An Ironic Interruption

At church a couple of weeks ago, instead of a sermon, some people were invited to take part in a kind of interview about their lives, their involvement in the church and what God has been teaching them. I was one of those who got to join our pastor on the sofa before the congregation and attempt to condense into ten brief minutes simple questions about how my time the US has impacted me and what my hopes for the future of the church are.

Colin had sent me the questions he planned to ask earlier in the week so I had a rough idea what I would talk about. I wanted to attempt to explain that it was the people in San Francisco – the outcast, broken, lost and forgotten – who had transformed my understanding of so much, not least that we are all outcast, lost and broken but never forgotten by the Lord. I wanted to convey that the “us” and “them” attitude of the world was irrelevant and that breaking it down had brought freedom and new understanding. How ironic it would be, I thought, if one of “them” was to come to church that day. Wouldn’t it be just my luck.

I was the last person to be interviewed. Everyone else had done a fantastic job and shared wonderfully. It was all going very smoothly. But, in the thirty seconds that it took for me to walk from the sound desk at the back of the hall to the sofa on the stage at the front, a man came in and sat down in the back. I didn’t notice, I hadn’t seen him, not until I began to speak and he began to shout over me.

I was trying to explain the work I had been doing in San Francisco and he was trying to explain that “those people” lived real close by too. Some people from the congregation moved pretty quickly to try and get him to be quiet. I froze. I was torn between wanting to continue speaking and realising this as an opportunity to practice what I was talking about. I wanted to engage with him; I wanted to hear what he had to say and show him that someone was willing to listen. My pastor, sat beside me, said to keep going. So I did.

Afterwards, people kept coming to tell me that I had done well despite the heckling. I wanted to shout that this heckler had a name and a story and wan’t someone we should just try to quiet down.
I went and spoke to him. He actually apologised for interrupting me before going on to say that if “those” people were to come into the church there would be a divide, like the red sea, between “us” and “them”. He said that unless you had a degree in anthropology (his actual words, I promise) you couldn’t fit in at CCE. He said we were too comfortable and afraid of having that comfort disturbed.

The whole experience really got to me. A week and half later and I still can’t quite believe that he came in at that moment in that service. And I can’t shake off what he said either because I’m inclined to believe him.
Some of what I shared that morning were plans that we have in the pipeline to engage the church in more work with those in particularly difficult physical/practical circumstances near by. My dream, our dream, is that these practical measures will lead to discipleship relationships within the church community. I wonder if this encounter was a reminder that that is going to be no easy task, on either side. That it is going to be messy; that we’re going to get it wrong; and that it’s perhaps going to bring more change than we are currently okay with.

 

 

 

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Jesus had Blue Eyes

You have got  to read this post over at Deeper Story

While I was making payment this beautiful, bedraggled old man turned his blue eyes to search my brown eyes fully and asked, “Would you like to sit and eat with me?” And right there in the middle of Froyo World, with a few dozen college students intensely watching our exchange and the cars and pedestrians making their paces outside and the employee standing behind the cash-counter (waiting, it seemed, for my answer just as much as the homeless man was), I wanted to fall on my face and weep my shattered heart out. Because I knew that I knew that I knew that Jesus was asking me to eat ice cream with Him and what I said past the tears clogged in my own throat were the same words this old guy had just said to me a few minutes before, “Well SURE!!!”

Pierced. My. Heart.

It’s a story that I could tell.
So. Many. Times.
All the blue eyes, brown eyes, worn hands, wrinkled skin, drawn faces, toothless smiles, knotted beards and foul odours.
But there He was, stood before me, asking love and compassion, a kind word and a gentle smile. There He was sat beside me teaching humility, giving hope, exuding grace and stirring up faith.

Sometimes I forget and ask God where He is and somehow it can so quickly feel like He was never there. And I’m scrabbling around inside for that peace I know I had or that joy that burned like Holy fire and I think if I can just pray hard enough I can conjure it again. Then I’m reminded that it was not in a textbook, a sermon or a prayerroom that I really discovered who He is. It was in Patch’s calloused hands, Chris’s caring touch, Mike’s childlike energy and Sylvia’s righteous anger. And it was there that I learned who He made me to be, who I am in Him and I remember why I feel this discontent. Then I hear Him whisper, “Not long now”.

