Deeply Committed or Seeker Sensitive Worship?

In November of last year, I read this post – Was the early church seeker sensitive? and have been thinking it over in my head ever since. Before you read further – check out the post then come back here to read on.

Michael raises an interesting point and one which I have continued to think about. Is it faithful or effective to have separate worship experiences or worship elements for non religious persons and Christian persons?

At Resurrection central campus, we have five services with the same teaching content at each service – people come at the beginning and leave near the end (sometimes just after the sermon…) There is no distinction in service times between those who are non and nominally religious and those who are in the middle of the journey of becoming a deeply committed Christian. Willow and Granger have separate service times for different communities. Stonewall Wesleyan Church has a distinct worship schedule based on different worship style and elements.

I believe that communion is a means of grace and should be available to all. What about other elements of a worship service? Other worship times? Do you think that it is faithful or effective to have separate worship experiences or worship elements for non religious persons and Christian persons?

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16 thoughts on “Deeply Committed or Seeker Sensitive Worship?

  1. We already do this some at most churches.

    Count up your attendance at Holy Week services or Ash Wednesday. If we want to offer something different for the more committed, add some services during the week.

    As for restricting the Lord’s Supper to the baptized, I’m interested to see what others say. Practically, it would much easier to impose such distinctions in a house church setting of apostolic times than at a setting such as Resurrection. You would be forced to make some kind of announcement about the bread and cup being only for the baptized, which might undercut the effect of your following statements that the table is open for all.

  2. I guess I don’t see the importance of such distinctions. If a seeker is making the effort to enter the church building, let them see what believers do during worship. How would their participation negate the worship offered to God? Wouldn’t it glorify Him even more? http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%208:38;&version=65;

    The bigger issue I see here is whether or not the church is inward focused (personal preference for what worship is through the limited eyes of our own community) or outward focused (being open to allowing others to worship in different ways) in their worship. If we are a church that shows we love God by loving others, why would we exclude others from the opportunity to worship?

    When you say “believer’s service”, do you mean 1950’s style of worship (organ music, traditional liturgy, etc..)? Are you using “church-ese”, so that only a 4th generation United Methodist would know what the heck you’re talking about? Including the Eucharist in a service is a GREAT way to invite the unchurched into beginning a relationship with Christ. God’s prevenient grace might be leading them to a relationship before they arrived and the communion time could be the invitation they need. Also, one of the biggest problems non-Christians have with Christians is that we don’t care about anyone outside the Church. Allowing them to see that we give (offering) and serve in the community in various ways is an effective way to invite them to be a part and get them excited about what’s going on.

    I think making a distinction between “us” and “them” is harmful to the Gospel and the Kingdom of God because at some very real levels we’re all in the same boat this side of heaven.

  3. Hey Andrew- how’s it going?

    I think you know some of my thoughts on this, since we’ve talked abut it before.

    In regards to whether or not the church was seeker-sensitive, at least in the way we think of it, the answer would have to be no. The Service of the Table was completely off-limits to the non-baptized; even the catechumens who hadn’t been received into the church weren’t allowed to participate. They would have the service of the Word, and then the non-baptized were sent out before the Service of the Table. The Eucharist was seen as such a mystery and as joining oneself to Christ and the Church (probably in a theological understanding more faithful to Catholic and Orthodox theology, IMO) that to participate in it you had to have already committed yourself to Christ and to Christ’s body, the church.

    The whole catechetical process also usually went for at least three years, so it would seem that the bar was raised pretty high initially. As Christianity progressed throughout the Empire, the church had to make methodological changes to incorporate the vast multitudes of people who were coming into the church from all corners of the then known world.

    I believe that communion is a means of grace and should be available to all.

