Sunday, April 12, 2009

get rid of the hymnals, and the Bibles too, while you're at it

I was recently listening to a church service led by an evangelical preacher who was busy preaching reliance on the Bible as the ultimate source of truth. Of course, such a reliance on Scripture is a key tenet, even a qualification of evangelicalism, and I have sat through countless sermons and classes in which this tenet has been driven home.

This time, while listening to the entire service, I was dumbfounded by the absence of Scripture. The songs made reference to Scriptural truths and solid theology. The pastor even alluded to some passages as proof-texts, but nowhere was there any extended (beyond a partial verse) dissemination of Biblical text.

As I have stated before elsewhere, my belief is that an act cannot be worshipful unless it is a response to God's self-revelation, which to us is given through Scripture. If this is true, how can there be an act of corporate worship when the community of believers has received none of God's self-revelation to which they can respond? I was reminded of a project I undertook in a graduate theology class. The assignment was to attend worship services at three different venues. My services of choice were an evangelical Christian service, a mainline Lutheran service, and a Catholic service. I remember writing at the time about the lack of actual Biblical text in the evangelical service while the other two, non-evangelical services made liberal (pardon the word choice) use of Scripture, including extended Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel readings.

How ironic. Throughout my entire evangelical upbringing, which weekly included two Sunday services and one on Wednesday, I only remember a handful of times when extended Biblical readings were given, and the ones that stick in my memory were used in a novel, even jovial manner, usually regarding the evangelical disconnect with Old Testament law. There was certainly extended singing (though not always an extensive program of songs). There was often drama. Even church announcements were loquaciously given. No - pith was seemingly only employed when it was time to open God's inspired and infallible Word.

Now, an absence of Scripture reading does not mean worship did not occur on an individual level, but corporate worship is something different; it is a ceremonial time for the body of Christ to be corporately present. Let's not forget such a basic element.

Blessings

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