Jesus Had Blue Eyes (or, “Plus One”) by Erika

Evangelicals and Moderates

The evangelical Calvinists who recognised the good old ways of the Reformers found themselves trapped between an increasingly rigid adherence to the Westminster Theology regularly identified as “gospel” by the “orthodox”, and a puritanised form of rationalistic Calvinism encased in a hard federal frame of thought which had become entrenched in the thinking of the Kirk and was endorsed by the General Assembly.

– Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), 224.

Sound familiar? Well he’s referring to the situation on the Church of Scotland 300 years ago. This battle being fought is nothing new, let’s stop pretending.

God the Woman?

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) will be familiar to the majority of us, as will the use of it’s imagery to portray God as a loving, providing, merciful Father.

The three verses preceding the story read:

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
(Luke 15:8-10 ESV)

I must have heard this story countless times and again heard the emphasis on a God who seeks the beloved. But never, not once, have I heard any discussion around the fact that here a woman is portraying God. A woman.

Another example might be that of Jesus description of the Kingdom of Heaven. One of his best known analogies is that of a mustard seed which a man plants and it becomes a huge tree (Matthew 13:31-32). The passage continues:

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
(Matthew 13:33 ESV)

A woman kneads yeast into three loaves of bread until it all rises. A woman.

Somewhere in Christian history we latched on to one idea of the nature of God and neglected the other. Were we right to do so? How different would our faith story look if the prodigal son had returned home to his mother? Is it possible to hold the images in tension? 

Change

My theology has changed a lot in the two and a half years since I came to university. Some of it has changed a lot in the last six months. You may once have been able to fit me into a nice little labeled box but nowadays the “conservatives” could call me liberal and the “liberals” would call me conservative.

It hasn’t been an easy journey and it isn’t over yet but I am glad to have taken it. If there’s one thing this degree does, it’s to make me question what I’ve been told and figure out what I really believe. But the majority of my theology changing has taken place outside of the classroom, as I follow Jesus and experience God, meeting with Him in unexpected places and unexpected ways. I love that the Holy Spirit is inspiring me to seek Truth and I feel like I understand God better than ever before, whilst also comprehending just how much more there is that I will never fully know.

There’s been some discussion among my friends recently about a lack of objective fact being proclaimed in our church. Less “this is what you should believe” and more “this is what I think it says, go see for yourself”. But it’s precisely that “this is what you should believe” of my past that trips me up whenever I face a new understanding of the complexities of God. Every time I edge towards a change of opinion, I feel guilty. I fear being labelled as “unbiblical”. I expect accusations of “unGodliness”. And then I begin to believe those labels and accusations. This propositional model has lead to more crises of faith than it has prevented and I’ve waded through a lot of doctrine to find a simple faith in a living God.

When you have built a relationship with someone, have known them for a time, when you love them and care for them, when you understand their very character: a revelation about their actions or a change in one aspect of their being does not shatter the foundation that you have already. A change in your friends belief system doesn’t change how much you care about them. A change in you wife’s mental health doesn’t change how devoted you are to her. A revelation about your child’s sexual orientation doesn’t change how much you love them.

The Church should be a place for theological exploration. We should be willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers and that the majority of the ones we do have are probably wrong. And then we should search for them some more. Discovering the vast mysteries of God can be a  joy and not something which is feared.

I secretly love being un-label-able and certain that God is holding me in His, I’m able to hold my theology in a more open hand.

Christocentric

Cracking good sermon at CCE this morning.

You should soon be able to listen to it or read it on the CCE Website.

Colin started out with what could be some slightly controversial stuff. I’m not going to give an opinion on it because I haven’t quite formed one yet but let me give you the gist:
We, as a community are bible-rooted, not bible-centred. We can’t live just as they did in the bible in non-biblical times but we interpret scripture for our time. Evangelicals have often described the bible as their anchor but our anchor should be Jesus Christ. The Scriptures are his servant and the Spirit his interpretor. We are centred on Christ.

Huge questions going on there, fun stuff to wrestle with but let me get to the really wonderfully important bit.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

(Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

Jesus is the centre of who we are and what we do.

