Opinion: Time to change our approach to worship

Changing church gatherings


I appreciate the spirit and care for each other of Uniting (and other) church congregations. But equally I find church services call on me to say and do things I don’t believe.

What I find difficult is that the way the Bible is viewed fails to apply much of modern biblical scholarship. The Bible is still presented as the inspired word of God, when it is a collection of men’s (yes, men’s) thoughts about what we call God and is presented in a variety of literary forms and narrative settings. There is a part of the Hebrew Scriptures which is wrongly treated as identifying the Hebrew messiah with Yeshua.

And maybe we should stop translating “parthenos” as a woman who has not had sexual intercourse, rather than as just the young woman Mary was. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke may well be cases of writing to audience expectations.

We fail to recognise that the God of the Hebrew scriptures and the God of the New Testament are greatly different. By retaining stories about God from the Hebrew scriptures we muddy the New Testament view. The use of biblical texts which say “fear God” is unhelpful, retaining the Hebrew scriptures’ conception of God as quite different from the God of love. Ma
ny hymns reflect views which are out of step with modern understandings. There is still an insistence on including readings which sit ill with modern enlightened morality, especially in relation to the equality and roles of women.

We still talk in terms of worship and praise and adoration, even though our understanding of what the word God might mean has changed a lot (“logos” is just as properly translated as “concept” rather than “word”). Is the word “Lord” with its feudal connotations appropriate?
We need to drop readings which sit ill with modern science such as the two Genesis accounts of the origin of the world, and at least sometimes read astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s summary. Further, a story like the Gadarene swine story does not help people with mental illness, who have definite biochemical explanations for their condition.

We need to recognise that inspired writing about higher things did not cease in the fourth century AD, and that the choices made for the New Testament canon by the “patristic fathers” aren’t necessarily set in stone.

To the extent that a creed is needed, surely it needs to include the life and actions of Yeshua.
So in addition to innovations like Messy Church designed for children primarily, we need to introduce some other forms of meeting for those who feel embarrassed and uncomfortable with many aspects of the traditional form of church meeting and with the prescientific cosmology (but keeping the traditional approach for those who like it).

Many people today have been turned away from church by its failure to evolve along with human understanding.   I am sure others could add to this.


3 thoughts on “Opinion: Time to change our approach to worship

  1. Ann Gray

    Let’s hope the church hierarchy read this!
    For it’s our ministers & moderators who can bring about change… encouraged by we lay people ( who have been reading progressive theology for YEARS) and wishing for access & promotion of progressive theology in the training of ministers..

  2. David Hunter

    I don’t want to get rid of the Hebrew scriptures from our ‘divine narrative’ – I would just like it if we could learn to read them a bit more appropriately … I am finding the work of Peter Enns really helpful to me in this regard.

  3. Henriette Guest

    Perhaps an explanation during the sermon (interpretation) of the relevance of myth, allegory, metaphor etc. would be helpful. Thank you Pastor, Preacher, Priest.

    The (unearthly) beauty and poetry contained in scripture could then be opened up as “Literature with Love”. Such light-hearted teaching, repeated often, of both “the word’ and song/hymn, may bring a new experience and understanding of our faith which speaks not only to the head, but to the heart also.

    St. Francis had the suggestion “….go out and preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words”. We’re stuck with language as a communication tool, and words are a necessary part of that, but minimal wise choice in how and what we communicate seems a good idea. So I shall now ‘shut up’!

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