    I would agree with this on one level, and disagree with it on another. I think, ontologically speaking, the Eucharist is for those who have been baptized and have committed their lives to following Christ. Naturally, how one understands the Eucharist will have dramatic effects upon how one answers this question, but I think the theological principle that undergirds it, whether one believes in the real presence or not, is that to partake of the Eucharist is to unite oneself with Christ through faith. That means that one intends to believe in and follow Christ, and that, whether one believes one is partaking of Christ himself or of a symbol of the body and blood, that partaking is an act of the will in which acknowledges that they are following Christ and uniting themselves with Christ and with the body of Christ. The Eucharist has a communal element to it, because in doing so one professes to unite with Christ, and therefore, with the body of Christ. To partake of the Eucharist without being part of the body of Christ or without intending to be a part of the body of Christ would seem to be essentially dishonest.

    On the level of praxis, it is nearly impossible to know a person’s heart or motive, so I think that on that level it is probably inappropriate to refuse it to anybody. That is something between a person and God, and most of the time we don’t have the knowledge or insight to make such determinations.

    As to your original question about whether we should have separate services- I personally think that the gathering of believers to worship should be primarily abut worshiping God, rather than primarily trying to be evangelistic. I don’t think, however, that the two are opposed to one another.

  4. “How would their participation negate the worship offered to God? Wouldn’t it glorify Him even more?”

    I don’t think the idea was that their participation would negate the worship, but I think deviantmonk sums it up in his 6th paragraph.

    The analogy that came to my mind thinking about that particular issue, of Eucharist that is, is that to partake of something so sacred and holy without having committed one’s life to Christ would be akin to having sex outside of marriage. It’s like taking the candy without paying the price for it. Baptism is an indelible mark, and was a very important part of the ministry of Jesus and His disciples. It was a clear distinction to set aside their lives, and was the replacement for circumcision (much less painful, don’t you think?). To be baptized meant that you were setting aside your life for God, and were receiving a part of the Holy Spirit, leading to a deeper life in Christ. A spiritual rebirth. For one not baptized, there was not that spiritual awakening so to speak, so for them to enter into something as sacred as the Eucharist would have been a mockery of what those who had chosen to be baptized had gone through.

    I think that in today’s society, the separation of the two parts of worship would likely offend most people in an easily offendable society. However, the importance of the structure might go well with those trying to get back to the roots of Christianity. In our church, Eucharist is offered to those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The priest trusts that those who come forward are being truthful, and it is upon them to make that decision to come forward or not. All are welcome to come forward for blessings, but only the baptized may receive.

    Hopefully I managed to make some sense in there. Sometimes I get going and my thoughts run away from me. 🙂

  5. The analogy that came to my mind thinking about that particular issue, of Eucharist that is, is that to partake of something so sacred and holy without having committed one’s life to Christ would be akin to having sex outside of marriage.

    lol…I was thinking of using that analogy too… 🙂

  6. I think the issue is Proclamation content. I must admit – having been a Christian for quite a while now, i’m a bit bored by the sermons focused on seekers. What I like about Resurrection is that we sort of cycle through Popular series (What we call fishing expeditions) and more in depth content – Like our current lenten series. I tend to tolerate the former, and embrace the latter.

    The other element is freedom to worship. I think what i experience in other churches that have “Believers” services, is that people are more lost in worship of God. You see raised hands, more emotional displays, etc. This would freak out a lot of non and nominals, but those who are more deeply committed understand and value this kind of holistic expression.

    As for Methodist communion – a key point is that it is NOT in fact open to all. The invitation to the table is for “All who do truly and ernestly repent of their sin and seek to live in fellowship with Christ….” This is decidedly not an invitation to those who are non Christians. Open communion is in fact reserved for those who are followers of Jesus. Practically – of course we cant police the alter table at a church our size nor would we want to – but it is important to realize the distinction in Methodist Theology.

  7. “lol…I was thinking of using that analogy too… :-)”

    Hehe, I hesitated to use it in some ways because of the graphic nature of it, but it does seem to make sense. At least now I know my pregnant brain hasn’t completely ceased functioning 😉

  8. What if there was a church where the worship experience was – from beginning to end – intentionally geared toward those deeply devoted to Jesus. I don’t quite know what I am getting at except for that – hasn’t coming together for worship always been an experience for believers?
    I don’t mean we should have a gathering where everyone is required to flash their “Citizen of Heaven” greencard (which is basically what one does when one says that ‘this particular service is for the baptized only’). But a gathering that invites and welcomes ALL – yet doesn’t worry and fret about offending people or not being “seeker” enough.
    Just and beautiful, raw, non-churchie, intimate encounter with Jesus that is so authentic – non-believers are irresistably drawn in.
    P.S., also clearly we should be spending a bulk of our time is outside the walls of the church WITH non-believers.