This Jesus is not an ethic, a doctrine or a memory. He is a living person whom we enter into relationship with. He is God with us, the embodiment of the Trinity. He calls us to follow his very self. Just being in his presence can transform us.

It’s not enough to imitate him. It’s not enough to move in his general direction. You have to know him. And I mean know him; an intimate, espoused love (Philippians 3:10).

We love to talk about kingdom but we can’t have a kingdom without a King. And our King has direct rule: no more devolution or intermediaries but a King amongst his people. And when we pray for his Kingship we’re not praying for a system, we’re praying for more of the God-man himself.

Without him we don’t have access to the Father and the Holy Spirit cannot be sent. We can’t understand the Father’s love or the Spirit’s power without Jesus to model it for us. We need a God with skin on.

Our lives aren’t about church or doctrine or programmes or systems. It’s not ethics or lifestyle or scripture or philosophy. Its not even the Father or the Holy Spirit. It’s JESUS.

It’s about knowing, loving, following, trusting, obsessing over and being consumed by Jesus. His name should continually be on our lips. His words ringing in our ears. His Spirit beating in our hearts.

It’s Jesus.

Covenant

Quote

the new covenant is eternal. God’s self-giving on the cross is a consequence of the fact that the convenant is everlasting. And the covenant is everlasting because God is unable to give up the partner who has broken it . . . God’s commitment is irrevocable and God’s covenant indestructible . . . It can be broken, but it cannot be undone. Every breach of such a covenant still takes place within its ongoing life . . .

– Miroslav Volf, “A Theology of Embrace for a World of Exclusion”, in Explorations in Reconciliation, ed. Tombs and Leichty, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), p29

Law and Wisdom

A very interesting article was posted over at Desiring God yesterday.

Confessions of a Conflicted Complimentarian by Wendy Alsup, I suspect, voices the feelings of many women in the Church today, particularly those in the more conservative end.

In the churches where submission of women is emphasised, where the highest “rank” that they can rise to is Sunday School teacher, and the “biblical” model of womenhood which is taught is that of a good mother and wife, it can be incredibly difficult and frustrating for those women who aren’t wives or mothers or called to teach Sunday School.

What are we supposed to do?

I love Proverbs 31

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.  She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”  Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:25-30 ESV)

I want to be that woman!

And there’s a lot of pressure to find that husband, be the perfect wife and raise little angels as children.

But, as Alsup points out, this wisdom is not the law.

She writes:

Scripture’s ideals haunted me. They hung over my head, and I felt condemned by the way they were presented to me by well meaning teachers.

Apart from the gospel.

Christ paid my debt to God, but he didn’t just bring my spiritual bank account to zero. Christ’s righteous life was then credited to my account. I went from being a prisoner with a sentence against them they could never pay off to a child of the king with all the resources that come with that position in God’s household.

. . .

In Christ, instead of feeling condemned by the law’s standard, I can lift my head. I can look at Scripture’s words to women, even the annoying Proverbs 31 wife, not with condemnation, but with hope and inspiration. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Yes, that is a great ideal. No, I can’t make it happen myself. Instead of hiding from God in condemnation or despising her as an unattainable standard, I turn to God in my need and find grace and mercy. In Christ, I can boldly access my Father in heaven and avail myself of his resources

We needn’t fear or resent this wisdom. It is not the standard. And it needs to stop being taught as such. Women can be all that God calls them to be, all that the woman in Proverbs 31 is, without a husband and kids because Christ has paid the debt and credited our account so that we can be filled with hope and fulfilled in our blessings.

Alsup puts this wisdom/law problem in brilliant contrast in a follow-up post on her blog (Practical Theology for Women):

Wisdom is not law. And wisdom is only wise when applied correctly in the right situations. You can’t read Proverbs the same as the 10 Commandments, yet in our fight against moral relativism, conservative Christians fear situational wisdom. The result is silly, one-dimensional conclusions.

Through our fear of diminishing the value or importance of Scripture we’re attempting to apply all of it in the same manner we would apply the 10 Commandments. But that is not the purpose of the proverbs, which are clearly written for certain situations. This doesn’t lessen their significance or usefulness for application when those situations arise but it should make us wary of setting ourselves standards that God Himself did not intend.

