Neal Presa, moderator of the 2012 General Assembly, has convened a Colloquium on Ecclesiology this week at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary – the first of three such gatherings he intends to organize to discuss the purpose of the church.
The discussions, from April 23-25, center around seven papers that were written in advance and posted online. The format for the discussions is this: For each paper, the author presents a 20-minute summary; comments are then offered by members of the Austin seminary community and the event planning team; then in a question-and-answer session from those attending in Austin and submitted online by people watching the live-stream
For each session, the Outlook will provide a snapshot of the paper and a few memorable points of the discussion.
Session 1: Locating the Liturgical Missional Church in the Bible’s Story
Written by: David L. Stubbs, professor of theology and ethics, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Mich.
David Stubbs grew up surrounded by stories: those his Texas relatives would tell, summer after summer, of his family’s history. Narratives that reveal our identity also are important for the church – starting with the biblical narrative, the authoritative word. The people of God are intended to be a “liturgical missional people,” like an upside-down tornado, with the top part experiencing God, funneling the kingdom ways down through worship and out into the world. The Bible is full of stories that can help the church live that out – the creation story; the patriarchs; the covenant at Sinai; Christ’s new covenant; and more. The prophets say the people of God “are to be a people in whom the patterns of the Kingdom shine forth.” The presence of God in worship should shape our mission; the basic DNA of church activity should be found in the core practices of worship.
Ideas from responses:
Lament: Allie Utley, a senior at Austin Seminary, spoke of her desire to see more of a pattern of lament in worship. In a world with so much injustice, “when there’s not an opportunity to name that injustice and cry out against it,” that silence creates a loss and a void.
Too narrow? Is the idea of a liturgical-missional narrative too neat, too narrow a construct? Lewis Donelson, a professor of New Testament studies at Austin, suggested that imposing a single matrix softens the particular edges of the biblical passages used to support it. “The stories of the Bible seem to be so much greater than the big story that supposedly holds them together,” Donelson said.
Experiencing God in worship. Do people experience God in a particular way in worship? Why is that? Stubbs spoke of the idea of ordinary presence – with worship as a place where God’s presence is regularly felt (although not the only place). “I think of it like the fractal method of salvation,” he said. “God is planting a seed . . . God’s saving the world in a really weird way. He’s doing something in this particular place that is supposed to blossom out. I think it has everything to do with God’s patience as well as God’s respect for the human creature.” God is both sovereign and slow-acting.
Patterns. Stubbs said he won’t be the “liturgy police,” but there can be beauty and depth in having standard patterns to worship – patterns whose meanings sometimes need to be alluded to more directly. In passing the peace of Christ, for example, “we have to somehow alert people” that it’s not just shaking folks’ hands, but “this is a pattern of the kingdom,” Stubbs said. “In this small act, something is going on where we are protesting against the ways of the world out there. This should lead us to patterns of peacemaking.”