Saturday, January 30, 2010

Missional Worship, 2

Missional worship would recover the public dimension of Christianity. What does that mean?

First, let's notice the very public words that the earliest Christians used to define their relationship with the larger culture. Gospel is not a religious term. They could have found plenty of religious terms with an insider orientation to name what it is they offer to the world. But they chose a public word, good news, which suggests a universalism. The same is true for ecclesia, "church." This is not a private affair, but a public gathering. It suggests perhaps that the earliest Christians saw themselves as an alternative polis creating a new public space, one open to Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female. The earliest Christians imagined their life as public and open to all.

I like to associate public-ness with the image of a priesthood of believers. This means more than just that Christians serve as priests for one another. In fact, the term is consistently used in Scripture to define the relationship between the people of God and the world. What does a priesthood do? It stands between parties. The church in worship stands between God and the world. It offers on behalf of all the world what is due God. The church, in this sense, worships in proxy for all who will eventually bow and kneel. And the church, in its public witness before God, represents the conditions of creaturely existence to God. Priestly worship includes lament and complaint, supplication and confession. As a priesthood, we represent the cries of all creation to God.

But we also represent the blessings of God to the world. In worship we enact God's good intentions toward his creation. The church extends to the world the offer of participation in the life of God--forgiveness of sins, healing, sharing of goods, peaceful community, words of blessing, the Word of God.

The church's worship is public because the relationship between God and the world is the primary concern of a priesthood of believers. The world is always in view and is the primary horizon of worship for God's chosen people. Worship is not first for the benefit of the individual, but for the sake of the world. It is not simply for the sake of its members, but for the sake of the stranger.

Don't overreact here. The individual does benefit from worship. We are the world as well. It surely benefits us to hear that our sins are forgiven, etc. We enact these realities, however, in the presence of and for the sake of the world.

I'm always looking these days to see what a particular worship service is aiming for. And in most congregations I attend, it is hard to imagine an outside world, except perhaps as a menace from which we are finding temporary escape. Often there are no windows in the worship area. We sit in theater seats and drink from individual cups. The focus of the sermon is typically about our personal walk with God. Many of our services are more like a private family gathering than an ecclesia. (We have modern understandings of the family, which are far more private and intimate than biblical understandings).

A missional impulse framed by a robust notion of a priesthood of believers would, in my opinion, make a much more dramatic difference in our worship than what style of music we use.

1 comment:

Lisa Gonzales-Barnes said...

This understanding of the church being a priesthood makes me happy. Thanks for some good thinking material.