She finishes her post with an exhortation to listen to Paul’s words in Galatians to “walk by the Spirit” (5:16). Only by pressing into the Holy Spirit Himself can we ever hope to be able to “apply wisdom in wise ways without fear”.

I would like to get married and have children one day but I might not. And I have to be okay with that. I have to be certain of who I am in Christ regardless of that. I have to know that He is on my side and will provide me with all my needs and all kinds of adventures if wife-ness isn’t His plan. And I need to know that there is a church that will have my back if I don’t fit in to their vision of the ideal woman. That they will enable me, equip me, release me to be who I am, and not who they think I should be.

Exclusion

As part of my practical theology class this semester, we looked at the work of Miroslav Volf on Exclusion and Embrace.

It’s a fascinating topic because it is so easy to apply to our personal situations.

His model for reconciliation as embrace is very clever. It is a means of thinking of reconciliation as being much like a hug. With open arms we invite the other party into communication, we do so of our own accord and show that we are willing to reach for the other. Then we wait. We wait for the other party to return the embrace, not invading their space but inviting them too to open their arms. Then both parties close their arms, conveying the need for reciprocity but not assimilation: boundaries are maintained. Finally, we open our arms again: the two do not become one, we must let the other be other and ourselves be ourselves.

Of course, if you know a particularly violent hugger or you’re someone who doesn’t really appreciate hugs, the weight of the model might be a little lost on you but I’m sure you get the idea. And Volf says that when we look to the open arms of Jesus on the cross we can see the reconciliation of God and humanity at work through embrace.

I’m sure we can all think of a time, probably many, when we have felt excluded. An element of exclusion is inevitable within any gathering of people because as each inclusion takes place, an exclusion must also occur. It’s becoming ever more apparent that to create an “inclusive” society, you must exclude as well. Volf calls this the modern “barbarity”. Sometimes this exclusion is obvious: we eliminate those whom we don’t want to have to include. At other times it can be more subtle: assimilation (you must become like us), abandonment (we keep you at a safe distance) or symbolic exclusion (through language, media etc).

An very interesting exercise that we as the church should regularly be doing is considering how our meetings might exclude people. Think about your church’s entrance. What in that foyer/ doorway/noticeboard could someone interpret as exclusive? Is it open and inviting or does it suggest already that you have to be “one of us” to belong here? And when someone sits in your sanctuary/auditorium, are they invited in to all that is happening or do they only see many backs turned to them? What about the way the service is presented: the use of language, media, technology, even how people are dressed and the gadgets that they are using give an impression of who is welcome in our congregations and who is not.

I’m not suggesting we go to the length of removing the crosses from our churches, as some have done to make their buildings “seeker sensitive”, or that we make everything as bland and basic as possible. We should still be open about who we are and what we stand for and how we do what we do. But we have to mindful that Christian circles are hard ones to crack. That not everyone can see or read the projection screens. That someone struggling to pay the bills might not appreciate being surrounded by iPods/iPads or having the offering basket stuffed under their nose. What provision do we make for families, or, perhaps more pressing, for single people? What are we doing to welcome those with disabilities? How are we welcoming people from every class and background?

When you walk in to church on Sunday look at it as though for the first time, as someone who has never been to church before, and look for the points of exclusion. Then find someone you’ve never spoken to or maybe even seen before and ensure that they are included.

The Adjustment Bureau – Thoughts

So, like I said yesterday, The Adjustment Bureau caused me to think. A lot.

I should warn you, I can’t explain these thoughts without spoiling it and, to be honest, they probably won’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t seen it. Watch it first, then return. You have been told.

I think the reason it intrigued me so much was the blatant comparison you could draw between everything going on in the film and Christianity/Christian doctrine.

The Chairman = God

The Adjustment bureau = angels of some sort

The Plan = well, THE plan

And it makes all kinds of interesting assertions about these things:

They say that only the Chairman has the plan. Funny that, because only God has the plan (not even the Son knows the hour of his return, remember?). They also say that the Chairman comes in a different form to everyone; a rather nice concession to society’s universalist “whatever you want to believe is fine for you” idea. And the Chairman is also free and able to change the plan – something which some Christians would have serious issue with.

