20 January 2008

Faith in action, public worship

Faith in Action is an outreach initiative cosponsored by Zondervan, Outreach and World Vision, taking the form of "a 4-week, church-wide campaign that creates in your congregation an outward focus and a heart to serve." This appears to be a worthwhile effort, except for one thing: "Faith in Action culminates in a Sunday where regular services are cancelled and the entire congregation engages in service projects in, and with, the community" (emphasis mine). Here is an explanation from the FAQ page:

It’s a radical, unique idea - canceling a church’s weekend services in order to “turn the church inside out” and serve the community. While your church may have some hesitations, remember that you are not canceling worship, you are just redefining it.

There was a time when such a proposal would have caused scandal in the churches. Even now confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches will be put off by the entire project because of this "radical, unique idea" to replace public worship with what is essentially labour on the sabbath.

Yet even for those Christians with less sabbatarian tendencies, there is something profoundly amiss in the notion that public worship can simply be replaced by another activity. This has everything to do with living the obedient, balanced life of labour, leisure and liturgy before the face of God. Living in such a way entails responding to God's call in every field of human endeavour, recognizing that each has a legitimate claim to our attentions in various places and at different moments. When I am teaching, my primary focus is on my students and on the subject matter of the course. I should not be daydreaming about my wife and daughter. Similarly, when I am with my wife and daughter, I would not be fair to them if I were to allow myself to be distracted by work-related matters.

When we are in church for public worship, we open our hearts to praise God, hear the Word and receive the sacraments. To be sure, we normatively do everything to the glory of God. Indeed the focus of our entire life should be his glory. Yet in the gathering of believers as the institutional church, we properly receive Christ in a special way. We replenish our spiritual resources for the coming week. We hear the story of our redemption in Christ in the reading of and preaching from the scriptures. We are nourished by the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. We open our hearts in adoration and thanksgiving for our salvation.

Serving our neighbour with good works is a form of service to God. But it should never, ever be seen as a substitute for the Lord's Day liturgy. If anything, Faith in Action should find its culmination in a sunday that sees the congregation going out into the community and summoning it to the public worship of God in Christ. Now there's a radical idea.

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