Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I've been reading some commentary about the place of scripture within our theology, and my mind has meandered down some interesting paths.
I think it is very telling and interesting to see what is the center of attention in a church sanctuary.
If you were to visit a wide variety of Christian churches, from a wide variety of 'flavors' of faith, you would notice a few things.
Old cathedrals (and even new ones) tend to be tall and awe-inspiring—pointing to the awesomeness and grandness of our God.
They are often built in the shape of a cross, with the altar being raised, front and center. Various activities (sermons, readings, music, etc.) happen from various locations other than the altar, but the center of attention, and the center of the service is the mass/communion/eucharist.
To me this says that for centuries, the center of worship was remembering the death of Christ. It happened every week (as happened in the early church), and was the prime reason of gathering together (again as was the practice of the early church).
An interesting sidenote: all of the scripture readings are read from the pulpit or lectern, except the Gospel reading which is delivered in the center of the congregation. This points to the value given to the words of Christ, and the centrality of his teaching to the life of the congregation, beyond any other parts of scripture.
As the Reformation began to affect theology as well as church government and style of worship, the pulpit (place where the sermon is delivered from) was moved from the side to the center. Evangelical churches tend to have the pulpit on a raised platform, with the altar usually directly in front and at floor level.
This points to the importance given to scripture being read and taught. Have you ever noticed that Paul tends to be preached more than Jesus? Or is that just my own observation?
In effect, scripture has taken precedence over the celebration of the sacrifice of Christ.
Another sidenote: Roman Catholic and Anglican churches still have the celebration of the mass/eucharist as a central part of each weekly service. Evangelicals tend to 'add it on' to one service a month.
Most of the previous probably isn't new news to most of you, although you may not have recognized the underlying significance of the shift.
Now for something new!
Look at today's charismatic/evangelical/contemporary church sanctuary design and order of service.
The pulpit may well be something more portable, and the center of the stage (not really considered the altar any more) is the worship band and the projection screen.
The first (and often longest) part of the service is the music/worship. Various aspects of prayer and personal ministry are made available during this time.
To me, this says the most important part of the gathering together is worship. In my particular fellowship, we went months without having a communion service. In recent months, a 'self-serve' communion table has been re-instated, available for anyone at any time during the service.

So, what's my point?
I'm not sure. For one thing, there has obviously been a shift over the past few centuries. Fortunately, all the 'flavors' are still available, but the unspoken message seems to be that our priorities have changed.
I might have come to the conclusion that this is a good thing that came about as people became more aware of the importance of scripture, and then worship/personal ministry.
However, perhaps it is as some are saying—it is more an adaptation of the church to the prevailing worldview and philosophy of the day.
For centuries, God was a mystery, dispensed in weekly doses by the clergy. This suited the era preceding the middle ages.
By the time of the Reformation, science was also coming into its own, and people were beginning to experiment and research, looking for answers to every question. It became reasonable to assume that there was an answer to every dilemma, every problem could be solved. Both the Bible and the clergy became expected to be part of this search for answers. Instead of enjoying the mystery, people needed to understand everything, solve everything, find absolute truth.
Perhaps the Bible was promoted from 'the Word of God' to 'the answer to all of man's questions'. Not only is it a record of historical events, poetry, and commentary on how to live out ones faith in the culture of the day, but now it is expected to have something to say on everything from terrorism to technology (and don't forget how the world will end!).
This may well have not been noticed by all of us who have had several centuries of modernism to come to expect such answers—until post-modernism started stirring up the pot.
Now there is a generation of people who have lost faith in absolutes—whether in science or faith. When one day oat flakes are supposed to be the cure for high cholesterol, and the next day they are nothing more than another breakfast food, people are losing their faith in 'scientific breakthroughs'. At the same time, they see one church promoting one method of baptism, and another church advocating another. Or one church saying supernatural gifts are for today, and another saying they are of the devil. All of these seem to have some scriptural basis to back up the particular belief.
So, the average unchurched guy figures no one knows what they are talking about, and the Bible can be made to say just about anything you want it to. Oh, I know advocates of whatever point of view can claim to be more 'scriptural' than the other guys, but it often boils down to trying to truly understand what the original text meant to the original hearers, and if it was cultural or not, and on it goes.

The end result is that post-modernism is replacing modernism, and much of the church hasn't noticed. We're still trying to figure out if hymn books are more spiritual than song projection, or at what point during the tribulation the rapture will take place.


shallowfrozenwater said...

some good thoughts here Al. thanks. i'm realizing more and more just how post-modern i'm becoming ... or am.

Al said...

Just a comment about the YWAMFan blurb above. Although I am currently a missionary with YWAM, I have no idea who or what generated that comment, and I am not particularly trying to make money for anyone through this blog.

ron cole said...

Hey Al, Ron Cole here. I think the shift likely happened with the Jesus movement, led by James ( the Ebionites ) the religion started by Paul. Paul's christianity started in Diaspora, completely separate of the Jesus movement. In fact,it would be three years before Paul had any contact with the original disciples. Paul's religion was quickly adopted by the Roman empire, and Constantinianized...and on and on it went. As far as post-modern thinking, we have learned to search beyond face value. When one really searches the origins of the early Jesus movement, and the origins of the New Testament we find it doesn't fit together as nicely as it appears. But for me I can live with that. I know all the pieces of the puzzle are in the box complete. I don't need to see it all fit together.
Anyways Brother, I'm out of town for a few days, Summit Pacific Bible College, and maybe to Regent. But yes, lets try and connect for coffee when I get back. My e-mail address is ( ).

Al said...

Hi Ron!
Although things may not fit together as nicely as they appear, somehow I have to believe there are value and purpose in the various flavors of Christianity. I think what I don't like is the arrogance and 'I'm right cause that's what the Bible says (so you must be wrong, period)' that seems to come through so often.
Looking forward to coffee!


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