(Note: I actually drafted this post seven months ago. But I have just now finished typing a giant email to a mate on this topic, and decided it’s time to go on the record with this. Here’s hoping all my friendships with Sydney Anglicans don’t collapse.)
Good theology can lead to some real hassles.
We know that we should worship God with our whole life, right? Yep. That’s the good theology part.
So, should we call what we do together on Sundays ‘worship’? Many in Sydney say no. That’s the hassle good theology can cause.
In fact, it’s got to the stage where ‘worship’ is being called “the ‘w’ word”. Worship is not a dirty word.
I’ll be blunt:
- Not calling church ‘worship’ is mainly a Sydney Anglican thing.
- As best I can tell, it began as a reactionary position; it’s a critique of High Anglicanism.
Who is Being Heard?
Recently, one big proponent of calling church a ‘meeting’ or a ‘gathering’, is Tony Payne from Matthias Media. From all accounts a great guy, and seriously smart. I have read his Briefing articles on shifting from ‘worship’ to ‘meeting/gathering’. They are persuasive in their context, but they do have a specific context – ‘worship’ as doing Anglican liturgy.
Only one article from his series is available at the Matthias website. This article’s big finish is all the great ways churches can ‘be together’ once the shackles of ‘worship’ are dispensed with. He suggests a number of great ways of arranging church services that don’t fit into conventional Anglican liturgy. And they really are great ways of arranging church.
But for Christians who aren’t having an argument about liturgy, who aren’t arguing about the role of a book (besides the Bible!) in shaping corporate worship, who don’t think ‘prayer book’ when they hear the word ‘worship’, his suggestions probably already fit into an idea of creative corporate worship. It’s really a discussion on Anglican liturgy.
Gathered and Scattered Worship
Sydney is pretty quirky in this matter. For most Christians, now and in history, worshipping God is considered something done alone, in groups, and in church. Lately, the catchy titles of ‘gathered’ and ‘scattered’ worship have been used. I like them.
- Yes, all my life should be lived to God, for God, in His presence, by His Spirit, in and through His Son. All my life should be worship, even when I’m away from other Christians – that’s scattered worship.
- Yes, when I gather with God’s people, in Christ, by the Spirit, sharing in fellowship with the Father, to do the things that God’s people do when they gather, I am worshipping – that’s gathered worship. And it’s special. It’s different to scattered worship, because it’s gathered, and God’s people have always gathered in, and for, worship.
I Get It, I Just Disagree
Finally, it’s worth saying that not calling Sunday services ‘services’, and not calling gathered worship ‘worship’ has become a bit of a badge that shows your genuine Sydney theological nous. I want to say that I understand the argument, I just respectfully disagree.