Jason Helopoulos is So Right & So Wrong
Yesterday Jason Helopoulos wrote a post on Kevin DeYoung's blog at The Gospel Coalition that I really appreciated. The name of the post is "Worship is More Important Than Your Small Group" and I think a lot of American Christians would do well to read it. In the post Helopoulos sets forth an argument from scripture that the gathering of Christians in corporate worship on the Lord's Day is unique and holds a greater importance over other Christian gatherings. The article in no way decries Christian gatherings outside of church for Bible study, discussions, singing, etc. but simply pushes against the popular trend of relativising the Sunday worship gathering.
While Helopoulos's article is certainly warranted and important I want to push back against it and challenge it at a couple levels. In the article Helopoulos argues against four objections people raise about the corporate gathering of the church on Sunday morning. According to Helopoulos, the following four objections are being raised against the Sunday morning gathering:
- Too "Pastorcentric"
- Too Passive
- Too Boring
- Too Impersonal
Helopoulos takes on each of these arguments in kind in the post. Rather than church being too "Pastorcentric", Helopoulos explains that church is a time for people to sit under the word that the pastor is commissioned to "declare." Rather than being too passive, Helopoulos explains that congregants participate in the service by singing, praying, reciting confessions and actively listening to the sermon. Rather than being too boring, Helopoulos explains that communing with and worshiping the Triune God is anything but boring. And rather than being too impersonal, Helopoulos explains that when God's people come together to commune with God they also commune with each other; this is highlighted in the Lord's Supper.
Now, in many ways I want to shout out a hearty "Yes & Amen" to each of Helopoulos's admonitions. Many Christians attend Sunday morning services that ARE NOT pastorcentric/passive/boring/impersonal and need to hear Helopoulos's words and examine their hearts. The problem is that MANY churches in America ARE exactly what Helopoulos's audience says they are (pastorcentric/passive/boring/impersonal)! Moreover, they are that way because of the individualism of the American church that Helopoulos denounces in his fifth paragraph.
I'm not sure about Helopoulos, but Kevin DeYoung (the blog Helopoulos is writing on) is a Presbyterian. This means that the church he (DeYoung) pastors, more than likely, follows a (somewhat) historic liturgy. The congregants of his church are more than likely taking from the Lord's Table (at least) monthly and participating in a(n) (even marginally) responsive liturgy. This being the case, DeYoung's congregation would be right to check their motives if they feel that their church is too pastorcentric/passive/boring/impersonal. Yet the ever-growing trend in American Evangelicalism is to move away from a responsive liturgy that involves the congregation.
More and more churches are adopting an approach to Sunday morning worship that is centered around a lecture given by a charismatic leader. This lecture/message/presentation is book-ended by "worship" where a rockband gets on stage and performs while the people sing along (blissfully unaware of how bad they all sound because of the speaker volume). While these churches may not be "boring" (in a secular sense) they certainly meet the other three complaints Helopoulos claims AREN'T true of Sunday morning worship.
Many Modern American churches ARE all about the pastor's talk and have nothing to do with the congregation participating in a divine liturgy with their king Jesus; thus they ARE "pastorcentric".
Many Modern American churches follow the model of an AMC or Regal movie theater with the goal of getting as many people into their seats to "enjoy the show;" thus they ARE passive.
Many Modern American churches ARE so consumed with "entertaining" their "guests" that they ignore the glorious wonder of participating in the heavenly worship of the Triune God; thus they ARE (in a true sense) boring.
Many Modern American churches completely ignore the central position the Lord's Table holds in Biblical worship and thus these churches ARE impersonal.
Now, once again, for those of you who are luckily enough to worship in a church with a responsive liturgy and participates in the Lord's Supper regularly, perhaps Helopoulos has something to say to you. Are you just going through the motions? Do you think church is boring and passive even though it really isn't? If this is the case then go read Helopoulos's article and be admonished.
But for those of you who do worship in churches that ARE "pastorcentric", passive, boring, and impersonal don't be fooled by pastor Helopoulos's article. You are right in your estimation and you need to find a new church that involves the congregation in the heavenly call and response of Biblical liturgy.
Food for thought.