Gottesdienst Online has some commentary about an article regarding a church who is introducing a worship service sans ceremony in order to fit it into 30 minutes to make it more palatable to the culture.
This kind of thing is a capitulation to our facebook-twitter immediate-gratification drive-thru-window entertain-me-and-quick-or-I-will-be-bored culture. Worship is seen as, at best, a duty, something to be endured. It’s funny how other things in modern life are seen in a radically different light, and if they go longer than usual, it is considered a blessing and a joy, a thing to be treasured: such as when the football game goes into overtime, the baseball game goes into extra innings, the band comes out for an additional encore, or the vacation gets extended by a few days.
There isn’t anything wrong with a short worship service in and of itself, in case anyone raises that strawman. Compline isn’t very long, for example. Sometimes very good reasons arise for an abbreviated service. A short service is better than none. The question is whether it is wise to modify worship for the unchurched, who incidentally are 100% opposed to worshiping God until the Word works.
I am somewhat confused on that point in this case. The Chicago Tribune story quotes Pastor Boshoven as stating that this is not an evangelistic technique:
The motivation behind a church service in Merrillville that lasts only 30 minutes isn’t to attract people who want to spend less time in a religious program, its creator said.
Rather, the idea is to introduce a new form of church where the focus is on stories from the Bible, rather than the traditional ceremonial aspects of worship, said the Rev. Richard Boshoven.
Yet, he seems to be dancing around that idea:
We believe that God’s word is transformational and able to change lives… But the word needs to reach people first. Yes… on the surface this seems like ‘low commitment’ which is attractive to many disconnected Christians. But in reconnecting to the Word, a whole new depth of relationship is fostering a commitment to living a life of faith.
I think the interesting bit in the first quote is actually: “the focus is on stories from the Bible, rather than the traditional ceremonial aspects of worship.” I would hope that it is a strawman. The focus in historic Christian liturgy should not be “traditional ceremonial aspects of worship.” If it is, then we have lost our way as assuredly as the church who guts the liturgy.
I said I hope that it is a strawman. According to the articles, this is merely an additional service. They still have the “traditional” worship services wherein I suppose they focus on the traditional ceremonial aspects of worship rather than stories from the bible. Why is this a dichotomy? Nothing is wrong with focusing on stories from the bible, indeed everything about that is right! Look at the lectionary, you see many, many stories. But this is merely because it reflects the historic nature of the Christian faith — something that exists in real time, not in a mythological alternate reality. Christianity is not about ceremonies or empty morality. Christianity is about mankind who sin and God who entered time and became enfleshed in the womb of a virgin to live and die and take the penalty of our sin, so that we could be with Him for eternity.
The liturgical ceremonies should never distract from this. It is a sad thing that in today’s age, the world is so empty of depth that when they encounter something with depth, they recoil and miss the point. So I understand why it would be appealing to have a 30 minute bible study and call it worship. Another example of trying to reach post-moderns.
Yet, I think one major mistake is made. I agree with Pastor Boshoven’s assertion that “God’s word is transformational and able to change lives.” That’s why we have deep, liturgical worship. Worship brings God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament to the worshiper. Every word in the liturgy is designed to do this. But the individual needs to be transformed (we call it regenerated) in order to appreciate these gifts. I hope that we can give the Holy Spirit credit for being able to do this, without thinking that He can only do so much and we have to dumb down the service to help.
Pastor Weedon made a comment on Issues, Etc which helped my thinking on this. To paraphrase (due to my faulty memory), he said that time was created for worship. Think of that when we begrudge worship our time, which is indeed merely on loan.