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Is there a Scriptural mandate for corporate worship?

Culturally relevant churches understand the importance of embracing their communities.

By Jeff May

How do churches adapt in a world that is changing on a daily basis? With an estimated two billion people globally claiming to be Christians, it is no wonder that the challenge for churches to reach this generation is to engage different cultures, genres and personalities to remain effective.

So what exactly should a corporate church service look like? Is there a biblical model or instruction on how things should look? There have been countless articles and doctoral dissertations written about the theologically correct answer to this question.

The regulative principle is a hot topic in church circles and it says that corporate church worship must include all elements which Scripture commands and whatever is not specifically set out by God in Scripture should not be included in the worship service.

Normative principle is inclusive

The normative principle agrees with the regulative principle, while allowing other elements into the service, provided that they don’t contradict Scripture. This sounds good, but honestly, I struggle to find a Scriptural mandate.

Sometimes, I think that we tend to over-spiritualize things. Think about your immediate family or the people in your house, or if you live alone, consider the home that you grew up in. In my house we have five people including my wife and our three kids, and each of us has a distinct personality. The same concept is true for churches. With so many churches offering a variety of styles and formats, the deciding factor in church choice is often who offers the approach to ministry that best suits an attendee’s personality.

Some personalities are drawn to formal churches steeped in tradition, while some are drawn to the laid-back format free of traditions or rituals. It’s easy to make it more complicated than that but I honestly believe this is what the majority of church decisions come down to, not theology or core values, not even methodology.

Even when you look at the New Testament churches you see that they have different personalities, tendencies and methods. The Galatian Church was misguided about grace and works. The Ephesians were self-centered. The Philippian Church, which drew military leaders, had issues with believing Jesus was more than enough.

Relate to the culture

I believe that we need to look at what elements of corporate worship are going to relate to the culture they are called to reach. When I was serving at an inner-city church, our service elements were geared toward hurting people who were impoverished. When on staff at a Midwestern upper middle-class church, our elements had a hint of the more traditional elements because that culture was accustomed to those in church.

These churches used elements that were relevant to the culture they are called to reach. The church I currently serve at is completely committed to reaching unchurched people in our community. Therefore, our services are geared towards people who normally wouldn’t step foot inside of a church; this is who we are called to reach.

In order to reach the unchurched we have to adapt our elements to the culture of the city and people we are reaching. If a missionary goes to a foreign country they only achieve success if they study the culture and adapt their services to reach that culture, and we must do the same.

Before we can effectively reach our communities for Christ we have to recognize that these differences are purely cultural differences and not theological issues.

Relevant methods

Everywhere Jesus went he engaged the culture with stories or miracles that were relevant to the culture and community he was in, with methods changing with the culture. Whether he was healing, telling a parable or performing a miracle, he always chose a method that would engage the culture that he was trying to communicate with.

That is the principle to follow. There are hundreds, if not thousands of churches that are chasing their tail because they want to turn issues of culture into theological issues.

I want to challenge you to search the Scriptures. Find a place where it gives a scripturally mandated methodology for corporate worship. Cultural issues are addressed and some elements are given to include at some point in the church’s practices. In my opinion, nowhere in Scripture gives a weekly “order of service.” It would be nice and reduce the work of planning services if the Bible planned it all out.

It’s up to us to pray and ask God for wisdom, creativity and direction for methods to impact the communities we are called us to reach.

Jeff May is director of worship and creative arts at North Point Church, Springfield, MO. [northpointnow.org]

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