FOR WHEN TO STAND IN WORSHIP
WORSHIP NOTES: “HEAR WHAT” WHAT?
You may have noticed a change in our worship order over the last two months. Following the reading of each Sunday’s Scripture readings, the reader concludes by saying, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church,” to which the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” The change comes for two reasons: 1) consistency among lay readers from week to week, and 2) congregational affirmation of the role of Scripture in our worship.
Grace Church generally follows the Christian lectionary, a guide meant to assist congregations in experiencing a full range of our Bible’s content over a three-year cycle. Churches using the lectionary also generally include some form of congregational response to each reading. This practice unites us with the larger ecumenical body of Christian worshipers throughout the world. However, this worship form is still an unfamiliar element for many Baptists.
We are becoming a more ecumenical congregation. Some of our members come to us from non-Baptist traditions; many of us come from Baptist churches that did not include liturgical responses. So, lay readers can be unsure exactly what practice they should follow – what’s the Grace practice? a congregational response? if so, what do you say? Now, we’ve got an accepted standard to use in Grace’s worship service.
The specific wording, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church,” comes from the New Zealand Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Many liturgical traditions, however, simply declare, “The Word of the Lord.” Why are we following our sisters and brothers from down under? “Hear what the Spirit is saying” proclaims our understanding that while the medium of Scripture is words on paper, the true message of Scripture is conveyed through God’s Spirit, interpreting spiritual truth to us beyond the printed words.
So, for example, a particular Sunday’s lectionary reading may literally
say God commands that whole communities of families and livestock be
slaughtered as a holy offering to God or that slaves should consider their
enslavement as God’s chosen lot for their lives.
We do not affirm those words and sentences to be the Word of God. We do affirm, though, that God speaks through such culture-bound words to point us to truth worthy of our understanding and obeying.
The task of reading and understanding the Bible can be challenging. It requires the best tools of current scholarship as well as millennia of tradition. Always it requires the Spirit of God, present in community worship and in personal devotion to discern what is the Word of God for this generation. Thanks be to God for this great gift!