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4/19/05

Question of propriety...

I'm in a class this semester called "Christian Worship". It is not so much a class on the varieties of expression of Christian worship in different cultural and temporal settings, as a class on the questions-and "appropriate" answers-that presbyterians ask when considering how they should arrange their worship services on Sunday mornings in their suburban American churches. While I am a presbyterian, if you sense some frustration in that summary, you are perceptive. Today, however, a topic was raised that piqued my interest, even though it was only mentioned in passing. The professor was talking about who may appropriately serve in a leadership position of a worship service by doing things like singing, reading Scripture, praying, etc. In our theological and ecclesiastical services, this professor is somewhat "open-minded" because he argues that lay members of the congregation ought to be allowed to take part in these particular leadership roles, including women (in a presbyterian context, it is assumed that only a teaching elder my teach and preach the Word of God in a worship service). Now, this is not the issue that intrigued me. Rather, it was a rhetorical question he asked, which was something like, "What if someone asks to sing a song in the service who is known to have less than a mature Christian lifestyle?" Neither he nor anyone else in the class offered an answer to this question. The impression I received, though, was that the appropriate answer is to find a way to kindly not allow them to do so.

Why is this interesting to me? I think several issues are involved in this question.

1.) What is a "mature Christian lifestyle"? If it means someone who doesn't drink, smoke, or cuss, then I think the question is bogus. Those behaviors are so superficial that only in extreme circumstances do they reveal anything about the state of a person's heart and soul. But, if it means a life of righteousness, then I think the quesiton is again bogus. No person is made worthy by the way he or she lives to enter the presence of God. Every person who approaches God can only do so in one way-by the merit of Christ. And, because of Christ's infinite merit, every person who trusts in Him can approach God with confidence-no matter what his or her life looks like. A better definition of a "mature Christian lifestyle" would be a life of repentance and faith. The problem with that is that we cannot identify a mature Christian lifestyle by what a person's life looks like or what their reputation is. The only way, then, to identify a mature Christian lifestyle is through the person's profession-of faith in Christ and sorrow for the sin they continue to commit. Surely, we can expect growth in maturity of faith and holiness, because our God who is the object of proper faith has promised that He will not leave us in bondage to our sin and He loves us enough to continue to transform us into the image of His Son. Yet, it is highly questionable to me that a test can be applied at any given point in time which will be able to accurately determine whether another person's profession is genuine. Thus, even with the best definition of a "mature Christian lifestyle" that I can give (which may not be the best there is) this qualification is not very helpful for determining who can appropriately lead in worship.

I actually have a lot more to say on this topic, but this post would get absurdly long and I need to do some other stuff. I'll continue my rambling later today or tomorrow. Let me know what you think so far.

2 comments:

Ed said...

Nick, I think an important part of that discussion (and I'm in the class too) was the idea that the question regarding their "mature Christian lifestyle" was discussed with the Elders. Wrapped up in that idea is the assumption-- sometimes a hasty assumption, but at least we should hope that it can be taken for granted to some extent-- that the Elders are actually shepherding, and therefore they do have some sense of the person's true maturity, or lack thereof, in Christ. If that is so, then much of your concerns may be moot.

W Sofield said...

I agree with you Nick. It sounds to me like the class reminded you of a topic you are passionate about. I happen to be passionate about the same topic -- is that a coincedance?

It also sounds like you are still working through the process of coming up with a good way of presenting what you are thinking -- thus, the "rambling." Let's keep working on this.

I have been asking people this question, "What makes a Christian different from someone who is not a Christian?" or "How can you tell if someone is a Christian?" Most responses people give can easily be shown to be traits and attributes of non-Christians, too.

Keep writing about it. Good work, friend.

G.K. Chesterton...

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."