Robert Prater asked, in a comment,
Let me ask you a question or anyone else…..let’s suppose I wanted to bring into the worship assembly the act of rhythmic dance or karate or how about yoga? Or let’s say painting, etc. Or how about instead of brea[d] and fruit of vine, either add or subtract roasted lamb….or pop or whatever? Would these be acceptable in the assembly? Why or why not? What basis or interpretive principles would you use? Just curious…..
I responded in the comments, but thought it worthwhile to repeat (and expand) the comment as a post, as many readers don’t follow the comments.
The scriptures don’t center on the Christian assembly, but they do address the purpose of the assembly –
(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.
The writer wasn’t issuing an edict: go to church or go to hell! He was explaining how we should help each other remain true to Jesus so as to not fall away. And we do that by meeting together so we can encourage each other (active voice: we go to encourage, not to be encouraged). This encouragement is toward love and good deeds — that is, to be like Jesus.
He does not describe performance of arbitrary rules to placate a vengeful God. Rather, he describes an assembly of people who’ve committed to carry a cross for Jesus, helping each other carry on to the end without falling away.
Just so, in 1 Cor 14 Paul deals with questions regarding what is and isn’t appropriate in the assembly. He doesn’t check his apostolic list of authorized acts. Rather, he asks: does it edify? and if it doesn’t, can it be done in a way that edifies?
(1 Cor 14:3-4) But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
Notice that self-edification is considered inappropriate in the assembly if not accompanied by edification of others. It’s not a time to meditate quietly, all alone in a room with others. It’s a time to take advantage of the presence of beloved brothers and sisters to build them up.
(1 Cor 14:27-28) If anyone speaks in a tongue, two–or at the most three–should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
Paul imposes rules based on pragmatic concerns. Tongues is neither inherently acceptable nor not acceptable. They’re neither authorized nor unauthorized. Rather, they’re appropriate if done in a way that edifies and not appropriate if not.
The third passage that is central to my own thinking regarding the assembly is –
(John 4:23-24) Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
While not limited to the assembly, the principle is applicable to the assembly. The traditional interpretation puts the emphasis on “and” — that Jesus is saying no longer will worship in spirit or worship in truth be acceptable alone — it must be both. And many traditions argue that “truth” means according to the rules of our tradition and “spirit” means with the right heart. This is a demonstrably erroneous interpretation.
In John, “truth” means the the truth about Jesus, that is, the gospel. In context, “spirit” refers to the nature of God: “God is spirit” is not about God’s attitude but his divine nature. And “living water” is plainly about the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). Therefore, worship under the new covenant is worship that is in the nature of Jesus and in the Spirit.
I’ve explained this one way a while back. But in light of the series I’ve just begun on The Cruciform God, we can go just a little deeper. The Spirit’s role is to move us toward being more like Jesus. The gospel is all about the cross of Jesus. Being like Jesus is following his self-sacrificing example.
Therefore, true worship is kenosis — self-emptying — becoming more like Jesus — taking up your cross daily. And in the assembly, that which “edifies” or encourages “toward love and good works” is that which helps us realize the Spirit’s work in us to be more and more like Jesus and him crucified.
That means that many things that are not sinful are inappropriate in the assembly, and many things that could be righteous could be done in ways that are contrary to Spirit and truth.
Thus, preaching, singing, etc that is contrary to the nature of Jesus is not “in Spirit and in truth,” whereas announcements that encourage the members toward love and good works are — even though not in Alexander Campbell’s list of five acts. (Where I grew up, the announcements had to be before the opening prayer, because they weren’t one of the five acts.)
I propose, therefore, that when an activity is suggested for the assembly, whether or not it’s on the list of 5 acts, it be tested by the scriptures. Does it encourage to love and good works? Does it edify, encourage, strengthen, or comfort? Is it in Spirit and truth?
When we get done, we won’t have a handy list of only a very few approved acts, and we’ll have much more Christ-centered assemblies and much more Christ-like congregations.
Now, regarding adding roast lamb to the Lord’s Supper, as the early church routinely took communion as part of a love feast, that’s exactly what they did. And as roast lamb is served at a Passover meal, it’s what Jesus did. But the serving of lamb is not inherently appropriate. It’s only appropriate if it meets the scriptures standards referenced above. If it encourages, edifies, etc., it’s appropriate. If not, not.
Just so, I have trouble seeing karate as meeting the standards I find in scripture, but there are certainly places where in the local culture dance would be appropriate — but West Alabama is not one of them. There are plenty of places in this world where dance is not at all sexual and is a natural way of expressing celebration. Palestine during biblical times was one of them —
(Jer 31:13) Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
This is a prophecy of the new covenant. Jeremiah prophesies that one result of the new age that will dawn will be dancing in celebration of God’s work.
(Luke 15:25-27) “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'”
Jesus is describing how a First Century Palestinian would celebrate the return of a lost son — the very passage we often use when a member returns to Jesus today.
(Exo 15:20-21) Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. 21 Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.”
Plainly, this was worshp of God.
There is nothing inherently wrong with dancing in worship — it’s just that we live in a culture where dancing is very often sexually suggestive and has been frowned on in church as downright sinful — because in our culture dancing is almost always male-female couple dancing. But that’s not the nature of Biblical dancing or the nature of much dancing in the Middle East and many other places.
Would dancing in the assenbly be appropriate in contemporary West Alabama. I don’t think so. But would it be appropriate in a Christian assembly in an African village or in the Middle East? Perhaps, so — if it in fact served scriptural purposes.
Finally, I’ve seen worship services where an artist painted a portrait of Jesus or other biblical scene during the sermon, alongside the preacher, to make a very effective point. Is it appropriate to use the creative gifts God has given us in his service? Absolutely. Indeed, it would violate the Parable of the Talents to do otherwise. Could those gifts be used in the assembly? Yes, if they fulfill the purposes of the assembly.
And that strikes me as an approach to the question that relies heavily on the scriptures and arises out of an understanding of the nature of Jesus and his work — because ultimately the question is whether the proposed activity helps the congregation become more like Jesus.
You see, all good theology is Christology. It starts and ends with Jesus. And that means there are very real boundaries — but the boundaries have to do with God’s purposes.