Probably every churchgoer can say how his or her church is changing or has changed. It is much more difficult to know whether the experience of any particular congregation fits into a larger pattern. We need a bird’s-eye view to answer such questions.
Christian music these days is pushing across the boundaries of what many churches and denominations used to regard as acceptable. The introduction of new styles of music in worship—often styles associated with secular popular culture—symbolizes the extent of a given church’s cultural relevance and outreach. For that reason, it’s increasingly important for churches to become not only more inclusive and diverse, but also more discerning and discriminating in their musical offerings.
As Luke tells it, the Last Supper ends in an argument. For all the table talk of gifts and remembrance and the kingdom of God, the dinner descends into a dispute among the disciples over “which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (22:24). The meal of covenant and community turns into a banquet of boasting and contempt.
Like an artist sketching in broad strokes on a huge canvas, Paul in the first 11 chapters of Romans has traced with great intensity God’s patience and persistence at making peace with humanity. The strokes get broader, the colors ever more vivid, until Paul is himself overcome at what he sees.
The singer stood absolutely still. With open-hearted simplicity she crafted each phrase as if she were proclaiming an essential, God-given message. She did not perform the song but gave it as an offering, a gift, an extension of her innermost thoughts. Several worshipers nodded their heads yes with their eyes closed. Others were bent over in prayer; a few were rocking to the music. There was no sound but the singer's voice, yet an eclectic, diverse bunch of people had become one in the Spirit.
The nation’s largest a cappella congregation within the Churches of Christ has decided to add a worship assembly on Saturday evenings that will make use of musical instruments. Statements on the Web site of Richland Hills Church of Christ in the Fort Worth, Texas, area said the decision came after a lengthy period of fasting and prayer.
Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote, “The human spirit is incapable of ridding itself of an abiding sense of homelessness.” It is as if we never feel quite at home anywhere but are always seeking that sweet place. We yearn for the day when the distance between time and eternity will be finally and fully bridged; until then, we understand exile.
The last stage of the worship liturgy clothes the congregation in the practices of faith so that its members make the whole world a Eucharist. Making the whole world a Eucharist means bringing all the practices of worship into a regular pattern of discipleship. It means extending God’s invitation to all, bringing all to repentance and joining in creation’s praise.
All the elements of worship have led us here, to the Eucharist, or communion table. Now a reshaping of human society begins. Just as the bread and wine are offered, transformed and received, the congregation—and through it the whole creation—is offered, transformed and received by God.