    RE: Communion
    Can Eucharist – – receiving the body and blood of Jesus be a means of prevenient grace? I think/hope so. Here’s a metaphor: a non-believer participating in Holy Communion is like a starving person who is given a plate of food – – healthy food. They want more of it and the healthy food begins to nourish and strengthen them. Eventually, they will inquire, “What is the source of this healthy food which has restored my body – I simply must have a relationship with the provider of this food.”

  9. A truly starving person though, needs to be reintroduced to solids slowly. You can’t just give them a huge plate of meat and expect them to be able to handle it, it would make them sick. Eucharist could be seen much the same way: to give someone something so holy and sacred when they are not ready for it, could potentially cause more harm to their souls than good, because it can become easily perverted into something it shouldn’t be.

  10. I think that the food metaphor fails to take into account that even though historical Christian thought and theology hasn’t understood those outside of the body of Christ as totally depraved, (in the sense that my Reformed friends do) nevertheless there is an ontological defect, for lack of a better term, within the human race which prevents union and communion with God. So, as much as the metaphor is pressed by my Reformed friends to uphold their notion of total depravity, instead of non-believers being starving persons, they are more closely akin to a corpse. (Even that metaphor, as all metaphors, fails, because spiritual death and/or life are not a matter of being inanimate as opposed to animate, but rather one’s relative relationship to God.

    The Incarnation, of course, is the solution to this problem, and through Christ’s life and passion and by his assuming a human nature and sacrifice on the cross, humanity has been lifted back to God.

    As the scriptures say, those who have been saved have been brought from death to life. This has been historically understood, especially by the earliest Christians, as being accomplished through baptism, in which, as Paul says to the Romans, one participates in death with Christ and is therefore raised to new life. An ontological change occurs, and as Paul says to the Ephesians, they are now ‘light in the Lord.’

    It is under this assumption that the Eucharist is partaken of within the body of Christ. Those who have been brought back to life continue to partake of that life through the Eucharist, because, by willfully submitting to and partaking of Christ, one acknowledges that Christ is the source of life and the grace that has brought one back to life, and that that grace is continually offered and bestowed through participating in the sacrament.

    Hence, Paul’s stern warnings in his letter to the Corinthians that to partake of the sacrament unworthily brings condemnation. For, if to partake of the Eucharist is (at least in part) to acknowledge Christ as the source of life and grace, if one is in sin, that willful sin is the complete antithesis of what the Eucharist is and or represents.

    Historically speaking, baptism, from the earliest times, has been the prerequisite for reception of the Eucharist, for baptism was the door way of grace into life with Christ. Without this life, to partake of the Eucharist would be, per the metaphor advanced, like a dead person eating food- something without efficacy. Additionally, it would be a negation of the authenticity of worship one would hope to find in Christian worship, because it would require, on the non-believing recipient’s part, an (perhaps honestly ignorant) un-authentic posture of love and commitment towards Christ which is completely wrapped up in the reception of the reception of the Eucharist.

    sorry for being so long-winded 🙂

  11. Nikki-

    I agree that the purpose of the coming together of believers to worship God is meant for believers. I think that worrying about offending people is a little over-rated and over-done. Some aspects of the Christian faith are inherently offensive, as Paul himself acknowledges in his letters, and so one should expect that people are going to be offended, on some level, by the message of the Gospel. It is, after all, a call to abandon our delusions of self-sufficiency and self-centeredness, and to center ourselves around God, which doesn’t create a whole lot of acceptance with our pride and sinfulness both of which are diametrically opposed to submission to and love for God.

