In the course of teaching a men’s class this summer, I read Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. Their thesis is that most modern Christian worship practices are the successors of imperial Rome, which, in turn, inherited these (or borrowed them) from the pagan cults of the first century.
In continuing the research, I read through parts of a book in my library by Robin Lane Fox, called Pagans and Christians, which gives a side-by-side look at the emergence of Christianity and the demise of pagan cults in imperial Rome, and thereafter. Other books on church history were referenced, as well.
The reason for reading through all of these books was to pock large holes in current worship traditions. My belief is that disagreements over worship practices are quite useless, considering that “the way we do things,” is, in large part, not entirely consistent with how the first Christians worshiped.
In essence, I believe that we are wasting our strength on things that are quite irrelevant, if all churches really want to adhere to the practices of the first Christians.
The first generation of Christians gathered in homes. Their gatherings were intense, with everyone offering something to the gathering. I Corinthians 14:26 is what an “order of worship” was supposed to look like. There was complete participation by everyone there. (Even though some churches get bent out of shape because of the later verse where women were told to be silent, we often forget that just three chapters earlier, Paul instructed women who pray in public to wear appropriate clothing. Let’s not forget that.)
Everyone participated. Everyone.
Based upon all of this, and because of an entire class I taught devoted to this, one of the practical suggestions I offered, as I drew the class to a close, was that we need to relax some of our traditions.
Traditions are valuable, whether they are older or newer. There is little doubt about that. Traditions give us unity and commonality, and familiarity. In a world, and culture, in constant flux, traditions give us great stability. We should never exalt them, though. We should use them, but not display them. We should manipulate them, not because of personal preferences, but because of kingdom preferences.
We waste precious strength in bitter arguments over styles and personalities and direction. We have become seriously distracted with constant conversations about how to lead churches, and, more specifically, how to lead our corporate worship. The first Christians had no such liturgy, or written order of worship. Their gatherings, in homes, looked more like really special family reunions or holiday times with those we love, rather than the modern hour of worship on Sunday mornings.
I don’t believe, though, that there is anything wrong with how we usually do things. There isn’t. We shape ourselves and our culture simultaneously.
But if we worship God with all of our strength, then let’s worship God with all our strength. Let’s not worship “worship” with all of our strength. If we do that, then we are wasting time, and strength, on the wrong things.