A Vision of Worship: Pete Rollins, Rob Bell, and Encountering the Divine (Mike Krause)

I’ve been a teaching pastor for close to 14 years, which means that for a decade and a half, I have passionately and wholeheartedly devoted myself to this thing we call worship. So, when I caught this glimpse of Rob Bell’s interview with Peter Rollins, about his forthcoming book Insurrection, I was intrigued to say the least.

Pyro-Theology from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.

“Christianity promises substantive transformation and, if we’re lucky, some of it might happen in church.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of this thing I’ve given my life for over the past 14 years.  Of course, Bell and Rollins are right. They fairly describe many people’s experiences of both God and “church”, that some of our most transformative moments happen outside of the context of worship. That’s David’s experience in Psalm 19:1-3:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

God’s universe has within it the latent potential to be the omnipresent revelator of his glory. God’s desire to reveal himself to, and connect with, his people has never been restricted to the formalization of worship institutions or experiences or rituals. Just the opposite, it was only after Israel’s encounter with God at Sinai that God proposed the construction of their first portable worship facility, in which they were invited to habitually and ritually re-experience His Sinai presence wherever they went.

Fifteen hundred years latter, as Jesus breathed his last, God tore the temple veil in two, from top to bottom. It was not merely an open invitation for all to come unrestrictedly into His presence in worship. It was the symbolical unleashing of His presence upon the entire world. It was God beginning to flood the earth with the knowledge of His glory “as the waters cover the sea,” (Hab. 2:14). Of course, God’s heart is to connect to people everywhere, at all times, that we might “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him,” (Acts 17:27).

But there is also something disheartening about Rollins’ diagnosis; a sadness, a sense of loss for the Church. There is something disheartening about acknowledging that most people’s most transformative moments happen outside the context of worship. There’s something inside my spirit (and theology) that longs for worship that breathes life into the end of Psalm 19.  Because in the back half of this Psalm David extolls the beauty of God’s Law, something that, at that time, he would have only encountered in the context of tabernacle worship. He lavishes it with praise, describing his encounters with it as refreshing, wisdom- imparting, joy-giving, enlightening, and worship-inspiring. For David, it was his encounter with God, precisely as it was facilitated by worship, that leads him to his inspired moment of earnest repentance:

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression (Ps. 19:12-13).

I believe that, biblically, God calls us to more than: “if we’re lucky some of it will happen in church.” I believe that Jesus’ vision is bigger than that. In fact, though the temple veil was torn (and the temple itself destroyed) Christianity is not a temple-less religion. Jesus came to build a new temple, a temple of living stones, Paul and Peter’s metaphor for the nations gathered together in worship (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5). I believe that Jesus’ real presence is most fully experienced in the gathering of the Christ-following community (Matt. 18:20).

In fact, that’s the point of the word “ekklesia,” the word that Jesus chose to describe this thing we call “church.” Ekklesia originally referred to the assembled citizens in a Greek city state, gathered together to enact a shared vision of the kind of society–the kind of humanity–they were striving to be. That’s “church”. That’s what worship is supposed to be. And that’s why we have to continually be “an institution that critiques itself as an institution,” especially when it comes to worship.

The rituals, when reduced to mere ritual, “can get in the way.” So, let’s gather for worship in a way that refuses to allow worship to become the institutionalization of “things that were supposed to be life-giving.” Let’s gather for worship as the Christ- following community re-building the temple of God in the world, the place to encounter the real presence of Christ. Let’s come together as the citizens of heaven gathering to enact their shared vision of the kind of humanity we were created to be.

That’s a transformative vision of worship, one to which I can be passionately and wholeheartedly devoted for the next 14 years, and beyond.

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Mike Krause is a teaching pastor at Southridge Community Church.  You can connect with him on Twitter.

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  • http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/ Edward Green

    For me at least the Eucharist is that most transformational moment. Be it with 1000′s in a a huge gathering, be it with 6 in a cold rural church building, be it with those who are housebound, be it with those who through age and dementia can no longer share words of worship. But still bread and wine. Body and Blood, real presence, holy intimacy. Discovering that has been part of my emergent journey.

    I actually think you can’t separate the Christ event and the church event, which is where Pete and I part company I guess: http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/?e=48 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507415532 Steve Rose

    We are having a similar conversation in our church over the issue of evangelism.  I am leading our people to understand evangelism is less ritual and routine, and more lifestyle and love.  “Church” evangelism seems to be strongly rooted in the “make a presentation, make a decision” style whereas biblical evangelism seems to be rooted more in the awareness of the full story of redemption and life transformation instead of walking an aisle.

    Just as the rituals of worship hinder our true community, the rituals of evangelism hinder the full revealing of the story of God, in my opinion.  

