Well, in keeping with my ecclesiology kick of late, I’d thought I’d expand on a couple of articles related to the nature and purpose of the local assembly. In my latest post at Parchment and Pen, I questioned the need for cultural relevance to pull off what we do on Sundays. While I am not opposed to cultural relevance per se, I contend that our corporate worship gatherings should be faithful to its task, which I think Ephesians 4:11-16 is a foundational passage combined with the instruction in pastoral epistles.
The imagery I get from what our gathering should be is a watering hole. While the informal definition has been used to describe a bar where people gather for the purpose of imbibing, the technical definition is this – “A small natural depression in which water collects, especially a pool where animals come to drink.” I think that is one cool imagery! As believers, we are hungry, thirsty, wavering sheep. Our corporate gatherings should refresh and feed us. They should not wear us out, wrack us with guilt or leave us feeling insufficient in our own efforts. That is why the gospel must be the foundation for everything that is done on Sunday mornings, not just the tagline at the end of “you-need-to-do-better” sermon.
Now throughout the history of the Christian church since the days of the apostles, there has been some significant splintering in terms of church structures, including the liturgy and governance of the church. Oh and the btw, every church has liturgy. The question is what does it look like and more importantly, is it faithful to it’s purpose commanded in scripture.
I came across this article today on the significance of assembling together and more specifically the purpose of preaching
The purpose of preaching is not to do good preaching; the purpose of preaching is to shape the assembly of God’s people to become like Christ in heart and in character, and to be Christlike witnesses in a needy world. For through the godliness of the local church the world will be reached for Christ.
Now keep in mind that shaping the assembly necessarily means growth together as a body (again consult Ephesians) What shapes the assembly? Strengthening the faith of believers. How does this occur? Through faithful and sound preaching of the biblical text and fostering an environment of genuine fellowship. Now that means more than just opening the bible and quoting verses. Preaching the word is anchored in the whole of what God did in redemptive history to show what that means for his people. So whether the preacher goes through books of the bible (which I believe is the best), theme based series or topical preaching, it must necessarily unite us to our identity in Christ, affirm our reliance upon his death, burial and resurrection, provoke genuine fellowship and encourage our Christian growth individually and corporately.
This is why I think preaching that seeks too much cultural relevance will eventually not do the job for which it is intended. It will water down the watering hole and accomplish very little in the way of Christian growth. Sure people may leave feeling like they just heard a really good story and may feel compelled to keep coming back because they enjoy the messages. Now I do believe that the message from the pulpit should be different from a classroom Sunday school type instruction. The pulpit provides some explanations for the text but is designed to exhort. Classroom instruction is more educational and should encourage greater examination into the biblical text. One thing I’ve heard repeatedly in seminary, is for preachers not to turn the pulpit into a classroom. But on the flip side, messages can be so reduced to nothing for fear of sounding too educational or academic. Also, I’m increasingly observing that bible study and Sunday school are being watered down as well to nothing more than discussions about how we feel about concepts lifted from the bible. Whether from the pulpit or classroom or small group, good food is needed for real growth or else it will eventually leave us dry.
I’ve said so many times before and it bears repeating: I don’t envy the job of the pastor who must instruct God’s people in a way that’s both faithful and understandable. One of the problems in our contemporary church structures is that we’ve separated the preaching task from the pastoring task, so that preaching may not be designed to grow God’s people together. But that’s another subject for another day. But pastors must feed the sheep. This is why prayer for pastors is so vitally important.