A pastor poses some questions for a clean-slate church discussion:
– Are we regularly Encountering Jesus on a Sunday morning?
o What can we do to Encounter Christ more often/in a deeper way?
– Is God glorified/honoured in our worship?
o What can we do to increase the glory/honour we offer in our worship?
– Does God speak to us on Sunday morning?
o Are there better ways for God to speak to us than through a sermon?
Some interesting presumptions underpin those questions.
I was most interested in the first and third of them. Is a purpose of worship to “encounter Jesus”, and even if so what do we even mean by it? Jesus came and dwelt among us, God become man. He died, rose, and ascended back to the Father. We await his return. And in the meantime, God has sent the Holy Spirit – Pentecost being one of the greatest feasts of the church – to encourage, comfort, equip, and to convict us of sin. We follow Jesus, our risen Saviour, but are we supposed to “encounter” him in Sunday morning worship? Occasionally, perhaps, Jesus appears directly – as he did to Paul – but the New Testament record doesn’t suggest it was the norm, or common at all.
But perhaps the pastor has become more sacramental than I had suspected, for we do meet Jesus in some sense as we participate in the eucharistic celebration – Communion. As one of the Anglican liturgies says, in its post-communion prayer, “we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food of the precious body and blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” For most Christians a Communion-focused service is now the norm of Sunday morning worship
And what of the third question? Is an appropriate benchmark for worship whether God speaks to us? Surely God has spoken in the Scriptures, and in the great acts of salvation. And, yes, sometimes the indwelling Spirit will prompt us, individually or collectively, with some fresh insight or word, drawn from or not inconsistent with the Scriptures. But how many times, for most Christians, throughout 2000 years of church history, does “God speak”?
Perhaps the middle question really is the focus. If the answer is “no” then it is not Christian worship at all – declaring the greatness of a God (the one living God) who reaches out to save us, and renew us, as individuals and communities. Honouring God is partly about acknowledging our need for God’s grace – for bewailing the sin, and sins, that so easily ensnare us. And yet in too much of worship, sin seems to attract little attention. It is the problem to which God provides the answer. And we rejoice. But faithful perseverance to the end, in repentant acknowledgement of our need for God’s mercy and his great grace in granting it, is surely at the heart of what needs to happen each Sunday morning.