These angel/agent people are an interesting bunch. I thought it slightly odd that they were all men (not very PC, surely). One of them describes them as not being built to lead with their emotions like human beings are.

And then there’s the thing the whole film revolves around: the plan. Or fate. Either way, its contrast with Matt Damon’s free will opens all kinds of questions, questions I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few months.

One of the agents at one point explains to Damon that the Bureau exists to ensure everything goes to “plan”. They can change tiny details or the paths of our reason to ensure that the right people are in the right place at the right time. There have apparently been a couple of times when they’ve left humanity to it to fend for themselves. However, this only led to the dark ages and the catastrophic 20th century. Apparently we can’t be trusted. Instead we are given the “illusion” of free will and they keep us on track.

Matt Damon’s just not so keen on this idea: it would mean never being with the woman he loves.

“I disagree with you about what my fate is”

His emotions, how he feels, are more important.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fate/predestination/providence/the plan and have pretty much only come up with questions:

Does God have a plan? If God doesn’t change, the plan doesn’t change. So God knows exactly what’s going to happen?Which means that God includes sin in His plan?

If God doesn’t include sin in His plan, then God must change his plan to account for our sin? So God changes? Or doesn’t know what we’re going to do? So is limited in His knowledge?

And if there is a plan and God does know the manner in which we will follow it, do we really have free will? Do we need free will? If we don’t have free will, does God choose who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? If we don’t have free will, does God cause us to sin?

Maybe you’re beginning to see why this film caused me so many issues . . .

And how often does God reveal his plan, show us the way, and we just turn around and ignore him? Is our ignoring the “plan” a part of the actual plan? And can we change the plan?

Damon does. In the end he and Blunt “inspire” the Chairman to re-write it. He leaves them a blank page upon which to write their own destiny. Because, apparently, “Free will is a gift you will never know how to use until you fight for it”.

I do know that, somehow, God is in control. I also know that, somehow, I have free will. And I know that when I petition God, things change. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the order in which any of these things happen or the way in which God uses our sinfulness in this plan of his.

I guess it’s all a matter of faith and, at times, you have to fight for that.

Augustine and Natural Disasters

Last week in my Systematic Theology class we were looking at the writing of St. Augustine of Hippo (a place in North Africa, not the big funny looking animal).

Augustine says that in the “Fall” it was the will of humans which fell and not our nature. What we are remains essentially good and Godly, it is the who we are (what we want and how we are willing to achieve it) that has been corrupted by sin.

We also spoke about death and mortality pre and post Fall. Before sin entered the world and the relationship between God and humanity was broken, though few would suggest that we were physically eternal (the earth would be pretty full by now!), the generally accepted doctrine is that we would remain in perfect relationship with God forever and this would have meant some kind of heaven when we eventually left earth. Of course, post-Fall, sin has destroyed that relationship and made heaven an impossibility if we remain in our current state (which is why we need the grace and sacrifice of Jesus). So, pre-Fall, death wasn’t the end, post-Fall it is.

Which gets me to thinking . . .

Christians often explain natural disasters as a consequence of the Fall. The embodiment of “natural” evil; perfect evidence of the way in which sin has corrupted the entire creation, these terrible events now occur and cause mass destruction.

But what if natural disasters occurred pre-Fall? What if they are, and have been from creation, part of the way in which the planet functions?

According to Augustine, they are. Natural disasters – earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis – are just that: natural. And, as such, they are not “fallen”. They contain no sin.

Which would make sense, because the death and pain which they cause would not have been a concern pre-Fall where physical death simply meant uninterrupted heavenly eternity.

It is only because of the sinfulness of our human will now that the death which natural disasters cause is a problem, a disaster at all. And it is not the world which is broken but our relationship with God and entry way into heaven.

Excuse me for being all geeky but I think this is really fascinating! Pre-Fall natural “disasters” – that’s whole new revelation for me!

Order and Spontaneity

(Image: John)

We must be careful in all our talk about liturgical prayer not to rule out the spontaneous moves of the Spirit. Just as liturgical traditions have much to offer us by way of roots, the charismatic and Pentecostals have much to offer us in zeal  and passion. Tradition and innovation go together in God’s kingdom. Jesus was Jewish. He went to synagogue “as was his tradition” and celebrated holy days such as Passover. But Jesus also healed on the Sabbath. Jesus points us to a God who is able to work within the institution and order, a God who is too big to be confined.