    However, offense by the Gospel is, I think, God’s way of slapping us in the face and waking us up from the self-induced coma of our pride and sinfulness, and bringing us to that terrifying moment where we must answer the question that Jesus faced in the garden- will we say “Thy will by done”, or ‘My will be done.”

    I think sometimes, though, that people get offended not by the Gospel, but by other Christians, for whatever reason- sometimes legitimate, sometimes not. I think one of the best methods of evangelization is for the body of Christ to truly love each other. Then, as Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts and the discussion! 🙂

  12. Yes, deviant monk. Over-rated and over-done. That was my point. Mind you, I made my point after midnight and after 2 glasses of blackstone.
    Why we worry ourselves with being “seeker-sensitive” seems silly. Who made up that description anyway? eeuuuw.
    RE: RE: RE: Communion
    Person in metaphor B being a corpse assumes that said person will not come back to life. I have a sense that a “non-believer” who has driven up, parked, entered, sat down, stood up, shook hands, and stayed an hour is likely (hopefully) on their way toward life.
    They have come with an appetite.
    How delicious do the words of the Jesus sound to that person. “This is my body, broken for you – for the forgiveness of your sins. Take, eat. And remember me. This is my blood, poured out for you. Take, drink. And remember me.

  13. Nikki-

    Person in metaphor B being a corpse assumes that said person will not come back to life.

    Notwithstanding that I feel (and admit) both metaphors fail to capture the ontological relation to God that relates to the non-believer, the natural assumption of a corpse is that it won’t come back to life. Paul speaks in Colossians of how we were dead in our sins, but brought to life through Christ. He apparently specifically relates this to baptism. The assumption is that a corpse will remain a corpse unless something intervenes to bring it back to life.

    Of course, the analogy fails because it’s not about being animate or inanimate, hungry or not hungry- it’s about the ontological disjointedness of humanity in its sinful nature, which prevents union with God and even the first step towards God on its own.

    I have a sense that a “non-believer” who has driven up, parked, entered, sat down, stood up, shook hands, and stayed an hour is likely (hopefully) on their way toward life.

    They may very well be.

    They have come with an appetite.
    How delicious do the words of the Jesus sound to that person. “This is my body, broken for you – for the forgiveness of your sins. Take, eat. And remember me. This is my blood, poured out for you. Take, drink. And remember me.

    The words may or may not be delicious. There were plenty of people following Jesus who had a spiritual hunger, and when he spoke these words to them, more of them than not abandoned him and took offense at the words.

    I guess my hangup is that prevenient grace isn’t a sacrament or bound up in a sacrament, because sacraments confer sanctifying grace, which pertains to those who are in a state of grace. A unbelieving person’s disposition in listening to the words of consecration or even going forward to receive the Eucharist are ineffectual towards receiving prevenient grace because prevenient grace is completely gratuitous, and is bestowed by virtue of God’s will irrespective of any disposition or act.

    To be sure, the desire for the Eucharist and communion with the body of Christ is probably kindled by God’s grace. But the very term ‘communion’ would seem to assume that one is rightly related to God and to the body of Christ (with whom one is communing) when participating in it. Otherwise, as I have already mentioned, it would seem to be, at least ontologically speaking, a deception, however ignorantly and honestly engaged in.

    Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. I really am enjoying this discussion, and I am thankful for your thoughts.

  14. I am a “seeker” when it comes to Holy Communion myself. It is interesting to me the structure used by the early Methodist church was very much exclusive in its structure. I would recommend “A Model for Making Disciples, the Wesleyan Class-Meeting” by Henderson. Henderson describes the process and structure of early Methodism. Communion was offered at Society meetings somewhat infrequently due to a shortage of ordained clergy. Admission to a Society meeting was by ticket and the only way to get a ticket was to be faithful in attending class-meetings and pass an oral examination! I believe the idea of meeting people where they are sounds very seeker sensitive. The real genius was the addition of very high expectations to the seeker philosophy some employ today. It worked very well for Wesley and I think it would work for us today. Consider what the draw of the extreme Mountain Dew advertising. Just some thoughts.

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