Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Worship Wars and Baptist Theological Distinctives

Historically, Baptist worship is simple, not elaborate

In the worship wars, so little has been said regarding what kinds of worship might flow out of a distinctively Baptist theology. This fact is strikingly incredible.

A distinctively Baptist theology entails 1) a Believers’ church; 2) Priesthood of Every Believer; 3) Soul Competency (a corollary of the Priesthood of Every Believer; and 4) church autonomy AND associationalism.

These four points should inform worship services of any given Baptist church. Unfortunately, however, I never ever hear these issues raised in the context of worship wars. Instead, we only discuss issues such what do our church members like and how can we use worship to appeal to new people. This article discusses how two of these doctrinal distinctives might impact Baptist worship.

In the days when church and state were co-extensive, people were regularly baptized as infants and attended worship with the rest of the members of the community at the parish church. (Given its Catholic background, it’s no coincidence that the Louisiana’s civil districts are called parishes, rather than counties.) Baptists opposed this sort of cultural Christianity, and formed congregations based upon profession of the individual’s faith.
Baptists baptize those who profess faith

This emphasis on the Believers’ Church recognized that some people who attended worship were professing believers, but some were not. Such a distinction was hardly possible in those churches where all the town’s people were ordinarily baptized as infants. The distinction then allowed Baptist worship services to have a special opportunity to respond to the gospel. Thus, Baptist preachers would often preach persuasively and extend an invitation to make a public profession of faith.
The invitation after the sermon, in Baptist worship then, arises out of Baptist theology.

Baptists gave increasing emphasis to Priesthood of Every Believer. While this doctrinal emphasis is often noted in connection with church governance and the autonomy of the local church, it has also had a huge impact historically on Baptist worship. This doctrine prompted Baptists to give up vestments that distinguish clergy from laity. It also gives room to congregational participation in worship—even the “least maidservant” is welcome to speak a word to the church.

From this doctrinal distinctive has flowed the Baptist worship tendency to include non-professionals in worship leading. For high church musical performances, one might attend a Lutheran, Anglican, or Presbyterian church. Baptists, however, usually feature their own congregants. One scholar likened Baptist worship as akin to hanging up your kids’ artwork on the refrigerator: no one else would frame the colorful scribbles to display in a great hall, but it is precious and meaningful to you. Moreover, Baptist worship ministry is about equipping congregants to lead in worship; in effect, we train musicians. Accordingly, we would rather have someone leading us in worship who has a vibrant Christian testimony than someone who is an expert musician.

For these reasons, Baptists are inclined toward a simpler hymnody. They do enjoy higher church hymns with complex chordal sequences such as “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” but simpler hymns such as “I Must Tell Jesus” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” are favorite staples of Baptist hymnody. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I attended an IFB service once (reformed alas). While I enjoyed the bible exposition of the pastor, the entire service felt cold. It's like a business meeting with bibles. I guess I'm too high church for that. The UMC church I go to spoiled me with their traditional Anglo-ish service.