God is constantly colouring outside the lines. Jesus challenges structures that oppress and exclude, and busts through any traditions that put limitations on love. Love cannot be harnessed.

Liturgy is public poetry and art. You can make beautiful art by splashing paint on a wall, and you can also make art with the careful diligence of a sculptor. Both can be lovely, and both can be ugly. Both can be marketed and robbed of their original touch, and both have the potential to inspire and move people to do something beautiful for God. So it is with worship. More important than whether something is old or new, winsome or classic is whether it is real. The Scriptures tell us to “test the spirits”, and the true test of the spirit of a thing is whether it moves us closer to God and to our suffering neighbour. Does it have fruit outside of our own good feelings? Beauty must hearken to something beyond us. It should cause us to do something beautiful for God in the world.

– Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer, (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2010) p.175-176

What’s in a sermon?

Back home in Aberdeen, sermons were always about “consecutive expository preaching” – we’d work through one book of the Bible, beginning to end, over a number of weeks or months.

Here in Edinburgh, we have two series running concurrently, generally one working through a bible book/section, and one on a broader theme. Actually, we’re now on our third year of the sermon on the mount – each section becomes its own mini-series and, due to the nature of the sermon on the mount, more thematically based as well.

However, last month, we had three weeks with no bible basis for the sermon. In fact, I’m sure many people would have issue with it even being called a sermon. We were looking at the ABC’s of CCE – where we’ve come from (right back to the reformation and the anabaptists), where we’re going and how we can practically be involved now.

It’s not the first time there’s been little scriptural involvement in a service. I remember one meeting last year when we had the finance report instead of a sermon. One of our series last year was The Story, looking at the entirety of the biblical story throughout the course of the year; bible based but not passage focused or expository in any sense of the word. It’s a very different attitude than home, where one of my minister’s main reasons for continuing with evening services is the importance to him of providing two opportunities for the “ministry of the word” on a Sunday.

It’s given me cause to think about what the purpose of our Sunday gatherings is and how necessary consecutive exegetical preaching is. I am not diminishing the importance of Scripture (I think you’ll find a post over there <- where I just quoted Calvin – can’t get more reformed than that!) but simply exploring the purpose of church meetings and the Bible’s role within them. In fact, I’ll be very honest and say that there are times when I miss the bibleness of home!

When the believers come together in the New Testament (I’m pretty certain) the sole purpose is never just to hear a sermon:

Acts 2:42-47 – And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ESV)

1 Corinthians 14:26 – What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (ESV)

Of course, we must be mindful of Paul’s instruction to Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:1-4 – I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (ESV)

If the purpose of a Sunday meeting is to come together as a body of believers; to share together – our stories, our pains and joys, bread and wine; to worship; to learn; to do community: surely it is okay if preaching is not at the centre of this all the time. We’re not a community focused around a book, after all, but a community focussed around Christ. And sometimes you have to deal with the business of the community (such as the finances) or there’s a message you want to communicate to them (such as the plan for the year ahead).

My course in Practical Theology this semester has given me reason to think that the focus of the conservative, reformed church upon this type of preaching and service was originally a reaction against a Roman Catholic focus on Mass and what the reformers considered inaccurate biblical teaching. And then, more recently, a reaction against the charismatic/pentecostal movements who were focused upon revelation from the Spirit, leading reformed Christians to fear a moving away from the Word. It seems to me that we haven’t quite gotten over these fears and prejudices, despite the fact both the Catholic and Pentecostal denominations have changed their emphasis a lot in certain quarters.

I think there is a place for consecutive expository preaching. I think it is good and useful. But like all things it can be taken to extremes where there is no room for manoeuvre and the prompting of the Spirit is ignored for the sake of the preaching plan. I think the Bible is incredibly important, should be used in our worship and be the plumbline by which we measure everything we do. But I do not think that Church – the Body of Christ and Community of Believers – is solely about its explanation. This can be explored by other means and at other times. Doing Church, being Church is so much more.