We All Have Our Hangups (So Let’s Show Some Grace)

In Romans 13:8-10, the Apostle Paul tells his readers that if they want to boil everything down; if they want to sum up God’s law and what it means to follow Him, then love people. Then, a few verses later, in Romans 14:1-12, he gives us a practical example of what this might look like in everyday life.

Here, Paul develops the relationship between those who eat meat and those who don’t, calling the vegetarians weaker in faith. Now, before you make a wise crack about how of course God wants us to eat bacon, (which, I mean, of course that’s true!), let’s remember that Paul primarily has in mind meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Paul develops the argument further by comparing those who celebrate some religious holidays against those who do not.

What’s so interesting, is that, despite our tendency to want clear lines and directions, Paul doesn’t come out and say that one group is right while the other is wrong. Instead, Paul argues that as long as each person is convinced in their own mind that they are seeking to honor God. If you do what you do because you love God and love others, then, by all means, do it.

But show some grace to those who disagree. And don’t judge them as somehow less holy than you because they don’t share your convictions.

Of course there’s lots to be said about this. There are, of course, boundaries to Christianity. And there is such a thing as sin. Paul does not mean that, in showing love to one another that we turn a blind eye to everything. Scripture makes it clear that we are to call one another out when in sin (Matthew 18:15-20) and we are called to speak truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Instead, Paul has in mind issues within the big tent of orthodoxy. We all have our own personal preferences. We all read Scripture through those preferences. And we gravitate towards people who share those preferences. This is difficult for some people to grasp. There are genuine Believers who have genuine differences. And both perspectives are within Christianity.

This is the issue Paul faces. Some Believers wouldn’t eat meat while others did. And some Believers celebrated certain religious holidays while others didn’t. And they were judging the ones who believed and practiced differently. There’s nothing new under the sun, is there? We still judge other Christians who practice their faith differently than us. We, as the preachers like to say, major on the minors. We look for areas of distinction (division) instead of coming together under the tent of unity. We’d rather judge each other than admit that our preferences are just that: preferences.

We all have our hangups. Certain things that we believe to be important. Perspectives that we might allow to bring disagreement with other Believers but are not ultimately worth dividing over. Paul says that the proper response is to show grace to one another and stop judging because Jesus is the ultimate judge, not us.

This is something I have often struggled with over the years. I once belonged to a church where there were people who thought that if you weren’t a Calvinist, then you probably weren’t a Christian. I have never personally held this belief, but I have found my fair share of time to argue with people over doctrine. But I answer to Jesus. Other Believers don’t have to answer to me. In fact, we all answer to Jesus and He has given us grace so it seems like the least we can do is get over ourselves and show one another some of the grace we’ve received.

Initial Thoughts On Moving In A More Liturgical Direction

As many of you know, we have begun exploring a new church plant. We have begun to gather for worship. We have also adopted a bit more of a liturgical approach than other churches we’ve been involved with. Here is a note I sent out to our church family explaining a bit of the reasoning for this shift.

When many people hear “liturgical” worship, they’re reminded of Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism: robes, gold-plated crosses, incense, pictures of saints, stand-up, sit-down, do the hokey pokey, and say a little chant. But there is a wide spectrum of what it means to have “liturgical” worship and we’re definitely on the more casual end of the spectrum. Let me explain.

First, a little context: “liturgy” simply refers to the adopted patterns any local church adopts in its worship practices. Every church has a “liturgy.” For many, this simply means 3-4 songs and a sermon; repeat. Unless your church does everything completely differently every week, you have a liturgy. It’s the repeated way you choose to do things.

In the bigger picture, it can also mean observing larger rituals like Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. Each of these holidays is part of something larger called the Church Calendar. This larger liturgy traces the ministry of Jesus and contains pre-selected Scripture readings and pre-written readings and prayers. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The notion of “liturgical” actually revolves around “liturgia,” which means “the work of the people.” It is a shared rather than a passive worship experience. That is why there is such an emphasis of corporate/responsive readings (including prayers). You are expected to participate.
We have decided to follow the Church Calendar and largely follow the Book of Common Prayer schedule for some Scripture readings. This means that we will observe seasons like Advent and Lent a bit more than you might be used to if you’re from an evangelical background. It also means that Sunday’s will likely be a bit more scripted than you might be used to. We will make heavy use of written out prayers, responsive and corporate readings. 

There are, of course, dangers to having everything printed out. For example, though this approach is designed with participation in mind, passivity is always a danger. It’s up to us to actually focus on the words we’re saying rather than simply mouthing words to get through the service. Using pre-written materials allows us to clearly communicate focused theological truths in a much more concise manner. Let’s pray that these words would not only be spoken by us but that they will speak to us.

Another concern might be that having everything written out is that it can quite easily become rote, repetitive and unfeeling. This is the same argument many churches use when choosing not to take communion every week. I’m not going to spend a lot of time addressing this one other than to say: Heaven help us when the great Gospel truths no longer inspire us simply because we regularly rehearse them.

Some struggle most with the idea of pre-written, corporately-spoken prayers. After all, isn’t Prayer my private talk with God and none of your business? There is definitely a private aspect to some Prayer. But Gathered Worship, by default, forces our attention to our place in the community of Believers. Using corporate prayers allows us to verbally pray with one another without bringing attention to any individual (whether they be quite eloquent or nervous). It is an expression of unity and shared dependence. It is many coming together as one.

Let me also briefly review some of the other things that have drawn us in this direction: This approach emphasizes the content rather than the personality of the presenter. The pre-written content and shared participation make it much less about any individual.

This approach makes it much less likely that the preacher or music leader is able to simply engineer an emotional response and call it worship. You must focus on the truths at hand. Again, we are not an audience. Worship is not passive and it is more than emotion.

This approach emphasizes the corporate nature of gathered worship.

This approach unites local churches with the Church Universal (“Catholic”) in focus and content, reminding us of the importance of pursuing unity rather than focusing on our differences. Churches around the world are saying the same things, reading the same Scriptures and hearing the same Truths. This approach also unites local churches to deep tradition while maintaining individual avenues of expression (even though we’re following the same schedule, local church personality is not sacrificed.).

I’d like to ask that you give it a chance. I’m sure there are lots of things I forgot to cover here, so please join in with any questions. We are thankful for each of you and humbled to be on this journey with you.

To Him be the glory, now and forever. On earth as it is in Heaven.