A New Worship

A group of articles around the implicatons of Jack Spong's work for theology, and worship. I being with A New Worship: Letter to a friend after morning coffee

One of the problems with a post Spong theology is the freedom! Paul says in Gal 5:1 "For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." I think freedom is a key aspect of Christian faith, freedom to be ourselves and not bound by the things around us... merely being reactive and a slave to current opinion or trapped within it even if we disagree.

The church has a problem with freedom. It is not good at it or happy about it. This is our heritage, and digs deep into us. The new phariseeism of the fundamentalists and the emus* is anti-freedom. It seeks to make us conform to its patterns of the faith so it may control and avoid its own fear of freedom. This is especially so in worship. We still use the same pattern of worship that has been used for millennia. Worship is one of the tyrannies of a congregations, certain hymns, prayers etc are demanded, or not to be used, ever.

We know the tyranny of this in our experience... the insistence on upbeat, or oddly, minor key "praise" choruses to the exclusion much of the rich hymnody of the church, especially anything with theological meat... the marginalisation of women.... the didactic, monocultural theological style so permeated by New Creation attitudes....

As we have talked about Spong, one of the repeated issues I've heard from people has been that of worship. How do we worship? What does worship mean in the context of ‘ground of all being' as opposed to the theistic God as defined by Spong?

This is because Spong has removed the structure of worship, because worship as we know it in church is actually very theistic in its structure. So if we have been persuaded by him or other things that theism is dead, worship is suddenly empty.

Trying to write worship which is non theistic is hard. Doing worship non theistically is hard. We have been given a blank space. When so much of what we did now seems nonsensical, meaningless or offensive, what will we do? How will we be church?

Notice how we move from worship to being church generally! I heard this in the groups, and have asked the question myself. We link worship (which we identify strongly with Sunday) to being church. Maybe it is idolised!

I think to begin with it is good to see this sudden emptiness of worship as a freedom. True, from the point of view of being employed by the church and having to ‘perform' theistically next Sunday, it is a real problem! But from the wider perspective it is freedom. We don't have to do church the way the church has always told us!

We are like the early church, which was inescapably Jewish and could not worship apart from the synagogue. The synagogue was who they were. So too we must worship as part of the church; i.e. as people who are Christians and have been in the church for years- it is who we are. I'm saying we can't begin with a blank slate... we a church people. But we must begin again. And like the early Christians there is little to guide us!

But this can be a great freedom. We should seek not to let the pressure of how we will produce worship next Sunday, or lead the prayers at some Fellowship meeting, confuse the issue of how we will be church in the rest of our week. How we will be church and even how we will worship does not have a lot to do with Sunday mornings.

The real question is how the combination of our experience of the Divine, the experience of the Jesus story, and our experience of the church so far, move us to act. For this is what originally drove traditional worship. How will we respond now?

Let's look at our conversations, Mike, about church. How we wondered if perhaps what really made church for us was Friday nights at house group. How I talked about Friday nights being the thing that made Sunday's bearable. How W's comments about not liking Sunday church now make sense to me, and I think actually I didn't like it either but didn't really let the thought be conscious.

Worship and church was Friday night. It was eating together with friends. It was looking at Bible texts and struggling with what they might mean for our lives now. It was listening to a husbands worrying about his wife's menstrual problems in front of her, and being as embarrassed as hell. It was playing with the kids and washing the dishes, and laughing because we all knew one Dad had gone to sleep with the kids again. And after the study we sat and debriefed with you and about the group and where to go next. We startled each other with candidating for ministry, and shifting to Sydney, and listened to our friend as she worried about how they would survive the high interest rates. And it was among the best times I've ever had in church.

It was living life well, as fully as we could. It was self consciously seeking to live life as a Christian. I'd call it worship. Why not now? Why is not a full life seeking to theologise and be some sort of disciple not being a Christian and being church. Our morning coffee meetings are worship and church. The nights at Christchurch were worship and church.

So I will not try very much to think how I can adapt Sunday morning patterns. Rather I will think about how I can celebrate and enrich my life and the lives of people around me and do it in the light of what I find in the traditions about Jesus. If it doesn't look like Sunday morning, who cares?

August 2002

*EMU  Evangelical Members Uniting Church



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