Tuesday, December 15, 2015

No worshipping together in Australia!

It's interesting to compare the American and Australian Gospel Coalition 'Vision for Ministry' documents. When it comes to describing the purpose of the locally gathered church the American document goes like this:
1. Empowered corporate worship.
The gospel changes our relationship with God from one of hostility or slavish compliance to one of intimacy and joy. The core dynamic of gospel–centered ministry is therefore worship and fervent prayer. In corporate worship God’s people receive a special life–transforming sight of the worth and beauty of God, and then give back to God suitable expressions of his worth. At the heart of corporate worship is the ministry of the Word. Preaching should be expository (explaining the text of Scripture) and Christ–centered (expounding all biblical themes as climaxing in Christ and his work of salvation). Its ultimate goal, however, is not simply to teach but to lead the hearers to worship, individual and corporate, that strengthens their inner being to do the will of God. [Italics mine.]
Now compare that to the almost completely reworked Australian version.
1. Weekly Gatherings of God’s People
We are brought near to God through his Son, our Saviour and high priest, and through his substitutionary sacrifice for our sin. We joyfully gather as God’s people to meet in his presence, to hear and receive God’s word as the Bible is read and preached; to pray for ourselves, our church, our nation, and our world; to confess our sins and be assured of God’s forgiveness through the death of Christ; to proclaim the gospel; to encourage each other; and to praise our God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Word is of crucial importance in our gatherings. The Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, should be read and preached. Preaching should be expository (explaining the text of Scripture) and Christ–centred (expounding all biblical themes as climaxing in Christ and his work of salvation). Its ultimate goal, however, is not simply to teach, but to lead the hearers to worship in every part of their lives. [Italics mine]
Putting aside the positive similarities; for example an emphasis on expository preaching, the differences are remarkable. Notice how the Australian document avoids describing the local gathering of God's people as "corporate worship". The Australian document has an extended description of some of the things that occur in a church service, prayer, preaching, praise and confession but omits the sacraments. The heading also reminds us that what takes place in a church service is simply the prosaic "weekly gathering" and not "empowered corporate worship."

Our lives, both on this side of eternity (Romans 12:1) and the other side (Revelation 5:11), are characterised by worship. The local gathering of God's people isn't just a logistical expression of the gospel but a faint and beautiful echo of our participation in the life of God. I think the changes reflect an underlying philosophical difference. The American statement represents the idea that our smaller stories make sense because they are part of God's larger story and what appears small, clumsy, damaged and weak is made great by it's inclusion in the Grand Narrative of God. However the Australian statement sees salvation more as an escape from this world into God's larger narrative. Therefore the emphasis will fall on our escape or rescue and ecclesiology is subsequently re-defined in that light.