Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Fingernails On A Chalkboard

Before reading this entry please take a few seconds to watch this video clip, make sure to turn the sound up.

These next five words, this next phrase elicits the same "fingernail on a chalkboard" response from me every time I hear it. Are you ready? Here it is.

Helpful Inspiration of Social Worship--insert chalkboard sound at high volume

These five words come from the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene and can be found in our Membership Covenant. These five words make up the bulk of our theology of worship. When bringing people into the church, when inviting them to speak covenanting words of membership, the best we can come up with, as to the the purpose and priority of worship is, for its Helpful Inspiration.

According to Webster's Online Dicitonary:

HELPFUL: ---------a: of service or assistance

INSPIRATION:----a: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation; b : the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions; c : the act of influencing or suggesting opinions

SOCIAL:---------- a: involving allies or confederates; 2a : marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with friends or associates; b : sociable; c : of, relating to, or designed for sociability 3: of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society 4a : tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others b : living and breeding in more or less organized communities

WORSHIP:-----undefined by the Church of the Nazarene

It has always bothered me that we as a denomination have no theology of worship. It has always bothered me that in so many ways we are more like a para-church organization (I'll save that discussion for another day), but this statement, this statement says it all.

Helpful Inspiration of Social Worship

So what exactly are we communicating with this phrase? Are we saying that we think it's nice when we gather with other like minded people (that we would consider breeding with or letting our children breed with) for the sake of being moved, or encouraged, hopefully in the name of Jesus?

Are we saying that the traditional actions of worship (Apostles teaching, breaking of bread, fellowship, prayer, singing) are only essential in as much as they inspire us, move us?

Using this definition, what is the difference between corporate worship and a tea party rally? A pep-ralley? Or a Rock concert?

I know that we can't come up with a fully shaped theology of worship in a blog posting, but would it be possible to come up with a better way, an alternative way to communicate the importance of worship in the life of a believer, the life of the church, to our new members? Is there a way for me to read the membership covenant without the fingernail and chalkboard sound effects?

An Illustration

The Picture below was taken of the nativity scene created by artist Brian Christensen from Life on the Vine Church. It was posted by David Fitch on his blog www.reclaimingthemission.com. Fitch writes, "Don’t know if you can make it out but but all of the characters of the manger scene – Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Wise Men – are over to the right watching the television. On the left is the baby Jesus all by himself."

Could this be a more honest picture of what happens when we speak in terms of "Helpful Inspiration of Social Worship?"


Evan and Julia Abla said...

I think this is an ongoing frustration, but also I think part of the issue is we don't have a well enough developed ecclesiology that might help shape what worship should look like. How do we know what work we are supposed to be doing in worship if we don't know who we are?
I mean, the people that I look to to shape my concept of worship also shape my understanding of who we are as a people of God. A clearer doctrine of the church might help connect critical practices of worship with what we (pause . . .) might actually think about God.
You're right -- what do these five words actually mean?
We get pablum statements such as these because, in the spirit of good Nazarene nicey-nice-ness, we try to be all things to all people, and we end up saying nothing at all.

Todd Stepp said...

It is the one ritual in the Manual that is required, as well.

As much as I sympathize with the concern for our church not having an official theology of worship, the other side is, if the church comes up with an official theology of worship there is a good chance that it may not look like something that many of us would hope for.

BThomas said...

Todd, you are absolutely right, yet at the same time it is hard to wonder if you are welcome in your own home.

Even if the church worked toward a fuller ecclesiology like Evan and Julia proposed and even a rudimentary theology of worship I think it would be a move in the right direction, even if it wasn't the direction I had hoped for.

Joseph said...

Just another phrase to put on the, 'what were we thinking?' drawer for review at a General Assembly meeting one day.

My wife commented that this phrase promotes 'church-hopping'. 'Well, that service didn't help me feel inspired so I'm gonna go to the next one and see what they can do for me.'

God forgive our 'me-centered-ness'.


Rene said...

It's pretty clear to me that the manual description of our worship, while sad, is an accurate reflection of reality for our church and it's consumer mindset.

Besides promoting "church hopping", it explains the sporadic church attendance of most of our congregation - if you only need help and inspiration once or twice a month, then...

I'm with Joseph, God forgive us.

J.B. Chapman said...


You should do a doctoral study on this subject. Just sayin.

Rich Schmidt said...

While it might not be the best phrase in the world, I disagree with the claim that "These five words make up the bulk of our theology of worship."

It's one phrase. It's not even the only thing the Manual says about worship, and that's just the Manual, which doesn't purport to contain everything that Nazarenes believe about everything. Other denominational publications (books, magazines, curriculum) say much more about worship. The classes that pastors take at our universities, seminary, etc., have much more to say about worship.

I'm really not sure how you conclude that this one phrase from the Ritual for the Reception of Church Members is "the bulk of our theology of worship." (And I think you really have to let your imagination run for a while in order to connect it with the idea that we are being distracted from Christ, as in the nativity scene.)

J.B. Chapman said...


Then in your opinion, the classes that our pastors take is where the CON's theology of worship is disseminated? Since NBC online and NNU Module is the primary avenue for most of our pastors to complete their requirements for ordination, have you examined what is being taught? Is it consistent from school to school and professor to professor?

What books has NPH published which contain any semblance of "our" theology of worship, and are they really that different from this statement in the manual.

You gave generalities, and since IMHO you will not be able to provide anymore in substance, it proves that little statement is our theology of worship.

Once again, that is my opinion.

BThomas said...

Rich, you are not the first to accuse me of letting my imagination run wild.

Yet, the connection that I was trying to make with the picture, was that if we base our worship on those things that we think will "help inspire" us, we may find ourselves distracted from The Story of Christ. For example, many people are as inspired by the National Anthem as they are the song Amazing Grace. My fear (or my overactive imagination) is that unless we develop a better understanding of the purpose and priority of corporate worship, a better way to evaluate the faithfulness of our worship than (how it made us feel) we may in fact find ourselves more frequently distracted from Christ.