Our society is full of false dichotomies. We’re constantly told to pick one or the other and the assumption is that many of the choices we have are mutually exclusive ideas. You have to be either Republican or Democrat. You have to either love President Obama or hate him. You have to either love Walmart or be against the evil corporate empire that is looking to take over the universe. There are no tensions. No paradoxes. Just a bunch of false dilemmas and logical fallacies.
One that I constantly hear from people is this idea that churches need to focus their worship only on evangelism (“seeker” friendly) or only on discipleship (“mature” Christians). On one side, people suggest that Sunday morning isn’t about Christians and that worship gatherings should be more about attracting non-believers and attempting to contextualize the gospel for them by using the creative arts and big lights and sound systems and cool trendy music. On the other side, people suggest that worship gatherings are about building up Christians and equipping them to do ministry and evangelize outside of the corporate worship gatherings and that we need to have really deep and mature disciples of Jesus so that the world can be won.
I’m not suggesting that there aren’t some problems in these two paradigms and that we shouldn’t have some guidelines that help us understand what we’re doing on Sunday mornings. I think the Bible gives us insight and that it’s wise to have a plan or focus or understanding.
Yet I’m often left wondering if those two opposing groups are really that opposed to the other. Are those who are all about “evangelism” really against making mature Christians? Are those who are all about “discipleship” really against having visitors who aren’t Christians come to their worship gatherings and actually understanding what is happening? Sometimes it feels like some people would like to make Sunday morning a rock concert with no substance and others want to make it so intellectually Christianized in an effort to keep out all who are from “outside” the church walls.
I find some of these ideas to be quite ridiculous. And, on top of their ridiculousness, they are often actually unbiblical dichotomies. How do we know this? Because the apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 14 that there are basically three subjects for our worship gatherings:
- Corporate worship gatherings are about God (1 Cor. 14:2, 14-15, 25).
- Corporate worship gatherings are about believers (1 Cor. 14:3, 5, 12, 19, 26, 39-40).
- Corporate worship gatherings are about unbelievers/outsiders (1 Cor. 14:16-17, 24-25).
I believe that 1 Corinthians 14 provides one of the clearest examples of a “regulative principle” on corporate worship that is in the NT. Clearly, Paul had in mind that the gatherings were to worship God. Paul was doxological through and through. Yet he had concern for the church being built up and he had concern for the unbelievers and outsiders being able to understand.
So it seems to me that Sunday morning should really be about all three of these. We should seek to worship God in Spirit and truth. We should seek to build up believers and encourage them and equip them. And we should be concerned with contextualizing (explaining) the gospel and the ideas in a way that unbelievers or outsiders will be able to comprehend. To focus on one to the exclusion of the other is a false dichotomy and misses a great opportunity at being both biblical and centered on God.
This means that worship is focused on exalting God and done in a way that builds up and equips Christians but not to the exclusion of being understood by non-Christians or guests or visitors or “outsiders.” I’m convinced that, by the Holy Spirit, our worship gatherings can maintain these tensions without sacrificing biblical truth!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.