Freedom of Form 9: A Missionary Mandate

The frightening freedom of worship in the New Testament is a missionary mandate. We must not lock this gospel treasure in any cultural strait-jacket. Rather let us find the place, the time, the dress, the forms, the music that kindles and carries a passion for the supremacy of God in all things. And may our communion with the living God be so real and the Spirit of God so powerfully present that the heart of what we do becomes the joy of all the peoples we are called to reach.

—John Piper, sermon: “Our High Priest is The Son of God Perfect Forever”

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4 thoughts on “Freedom of Form 9: A Missionary Mandate

  1. There is much to agree with here, but also some to disagree with. “Forms” (and to a lesser extent “times” and “places”) are not really culturally or contextually derived, but rather should be biblically, theologically and historically rooted. As Webber would say, the dialogical nature of form and the balance of anamnesis and prolepsis in forms are non-negotiable. However, as Dr. Piper indicates, the missional mandate and the passion and joy for God are also non-negotiable.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Jim!

    “Rooted,” certainly. But there can be some variance of “form” growing out of the same root.
    As Piper said in the earlier quote (https://worr.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/freedom-of-form-2/), in the absence of detailed “forms” in the New Testament itself, we have to be careful about what we consider truly normative or non-negotiable. This seems to be acknowledged in the quotes from the various traditions (https://worr.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/freedom-of-form-2-early-church/; https://worr.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/freedom-of-form-3-lutheran/; https://worr.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/freedom-of-form-4-calvin/; https://worr.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/freedom-of-form-5-anglican/). (Webber and I had some disagreement about this too!!)

    • Thank you, Ron. With deepest respect, yes and no. I think we must be careful not to confuse Christian devotional and prayer practices, rituals and ceremonies, which of course have varied greatly over time and space, with the “source and summit of the entire Christian life,” the Eucharist. Being the primary Christian worship context, the Eucharist has much less cultural variation, especially in light of its theological content and relationship to both the doctrines and disciplines of the church. While there is some variation in text (Roman Rite, Sarum Rite, Byzantine Rite, the so-called Anaphora of St. Hypolitus, the Anaphora of St. Chrysostom, the Anaphora of St. James, The Anaphora of Addai and Mari, etc.), liturgical elements are generally held in common among all Eucharistic rites. I think one would be hard pressed to prove that Gregory the Great, Luther, Cranmer, Calvin or even Wesley would embrace a culturally driven or even derived Eucharistic liturgy. That is something that seems to have sprung up in more recent times, giving rise to some not insignificant theological mischief.

      Some of this also is dependent on how one defines “freedom.” Biblical freedom is not “theological voluntarism” (sill rampant in the Church) but rather submission to the discipline of God revealed through the Bible and interpreted in the Church. So, I think the “frightening freedom” of Eucharistic worship cannot be according to our choice, or individual Biblical interpretations, or even cultural response, but according to God’s directives for foundational passionate relationship with Him revealed in scripture and history. Still frightening, but disciplined.

      I have said much more than I know! And, I suspect many may not agree.

      • Excellent points, JIm.

        It depends, of course, on how one defines “form” as well as how one defines “freedom.” Certainly there are “macro-forms” or practices (you mention the Eucharist; there is also mentioned in Acts 2:42 “the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers”), that seem to be non-negotiables. But then there are “micro-forms” in the way those are practiced: hence the variances in “Christian devotional and prayer practices, rituals and ceremonies” you point out. So there is freedom in the micro, far less so in the macro. Freedom within revelational boundaries. (Hence, in my Bridge illustration, the clear distinction between Biblical Constants/Principles, and the Freedom of Form in applying those.)

        There was of course certainly plenty of theological mischief to go around also during the eras that produced the traditional Eucharistic liturgies you reference. That’s one reason why Piper and I (contra Webber and Hart) tend to see a greater divide between the Biblical revelation and “the interpretation of the Church.”

        This is a whole other discussion, of course, but I would put the WORD at the top of the pyramid, rather than the Eucharist, as the “source and summit”–with the Eucharist, as “Enacted Word,” as one vital expression of that. Admittedly it’s an argument from silence, but the great worship book of the New Testament, the book of Hebrews, says nothing about the Eucharist (with the possible exception of 13:10).

        Anyway, it’s a stimulating debate! And i appreciate you helping to hone and clarify some of my points.

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