What I read earlier was a post from Credo Mag with the clever title: Put the theology book down and do something that matters. The point was that many people see theology conferences and the reading of theology books as a largely empty exercise and that we should be doing something more tangible (the text was from an opening address at a theology conference)….
What are we doing here?The author of the post, Marc Cortez, came back and argued that studying theology is worship and therefore was a worthwhile exercise. His comparison between modern theology conferences and the council of Nicea in the fourth century is quite a stretch but his argument is a persuasive one for many people, especially many pastors who see studying theology as an integral part of their calling.
I’m sure we could walk out this building and, within five minutes, find any number of hurting people desperately in need of care and attention, longing for a meaningful conversation, needing to hear the Gospel. People who are cold, hungry, lonely, and lost — forgotten, neglected, and abused by a sin-fractured world.
Yet here we sit, ready to spend an entire day presenting papers, hearing arguments, and discussing abstract ideas apparently far removed from the real needs of everyday people. How does discussing epistemology, hamartiology, ecclesiology, or the intricate details of ancient historiography really help people come to Jesus and begin healing their broken bodies and souls?
Then this morning I had a long conversation about “church” with a co-worker. He told me that he attends a very large (four services consisting of thousands of people) church. I asked him how well he knew his “pastor” and he was pretty sure that he (the pastor) didn’t even know my co-workers name. What my co-worker liked about his church was that it was fairly anonymous, no one was asking him about his business, and the sermons have him some practical tools for everyday life.
These two examples seem quite different. The hardcore Reformed academic types spurn and mock the “give me something practical” sermons while the more pragmatic average America churchgoer sees those highly doctrinal and intellectual sermons as boring and not applicable to our everyday life. But both of them are aimed at the same thing: information. On top of that there is the “worship” component. I go to church to “worship” and to learn something that will help me. It will help me be a better dad or it will help me to understand a theological nuance better but ultimately it is aimed at something I can internalize.
Is that what we see “church” intended to do in the New Testament? I don’t think we do. Let's look at a couple of key passages…
First I would put forth 1 Corinthians 14. Paul speaks of “building up” and “encouraging” here as well. A lot. The church gathers to be built up and there is an informational component here but I don’t think Paul is concerned with the church being built up just for the sake of having better informed Christians. There seems to be more to it…
Next I would turn to Hebrews 10: 24-25….
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)We hear this passage referenced a lot, normally as a club to make you feel bad if you don’t “go to church” on Sunday but the reason we go is just as important as the going itself. According to the writer of Hebrews it seems the emphasis is on the “why” of the gathering and the “why” is that the Body is to encourage one another and stir one another up to love and good works. In other words the gathering is focused on the subsequent going, not on the gathering itself. Our edification, our “building up” is done with a purpose and that purpose is to love others and serve them. That service means caring for their material needs for certain but more importantly to minister to them spiritually, especially for those who don’t know Jesus Christ. To do that means we have to go to them, not just read about going to them or listen to a sermon about going to them. We must go but that can be scary if we are not prepared...
What about those pastors and elders and other leaders in the church? Is their role to pass on information, to make us better informed about theology or practical living? I don’t think so…
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)Pastors are not called to impart “head knowledge”, or at least not exclusively, but as more mature believers who live praiseworthy lives worthy of imitation they are called to equip other believers to DO the work of ministry. Therein lies the issue with the sermon. Sermons are one way and the preferred way to pass on doctrine and other information but sermons are quite poor at equipping people. For example, imagine that in training people to be surgeons the training consisted exclusively of lectures. Lectures on how to cut someone open and sew them back up. Lectures on how to talk to patients and their families. Lectures on what to do when something goes wrong. Lots and lots of very good lectures and lots of discussion about surgical theory. Never any practical instruction, never any training where a student watches an experienced surgeon perform open heart surgery and talk to patients and react when something unexpected happens. Never any time when the new student performs surgery herself under the watchful eye of her instructor. Upon graduation the newly minted surgeon is given a scalpel, sent into a surgery room and told to perform heart surgery. Think they might freeze up? Little wonder most Christians have such a hard time witnessing to other people. They have been told about it over and over again but rarely see it happen. Little wonder also that many Christians are uncomfortable with ministering to those that are hurting and in need. They have read about it and heard it lectured about but have little first hand experience and in real life it is messy and scary.
So certainly the gathering of the church has a “knowledge” component to it. There is no sense in equipping people to do the work of ministry if they don’t know who Jesus Christ is or what the Gospel means. There is also absolutely a sense of “worship” when we gather but if our “worship” only makes us feel better and doesn’t drive us to love and serve others it isn’t really worship at all. Edification builds up the church (see an older post from Alan on this Edification as worship) but that building up the church is not merely educating the church but also equipping the church for the work of ministry and encouraging us in the work of ministering and the doing of good works.
Worship that doesn’t equip and encourage Christians to carry out the work of ministry is not true worship.
Knowledge without example does little to aid in ministry.
Edification that doesn’t equip isn’t truly edifying.
I agree with your conclusion - its like pastors who teach and teach about witnessing but never show one how to do it, WE as the Church need equipped now more than ever. America has become a couch potato christian nation and its time we make a change, Christ suffered bled and died for us, why can't we suffer a little for him? I just want to worship God all the time for all his mercies. Bless you brother.
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