The Mission of the Church: Ancient-Future Assembly

Eucharist-Mission1We now move to a recent book from Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative.

Webber argues that the assembly should reflect how living today reflects our hope for eternity.

Not only does worship point to the culmination of all history in the new heavens and new earth, but it also shapes the ethical behavior of God’s people to reflect kingdom ethics here on earth. Consequently, the ethical life of the church is an eschatological witness to the world of how people should be living and how the world will be under the reign of God.

(pp. 65-66).

Amen. Webber criticizes modern trends —

In many of our churches today there is a neglect of remembrance in worship. It arises from the loss of attention to the whole Bible. A shift has taken place toward a focus on therapeutic or inspirational preaching and to the rise of entertainment or presentational worship. Pastors and church leaders would do well to return to the Scriptures and be more faithful to the biblical emphasis on remembrance that is found in the ancient liturgies of the church.

One does not need to become liturgical to become more biblical in worship. Remembrance of God’s actions in history to save the world can be effectively done in a spontaneous way as well. When planning worship ask, “Does the service connect creation with God’s involvement in the history of Israel, with his incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, eternal intercession, and coming again to establish his rule over all creation?” If you can answer “Yes” to that question, you are well on your way into worship that has the biblical content of remembrance and anticipation.

(pp. 70-71). Tell me if the following doesn’t sound familiar —

The contemporary chorus movement is not a theologically sensitive movement. If anything, it is atheological. At first, passages of Scripture, especially the Psalms, were put to music. The movement was soon influenced by the culture of narcissism, however, and the songs became more and more about me and my worship of God. The biblical story clarified in this book has attempted to show that worship is about God: God’s wonder, mystery, and majesty; his wonderful story of rescuing his creatures and creation.

The great majority of choruses, however, are about me. How much I love God and want to serve him. How I worship him, glorify him, magnify him, praise him, and lift him up. The focus seems to be on self-generated worship. God is made the object of my affection, and worship is measured by how strongly I am able to feel this gratitude and express it to God.

(p. 84).

Seeker-oriented contemporary churches argue that worship does not need to present the whole gospel. The purpose of worship, they say, is to get people in the door. Then, after they have gained a hearing, they present the gospel in small-group settings. This argument may be good marketing, but it fails to understand the biblical purpose of worship. Worship brings glory to God because it remembers God’s saving deeds in the past and anticipates God’s culmination of his saving deeds in the new heavens and new earth.

(p. 85).

The delight of worship is not:

“That was a great program!”

“I loved the music today.”

“What an entertaining sermon:”

“I really felt like I was worshiping today.”

“That sure was fun dancing around, shouting `Amen!’ and giving my neighbor a high five:”

These descriptions ultimately are a delight in self as if “I did it; I broke through; I really worshiped!” Worship that generates that kind of response is not worship. True worship generates the sense of:

“What a great story!”

“I can’t believe that God would do that for the world and for me.”

“What a God to become human and to restore all things through Christ!”

(p. 110). Webber thus urges a renewed emphasis on the communion —

How do bread and wine draw us into a participation in the life of God in the world? Bread and wine disclose the union we have with Jesus, which is not a mere standing but a true and real participation lived out in this life as we become the story of God in this world individually in all our ways and corporately as the people of God. First, we ingest bread and wine. Then, in contemplation we look on with steadfast delight in all that bread and wine disclose. And then in participation, we reach out and see the whole world in the hands of God. We lift the Alpha and Omega to our mouth. We take God’s whole story into our stomach, let it run through our bloodstream, let it then energize our entire living-our relationships, our work, our pleasure; all of life is now to be lived as Jesus lived his life.

As he took into himself the suffering of all humanity, so we are to take into ourselves the suffering of the world and do something about it. As he rose above all that is evil in the world through his resurrection, so we too are to rise to the new life by the Spirit of God. All our death to sin and rising to life finds its true and ultimate meaning in him who lives in us, living in our sufferings, living in our struggles with evil, living in our resurrections to new life.

(p. 147).

What is ancient-future worship? Well, it’s taking seriously how the early church worshiped in their assemblies, not as rule books or patterns of acts of worship, but as exemplars of the heart of worship.

The goal is not to decide how many songs and prayers we need, but what is the content of the assembly to be? Is the assembly purely about teaching? music? a feeling?

Webber suggests that the heart of the assembly is a retelling of the Story — the true story of what God has done, is doing, and will do for man. And this closely parallels Deuteronomy, when the Israelite ekklesia was called together to be reminded of God’s mighty works and to renew their covenants with him.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to The Mission of the Church: Ancient-Future Assembly

  1. “The great majority of choruses, however, are about me.”

    I see this now and then, like 3 or 4 times every Sunday morning. Perhaps I pay too much attention to the words of the songs. Note, for example, the lyrics to the hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” The song is not about God or prayer; it is about ME. About the middle of the lyrics we have, “make all MY WANTS and WISHES known” Oh well.

    Sweet hour of prayer!
    sweet hour of prayer!
    that calls me from a world of care,
    and bids me at my Father’s throne
    make all my wants and wishes known.
    In seasons of distress and grief,
    my soul has often found relief,
    and oft escaped the tempter’s snare
    by Thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

  2. Dwight says:

    All of the things mentioned on pg.85 are what I often hear at the end of every service I have ever been to as those things are placed in the forefront. While the communion is the said reason for being in assembly, the sermon which is 30-45 min long and the singing to God become the overall focus.
    It would seem a re-connection with God’s feast would be in order, where God was blessed and talked about among the people gathered, but it wasn’t about “me to/and God”, which is an ever present situation.

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwayne,

    Thanks for the example of Sweet Hour of Prayer. Self-involved, highly individualized Christianity may be more a product of the Enlightenment than recent church trends.

