Pentecost and the Church

The need for a theology about the Day of Pentecost is seen by reflecting on how readily Christians misunderstand the nature of the church. For many people the church is a voluntary organization of individuals. . . .

The church is a community called together by the Spirit of the Risen One. It is not something we choose to do (and equally well could choose not to do), but something to which we are summoned. The Greek word for church (ekklēsia from which we derive “ecclesiastical”) means “those who have been called forth or summoned,” much as one is summoned to appear in a court of law. And we are called as a body of interdependent parts, not as separable individuals. The free-spirited individualism of our age is a manifestation of Babel, not Pentecost, as should be evident from the intransigent divisions and intractable conflicts such individualism fosters. The Risen One, who is present at all times and in all places, seeks to bind together by the action of the Spirit all things that have been wrongly separated. Participation therefore is not something we do on the basis of personal choice or need; participation in the Body of Christ is inherent in being Christian. The church, not the individual, is the irreducible unit of Christianity. Further, the church is to be a sign of the future: No matter how haltingly and imperfectly, the church seeks to enact in the present world the justice and grace that characterize the eternal reign of God. Therefore Christians participate in the church not so much for what they can get as for what they can give, for what they can offer as an alternative to the dominant ways of the world.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 76-77

The Journey into Corporate Worship

The journey begins when Christians leave their homes and beds. They leave, indeed, their life in this present and concrete world, and whether they have to drive fifteen miles or walk a few blocks, a sacramental act is already taking place, an act which is the very condition of everything else that is to happen. For they are now on their way to constitute the Church, or to be more exact, to be transformed into the Church of God. They have been individuals, some white, some black, some poor, some rich, they have been the ‘natural’ world and a natural community. And now they have been called to “come together in one place,” to bring their lives, their very “world” with them and to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life.

—Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 27

The House of God

Worship shapes individual  and community character. In specific terms, it must be relational rather than institutional. For example—and here the trivial makes the point—we almost inevitably hear the person leading worship welcome people into the house of God. This is emphatically not the case! At best, the worship leader may welcome the house of God into the building in which they are meeting! Any language that suggests that the life of the people of God is known in its institutional and physical structures must be rejected.

—Noel Due, Created For Worship: From Genesis to Revelation to You, 234

The Place of Worship

The true temple of God is the Body of Christ, the physical body of Jesus, His flesh, that which the apostles saw and touched with their hands. It is on this basic truth, as on a cornerstone, that the whole teaching of Peter and Paul about the Church as the Body of Christ and the Temple of God rests. The place of worship, therefore, is essentially the place where Christ is found. Now Christ is found where two or three are gathered in His name (Matt. 18:20). Hence the place of Christian worship is the assembled Church. It is not primarily a building but an assembly, and if, as we shall see, buildings made with human hands (cf. Mark 14:58; Acts 7:48; 17:24; Heb. 9:11; 24) can become places of worship, it is simply because they are intended to house the assembled liturgical people.  But it is the people who are the temple.

—Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship Its Theology and Practice, 241-242

Come, Holy Spirit (3)

The need for a theology about the Day of Pentecost is seen by reflecting on how readily Christians misunderstand the nature of the church. For many people the church is a voluntary organization of individuals and exists primarily for reasons that relate to efficiency. Concerning worship, for example, it is tacitly suspected that in principle each Christian household could stay at home and have a pastor come to them to instruct them, administer the sacraments, and so on. But this would be too costly and probably would require more clergy than could be recruited. So it is more efficient for a number of households to contract together, and to establish a central meeting place and time at which the scriptures can be interpreted and the sacraments administered by someone trained in these tasks. Further, since most worship gives a central place to music, it is more effective to have a number of people sing with the support of a choir and a good musical instrument than for four or five people in a home to attempt to sing, probably unaccompanied. Because such a gathering is purely voluntary, people feel free to participate when they wish (particularly when they “need” to “get something out of it”), and to do otherwise the rest of the time.

A proper theology of the Day of Pentecost says a resounding “No!” to such popular ideas. The church is a community called together by the Spirit of the Risen One. It is not something we choose to do (and equally well could choose not to do), but something to which we are summoned. The Greek word for church (ekklēsia from which we derive “ecclesiastical”) means “those who have been called forth or summoned,” much as one is summoned to appear in a court of law. And we are called as a body of interdependent parts, not as separable individuals. The free-spirited individualism of our age is a manifestation of Babel, not Pentecost, as should be evident from the intransigent divisions and intractable conflicts such individualism fosters. The Risen One, who is present at all times and in all places, seeks to bind together by the action of the Spirit all things that have been wrongly separated. Participation therefore is not something we do on the basis of personal choice or need; participation in the Body of Christ is inherent in being Christian. The church, not the individual, is the irreducible unit of Christianity. Further, the church is to be a sign of the future: No matter how haltingly and imperfectly, the church seeks to enact in the present world the justice and grace that characterize the eternal reign of God. Therefore Christians participate in the church not so much for what they can get as for what they can give, for what they can offer as an alternative to the dominant ways of the world.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 76-77

Make Music (10)

Augustine observes that when sacred words are joined to pleasant music, “our souls [animos] are moved and are more religiously and with a warmer devotion kindled to piety than if they are not so sung.” [Augustine, Confessions, X, xxxiii (49)]

——Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 632

Make Music (9)

Paul’s exhortation to sing, then, is bound up with his emphasis throughout the Epistle on the unity of the body of Christ. Music voices the shared life of the church. It is not accidental that the commands to sing in Eph. 5:19 lead on to the exhortation in verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Music is both an image and a means of attaining to this unity. Structurally, the command to sing is the hinge connecting two sections of the epistle. Chapters 4 and 5 urge the Christians to put away the kind of self‐gratifying and self‐interested behavior that destroys community. The second half of Chapter 5 and the first half of Chapter 6 paint a picture of healthy community life, in which each member senses and responds to the needs of others.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 643