  • Anonymous

     Hi Kurt,
     You said:
    ”  Because in the back half of this Psalm David extolls the beauty of God’s Law, something that, at that time, he would have only encountered in the context of tabernacle worship.”

     It seems Abraham, according to God, in Genesis 26:5, also kept God’s charge, commandments, statues, and laws, hundreds of years before any “tabernacle” or it’s worship rituals, and THAT was the reason, not faith, according to God, Abraham received the blessing and the promise.

     I often ask “new covenant” believers what Jesus meant when He said “Moses and the prophets they testify of me”, and “If they won’t believe Moses, they won’t believe even if one returns from the dead”.
     I also ask them if they can support all their doctrines in scripture: If the letters of Paul, and the anonymously authored Hebrews, were not in the Bible?, since they mostly quote Paul, they cannot, and I point out that they are followers of Paul, and Paul is the author of their faith. I don’t want to put down Paul, I am just pointing out that the Bible contains God’s words through Moses and the prophets and Jesus’s words, and when they seem to contradict Pauls words, Paul is wrong! Jesus made it clear in Matthew 23:9 that the religious title of father is forbidden, but Paul calls himself a father to “his” churches and the world follows Paul. The funny thing about that is Paul kept the Sabbath (Acts13:42-44) as did every other “Christian” until it was outlawed as “Judaizing”, 300 years after Christ at the council of Laodicea, and the opposite day of the week, the day of the sun god Baal, was named the “new Christian sabbath”.

  • Andy J. Funk

    Love the story about the priest tying the cat to the tree so he could pray!!! Hilarious! 

  • Anonymous

    I feel like he’s on the verge of a real breakthrough with this piece; he just doesn’t go that little bit further. Worship is so much more than songs. More than a gathering of like-minded people. More than the Eucharist. It is everything we do because of who God is, what he has done for us, and what he deserves. It doesn’t bother me that transformation isn’t seen in a majority of ‘church meetings’. God is not limited in his dealings by geography, buildings, or even how many of his people are in a given location. (I admit, gathering in numbers has its significance though.)

    Until we can move beyond this, we will still carry around this unnecessary baggage about what worship actually is.

  • http://twitter.com/FrPip Philip Blackledge

    Hi Kurt. 

    Thanks for the article. 

    I want to ask a bit about your understanding of the word Ecclesia. Jesus in fact uses it only twice, both in Matthew,  neither of which is in the other two synoptics. So I suspect it is more likely to be Matthew’s understanding of the concept of the church rather than Jesus’. 

    The word Synagogue is used extensively to describe Jesus surrounded by his listeners/apostles/friends. I suppose an important question would be when the church stops being just a gathering, and becomes something akin to the process-orientated democratic ecclesia. 

    IN response to Edward’s post, For me to the Eucharist is the point of enounter and transformation. But I’ve always put this down to the fact that it was my calling to celebrate the sacraments as a priest. The fact that we often say mass in situations where the “two or three gathered together” is a literal reality suggests that others don’t share our feeling of transformation. A church where people do not gather is not a Synagogue, and in reality is not a functioning ecclesia either, in that the rules may be there but there is no-one to obey them. 
    I feel that the Rollins Bell conversation above was perhaps, to borrow his own metaphor, more towards the Jeremiah than the church, but I believe he’s right in essence – the church should always be an institution which is looking for a time when it has no necessity to exist. Just as priests look in hope to a time when there is no need for them to reconcile people to God, because they can do that by themselves. 

    As an Anglican, I sometimes feel that the victorian over-engineering of our church makes it difficult to engage in the gathering part of our function as a church – and it is the gathering, not the formal ekklesia of the church, which is what enables the sacraments to take place. 

    I feel as a priest I am here primarily just to God-spot – to see where God is and point it out. That’s primarily my sacramental purpose, to outwardly sign withere grace is to be found. 

    Whether that is in the love two people have for one another, in a marriage or blessing, or whether it is in a family who are grieving a loved one, or in the birth of a young child, or in the bread and wine of the altar, or in a million other different scenarios, I feel my purpose as a priest is to say “this is where God is, here with you now” and allow God to do the rest. That is best done, I believe, in “gathering” rather than “assembly” – in synagogue rather than ekklesia. Both are necessary, but I feel the church has stifled it’s sacraments by being far too far in the ekklesia side of its nature, and a re-balancing is necessary. 

  • Jim Burge

    unfortunately the backbone of any and all Love relationships, husband and wife, friends, etc., is rituals.  It is the rituals the bind, unite, bring together forming bonds that don’t break.  It is when you start creating rituals based on self gratification, self indulgence, anything based on self that breaks apart, divides, creates disunity because it is about self, not us.

  • John Bautista

    what do you think about worshipping in weakness?? uhhh, i just came across this blog…hold on…

    Worship In Weakness http://goo.gl/kyLwi

    there! i checked this out..tell me what you guys think!


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