    All,

    Of course, we should have an individual relationship with Jesus. The error arises when we think exclusively in such terms and fail to recognize the importance of a corporate relationship. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. But we are so heavily weighted toward the individual/personal relationship side that we could preach on nothing but corporate relationships for 50 years and still not balance the ledger.

  4. Alabama John says:

    A relationship with diety, including prayer is an everyday thing.
    Other than the Lords Supper on Sunday and visiting with other members, the everyday connection is far more rewarding. That one to one closeness is hard to beat. No debating.

  5. dwight says:

    Jay, the problem I think is thinking that assembly on Sunday and Wednesday is corporate fellowship, but it doesn’t fulfill itself in 3 hours and what is worse is that we often try to force our personal relationship through the same 3 hours.

  6. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    Do you really see in scripture that a corporate worship relationship would give an individual a path to heaven? This corporate, is a body of children to which the Father has added the already saved. The Kingdom in which you have expressed that no individual can be removed from unless they decide to remove themselves from the the relationship. This corporate group is comparable to a human family, the child has no choice in choosing his brothers and sisters. These brothers and sisters have no ability to alter the relationship of the individual to the Father. If some of the family members choose to abandon the family, the action created by one does not alter any of the relationships of any other individuals with the Father. Of course, this is dependent upon none of the other family members encouraging the one to leave.
    I guess that I am failing to see is how preaching about corporate (the church) delivers any kind of a message to an individual which is not already a part of the individual message to be obeyed by all of the children in the Kingdom. I do not see where Christ or his Apostles set the corporate (church) on a higher plane that the directives to individuals. O yes, I can see where men have made this elevation far beyond any descriptions within scriptures. This is the concept to which we need to expose as not Biblical, or Kingdom like. The scene in Revelation of those in white robes were there individually, the corporate (church) is not given any credit for their presence.
    Rev 7:14 ESV I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
    They are “ones” not the assembly or church. They are not referenced as members of the group, body or church, they are there because of “their own washing’s”.
    Bodies of Christians meeting together are no more commanded to spread the message of Christ than any one within the body, all the authority to teach was first applied to individuals, and they were never commanded to or was it even suggested in scriptures that they organize or collectively band together as a force for teaching. Mission was only expanded to support individuals who were teaching. The church supported teachers so they could devote time uninterrupted to teaching, they would not have to earn a living along with their efforts of teaching. This was not the church being an authority which authorized or condemned the efforts of an individual teaching.
    And the body of believers (church) grew.

  7. Doug says:

    Hmm.. I see “Sweet Hour of Prayer” as an exhortation among Christians to not forget to pray. It’s a reminder of prayer both drawing us to God and of the power of prayer in our everyday life. Seems appropriate to me,

  8. Doug says:

    If this is a duplicate post, I apologize… It seems to me that singing “Sweet Hour of Prayer” could be a Christian community exhorting each other about to importance of prayer. It’s a reminder, one Christian to another, that we can talk to God in prayer and a reminder of those times where prayer has assisted us in our Christian walk with Christ and therefore we should not neglect our prayer life. What’s the problem with that?

  9. Larry Cheek says:

    Just checking to see if my comment records.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Doug,

    Here are the full lyrics:

    Sweet hour of prayer!
    sweet hour of prayer!
    that calls me from a world of care,
    and bids me at my Father’s throne
    make all my wants and wishes known.
    In seasons of distress and grief,
    my soul has often found relief,
    and oft escaped the tempter’s snare
    by Thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

    Sweet hour of prayer!
    sweet hour of prayer!
    the joys I feel, the bliss I share
    of those whose anxious spirits burn
    with strong desires for Thy return!
    With such I hasten to the place
    where God my Savior shows His face,
    and gladly take my station there,
    and wait for Thee, sweet hour of prayer!

    Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!

    The second verse sounds like a reference to joining in prayer with brothers and sisters at church to me. “Those whose anxious spirits burn with the strong desires for Thy return” is sounds like corporate worship to me.

    “The place where God my Savior shows His face” is likely church (agree or not).

    In short, the “sweet hour of prayer” sounds like Sunday morning church — although few of us attend churches where the assembly could fairly be called a “sweet hour of prayer.”

    So your point is very well taken.

    On the other hand, there’s this old hymn —

    [Verse 1:]
    I come to the garden alone,
    While the dew is still on the roses,
    And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
    The Son of God discloses.

    [Chorus:]
    And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
    And He tells me I am His own,
    And the joy we share as we tarry there,
    None other has ever known.

    [Verse 2:]
    He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
    Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
    And the melody that He gave to me,
    Within my heart is ringing.

    [Chorus:]
    And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
    And He tells me I am His own,
    And the joy we share as we tarry there,
    None other has ever known.

    [Verse 3:]
    I’d stay in the garden with Him,
    Tho’ the night around me be falling,
    But He bids me go, thro’ the voice of woe,
    His voice to me is calling.

    [Chorus:]
    And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
    And He tells me I am His own,
    And the joy we share as we tarry there,
    None other has ever known.

    This is actually the song I was hearing in my mind — which is entirely my own mistake.

    It’s not that this is wrong — but it’s an odd song to sing at church — telling the members to leave and pray alone.

  11. Ray Downen says:

    Good for Jay. He always sees good in what is good. But the entire theory that the church should meet in order to worship together is unscriptural. The early church met in order to exchange stories about how God was working in their lives. Key is 1 Corinthians 14:26. EACH spoke or sang to the others. Did any apostolic writer speak of Christians gathering on earth for a WORSHIP service? When they met, they ATE together, sharing food as well as their thoughts. The bread and wine were part of a MEAL shared by the entire church. Yes?

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