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Communication in Worship

by on October 13, 2009

In my personal reflections, God has been speaking to me through the daily lectionary about the topic of worship.

First Corinthians 14 offers guidelines on worship. In the passage for today Paul criticizes the Corinthian practice of speaking in tongues, and contrasts it with prophecy. Tongues edifies the individual; prophecy edifies the church. Tongues is of private and personal benefit; prophecy is of public. A principle arising out of Paul’s discussion here is this: if the others are not listening to what the church is saying, it is the church’s responsibility to change the way we’re saying it.

This applies in the public sphere obviously enough. We might lament that the world at large ignores what we say about social justice, environmental stewardship, morals, or anything else. But if that’s the case, then it’s our fault, not theirs. Paul does not allow us to blame the listener for not heeding. The responsibility rests with us.

All the more in worship. If the language we use in worship is exclusive, that is, if it does not allow visitors to participate meaningfully, then it obscures rather than enlightens. It doesn’t allow others to hear, much less to heed, and we have failed in our mission to build up the church. We have imposed a limit on the Body of Christ.

And by language, I’m not referring only to what is said or written. All means of communication fall under the rubric of language. Our gestures, our music, our architecture, our choreography—all these things send messages, they communicate, they are our language. These things may be meaningful to us, and as such they edify us. But if they edify only us, rather than the whole church, then they are like the tongues Paul criticizes in 1 Corinthians.

So to the question to us is this: what are we doing in worship, and by extension, in our conversations throughout the week, that are more “tongues” than “prophecy”? And how can we refrain from the former and promote the latter?

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