nation, and our world; to confess our sins and be assured of God’s forgiveness through the death of Christ; to proclaim the gospel; to encourage each other; and to praise our God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Word is of crucial importance in our gatherings. The Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, should be read and preached. Preaching should be expository (explaining the text of Scripture) and Christ–centred (expounding all biblical themes as climaxing in Christ and his work of salvation). Its ultimate goal, however, is not simply to teach, but to lead the hearers to worship in every part of their lives. [Italics mine]
Putting aside the positive similarities; for example an emphasis on expository preaching, the differences are remarkable. Notice how the Australian document avoids describing the local gathering of God's people as "corporate worship". The Australian document has an extended description of some of the things that occur in a church service, prayer, preaching, praise and confession but omits the sacraments. The heading also reminds us that what takes place in a church service is simply the prosaic "weekly gathering" and not "empowered corporate worship."

Our lives, both on this side of eternity (Romans 12:1) and the other side (Revelation 5:11), are characterised by worship. The local gathering of God's people isn't just a logistical expression of the gospel but a faint and beautiful echo of our participation in the life of God. I think the changes reflect an underlying philosophical difference. The American statement represents the idea that our smaller stories make sense because they are part of God's larger story and what appears small, clumsy, damaged and weak is made great by it's inclusion in the Grand Narrative of God. However the Australian statement sees salvation more as an escape from this world into God's larger narrative. Therefore the emphasis will fall on our escape or rescue and ecclesiology is subsequently re-defined in that light. 

12 comments:

Gary Ware said...

I noticed the absence of sacraments and worship from 'weekly gatherings'.
Sydney evangelicalism flattens the whole thing till it's a bit more than TAFE, but with better coffee.

Chris said...

Don Carson and Tony Payne had an email exchange about this ages ago, which was published in the briefing. I think it's instructive for getting the gist of the two points of view.

Taking Tony Payne at his word, I don't think his approach was intended to flatten things, but in practice it did/still does.

http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2000/12/is-the-church-a-house-of-worship/

PB said...

👍🏼

Luke Isham said...

Thanks for the comments, feedback and encouragement, guys.

Mikey Lynch said...

Choosing to use or not use the word 'worship' doesn't necessarily indicate these broader theological emphases. I think Sydney Anglicans are right in observing that the 'worship' word groups are not especially related to what the church does when it gathers. Removing the unbiblical phrase 'empowered corporate worship' is about theological terminology style preferences, rather than theology.

The rest of the description includes words like 'joyfully' and 'praise' so to call the rest of the paragraph 'TAFE with better coffee' (as Gary Ware does) is not fair of this paragraph at all. Using the 'Worship' doesn't somehow guarantee transcendence and holism, any more than removing one removes the other.

BUT the choose of a 'prosaic' - 'Weekly Public Gatherings' is an ugly choice. And it is telling. It makes me think of replacing 'sermon' with 'Bible Talk'. It is revealing style-choice, though, rather than much more. Fruit of composition-by-committee I fear?

Gary Ware said...

You're right, Mikey. TAFE isn't quite right. Maybe an AMWAY rally or something.
I just find the whole 'all of life is worship except for what we do on Sunday mornings' thing to over reach.
'empowered' is jargon. 'corporate worship' is a contrast to individual or family worship.
it's hardly unbiblical, though non-biblical as a term.
It interests me that '100 evangelical leaders' in a parachurch forum can formulate and sign off a theological document that reflects a point of view that hasn't been endorsed by any denomination that I know of.
And I think the choice of words is entirely intentional.

Luke Isham said...

Hi Mikey,

Thanks for commenting!

You’re partly right, I am speculating about the possible causes of the differences and could be reading theological nuance into the clumsy work of a committee. I also don’t want anyone to think that worship is limited to a local gathering of Christians. We worship God, during the sermon, the Lord’s Supper and while watching Star Wars!

However I wonder why the Australian statement is at pains to steer away from the word “worship”, the difference is significant and highlighted further in the second, long, sentence describing some but curiously not all activities of locally assembled Christians. Surely the American statement could’ve have been tweaked to emphasise the *holistic* nature of worship?

Garry,

They need a statement about the statement! Describing the rationale for the changes, particularly significant ones like this.

Luke Isham said...

*Gary

Sorry, I have a Garry in my congregation.

Mikey Lynch said...

"You're right, Mikey. TAFE isn't quite right. Maybe an AMWAY rally or something."

Hmph. Really? Leaving aside our clumsiness at running public events (which 'reverent liturgical' churches and 'cpativated spiritua' churches can also do badly)... all the Australian evangelicals and Sydney Anglicans I know are stirred and moved by the word of God and touched by singing and are deeply devout in their worship and adoration of God in public and private.

"I just find the whole 'all of life is worship except for what we do on Sunday mornings' thing to over reach."

But no one is saying that.


'empowered' is jargon. 'corporate worship' is a contrast to individual or family worship.
it's hardly unbiblical, though non-biblical as a term.

"non-bliblical" is better - thanks!
But using 'worship' to describe Bible prayer and singing (whether private, family or public) is non-biblical.

"It interests me that '100 evangelical leaders' in a parachurch forum can formulate and sign off a theological document that reflects a point of view that hasn't been endorsed by any denomination that I know of."

They are not DENYING anything in their omissions - so everything are actively saying IS endorsed by every evangelical denomination you know of!

The pedantry around the precise use of the word 'worship' is just that - a pedantry that has some arguments in its favour and some against. But in and of itself that's all it is - a pedantry that I could understand a committee catering to. Because after all the word 'worship' is not central to NT theology of church.

"And I think the choice of words is entirely intentional."

Entirely intentional - but not necessarily for the broader theoretical reasons guessed by Luke or entailing the denials suggested by you, Gary.

:-)

Mikey Lynch said...

Back to the AMWAY thing...

My answer above was from the point of view of the 'worshipper' - I think caricaturing the typical Aussie evangelical church meeting as 'AMWAY' dishonours their experience of devout 'worship' in trembling at God's word and offering the sacrifice of praise and ministering to one another in the priestly duties of love and service.

BUT your comment was probably also describing the rationale of the 'liturgy' (again non-biblical use of a worship-word to describe the order of 'service' [again non-biblical worship-word for describing the meeting]). The typial Aussie evangelical 'liturgy' is 'like AMWAY'.

Yeah I can see your point... a bit. But only a bit.

Because the primary explicit NT purpose of our gathering together IS to learn and to build up. So learning, teaching, edifying... these things are deep, liturgical, worshipful, recerent, transcendent, holy, devout, holistic, things. When Christians do things similar to what AMWAY people do they ARE worshipful. Aren't they?

Now engaging our emotions, and interacting with God's word, promises, sacraments in a more contemplative, or emotional or whatever way could have more place in our gatherings. But the word 'worship' isn't the best way to diagnose or treat that.

Gary Ware said...

Mikey,
I don't think I'm caricaturing typical evangelical meetings. I think the terminology in the statement is representative of something quite idiosyncratic, though something I readily affirm is motivated by gospel intent and reliant on God's empowerment.
Thanks for engaging so thoughtfully with what may have appeared to be a couple of glib comments.
I don't want to hijack Luke's thread or your time any further, but wanted to express appreciation for (and of) your perspective.

Mikey Lynch said...

thanks Gary!