We must be a community that … worships in a way that orders desires towards God and away from narcissism (feel-good pep-rallies), for any other kind of worship cannot train us out of our narcissistic obsessions with sex.
I admit that I wasn’t expecting this particular thought to pop up here. How can worship be about sex? Worship is about the least sexy thing there is. I mean, if you’d grown up in the church where I grew up … well, worship was about keeping rules and suffering through s … l … o … o … o … w singing and bad preaching, because this is how we bought our way into heaven. Miss three services in a row and you’d go straight to hell. Maybe sooner. Maybe just one if you weren’t “Providentially hindered,” not that we believed in Providence, not really.
Okay. Here’s the point, and it’s a good one. We Americans are a narcissistic people. We are all about ourselves, autonomy, and self-indulgence. Therefore, we demand a worship service that meets our needs. But not our real, actual needs … our “felt needs.” And if we don’t feel the need for a lesson against fornication, well, the preacher needs to find something else to talk about.
And the way we worship shapes us as God’s people. Therefore, we need to carefully consider what lessons we are teaching ourselves in the way we worship.
Silence before worship
For example, what are we taught when the elders demand that we enter the auditorium and sit quietly before worship begins? Well, the intended lesson is that God should be approached with reverence. What’s the actual lesson?
That God lives in the auditorium. Right? And that God takes no pleasure in our fellowship and conversation — even when we’re meeting and greeting visitors or recruiting volunteers to sit with a sick member. Indeed, we can push reverence for God so hard that we sometimes push “love your neighbor” right out of the building. Because if you love your neighbor, you talk to him, ask about her children, and make yourself open to his needs by listening.
Many of our members hate announcements. Really. Now given that announcements are about who is sick, suffered a loss, or is needing a volunteer, what does our hatred of announcements tell us about our hearts? I think we don’t want to hear about other people’s problems because it makes us feel guilty. We don’t want to hear about their successes because it makes us jealous. Therefore, we want to cut straight to the singing.
God says, however,
(Rom 12:15) Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
(Heb 10:24-25) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Announcements are one way of encouraging one another to love and good deeds. And our resentment at announcements is symptomatic of a serious spiritual illness. You see, we come to worship for what we can get out of it. We are a selfish people.
Going forward in response to the sermon is a 200-year old practice, and not a bad one. But it can, at times, be extremely graceless. You see, when we refuse to forgive someone unless they go forward and confess sin before the church, well, aren’t we glad Jesus doesn’t impose the same terms on us!?
We once taught that Jesus wouldn’t forgive us until we’d confessed, repented, made restitution, and asked for forgiveness. Therefore, we felt quite comfortable in refusing forgiveness to our fellow members unless they did the same. And part of the process was “going forward” and begging for congregational forgiveness.
And I’m not at all opposed to our members confessing sins before the congregation. I just don’t think we should be stricter in our forgiveness than Jesus.
(Col 3:13) Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Ironic, isn’t it, that you know exactly what I mean by “worship wars,” isn’t it? You see, we’ve all been through the battles or know people who have or know we’ve got a battle coming. And these wars aren’t unique to Churches of Christ. Even denominations that have no doctrinal issues with changes in worship styles go to war over worship changes.
What’s at the heart of worship wars? What is deep, deep at the core of the willlingness of Christians to split or leave a church over the century in which the hymns were written? Selfishness — the notion that worship is all about what I get out of it and how much I enjoy it.
Well, we aren’t called by God to musical theatre. And if the church needs to change musical styles to be more evangelistically effective, what does Jesus want?
So what does any of this have to do with marriage? Well, if we believe that relationships are about rule keeping rather than our hearts, that God lives at church and not in our bedrooms, that we don’t need to care about other people’s problems, that we can withhold forgiveness until the other person meets our demands, and if we enter community so we can take what we want from those who are there, well, we will be pretty lousy spouses.
If we can’t even have a right relationships at church, with the preacher talking to us every week and teachers teaching us lessons two or three times a week, how on earth are we going to make marriage work? Based on a six-lesson counseling series before we get married and a class on marriage every 5 years?
But it’s not so much about the volume of lessons as the impact of the lessons. You see, we don’t insist that our members actually honor their Christian commitment in church, and so they don’t honor it at home either. Until we not only teach but exemplify and insist on selflessness at church, we’re going to keep on having messed up marriages. And we’ve got messed marriages aplenty.