I am in the third week on a sermon series in Transformation Worship at First UMC Cedar Falls called “I Believe…” It is a sermon series based on the outline of doctrines taught in the Apostles’ Creed. (If you want to remind yourself of the content of the creed click on the tab “ecumenical creeds” at the top of my blog.) The series is in a response to a request that I preach about basic Christian beliefs. I cannot think of a simpler easier to understand summary than the Apostles’ Creed.
A lot of Christians do not realize that in the same time frame in which the ecumenical creeds were being formulated to answer doctrinal issues of the day the church was also deciding which books would end up in the canon. The canon is the list of books which are found in the Bible. In particular the Nicene Creed and issues around the incarnation of Christ were very much a part of the discussion at that time.
The canon didn’t just drop out of the sky. The Church chose books which were in use of the church, were believed to have Apostolic authorship or connections, and which taught the faith of Jesus Christ as taught by the church, Christ, and his Apostles.
The Discipline of the United Methodist Church declares that the scriptures are the primary source for our doctrine and that we utilize scripture, tradition, experience, and reason as we work out our faith life together. It is important that we have these bedrock teachings on which to give a basic foundation to our faith. Certainly there is a lot of room for differences of viewpoint and understanding. But there needs to be a basic outline of agreement which defines what it means to be Christian just as the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith of the EUB outline for us what it means to be United Methodists.
I believe that these faith statements are vital because connect us with the historical church, they remind us of the priorities of faith of the early church, and they give us a framework on which to begin the difficult and important task of Biblical interpretation.
In the coming weeks I will be preaching about Christ’s death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit, what it means to be part of the holy catholic church, and finally the eternal life which we can all experience through the love and grace of Christ.
While someone may think that a sermon series of basic Christian doctrine could be dull, it should not be. We should be excited to talk about what we believe and how it has changed and is changing our lives!
As we enter the Advent Season this coming Sunday we will be lighting Advent Candles to commemorate the season in Transformation Worship. So why do we celebrate Advent and light Advent Candles in a Contemporary worship service. Isn’t contemporary worship about worshipping in a way that isn’t traditional? Well, not exactly.
Contemporary Worship is about finding ways to share the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a post-modern audience. It is about finding ways to communicate the old old story of Jesus Christ and God’s love for us in new ways. But contemporary worship is not about tossing aside the gospel in favor in order to contemporary.
So, how do you tell what activities in worship are to be updated to make worship contemporary and what things do we do in worship that always remain? We have to understand that the same basic elements of worship that are found in a meaningful traditional service are also found in a meaningful contemporary service. In both forms of worship we pray, we sing praises to God, we share joys and concerns, we study the scriptures, we share in gospel music with musicians in the service, we he the message of the gospel preached, and we share in the Sacraments.
What is different is not the foundational content of worship but instead it is a matter of style and context. In a Contemporary service the goal is to connect with the current culture. So music is in a style that fits styles of music that are most popular today. Sermons should confront, as much as possible, contemporary issues that people are dealing with today. In Contemporary Worship you try to avoid insider language that only active and long time Christians will understand.
Even the way people dress in Contemporary Worship is geared to fit the current relaxed nature of fashion in our culture. The pulpit robes and albs worn by some pastors in traditional worship are actually based on academic garb and on street clothes worn by an average person in the day in which pastors began to wear such clothing. So in contemporary worship a more relaxed dress fits our more relaxed culture.
However, Contemporary worship must continue to preach the same gospel of Jesus Christ, teach the same doctrines, and emphasize a view of history that is Christ centered rather than culture centered. So why do we continue to light Advent Candles even in a Contemporary worship service? Because we as Christians need to put the Christian year and the Christian calendar above the secular calendar. We need to remember that Advent and Christmas are foremost about the coming of Jesus Christ in the world. And no matter how “contemporary” or “post-modern” we may get, we are here to teach the same gospel which Jesus brought to the world centuries ago.
Out in front of my house, one of First UMC’s parsonages, I see a freshly paved street. The road crew for Cedar Falls is near completing new curbs and pavement for the street between my house and the church. On one hand it is a completely new street. They tore out the old curbs, they put in new gravel, the poured new asphalt. It is brand new, not even striped yet. But on the other hand it is still a street and still has the same purpose of any street.
The same is true with worship and our new Transformation Worship Service. Transformation, the contemporary worship experience at First United Methodist Church, is in a new location. And even that location is going to begin going through some exciting changes. The first of these is that in the next several weeks construction will begin on a new stage and storage facilities for Scott Hall (our worship venue) which will provide the Transformation experience with a new permanent central stage for the Praise Band and for preaching and leading worship.
In preparation for making room for construction we’ll be moving our current portable stage to another part of the room changing the shape of our worship space yet again. We are also working in different ways to update our worship experience, work on the logistics of a new service location, and seeking to figure out how we can make our worship one that helps us to focus on our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
But, what we are doing is still worshipping God. We will still be singing, we will still be praying, we will stil be reading the scriptures, and we will still be sharing in the sacraments. So while Contemporary worship has stylistic elements that are different from our two traditional worship opportunities we still have the same purpose we have always of seeing that, as the song says, we see Jesus lifted high!
So that effects how we change and how we don’t change. When we make changes in the coming months it will be for the purpose of lifting up the faith of Jesus Christ, helping us worship God, helping us grow in our faith as Christians, and helping us to leave worship to go out into the world to serve others in the name of Christ! Changes won’t be willy nilly or just change for the sake of change. But worship change has to match the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!
Tomorrow is the first Sunday for the Transformation Worship Experience at First United Methodist Church of Cedar falls, Iowa. Worship begins at 8:30 a.m. followed by fellowship and the opportunity to attend Bible study as part of the FUMC Sunday School program.
As part of our worship we will be sharing together in the sacrament of Holy Communion, we will sing praises together, read from the scriptures, and celebrate God’s transforming grace in our lives!
If you are in the Cedar Falls area please come be our guest for the inaugural Sunday of this new worship experience.
Last night the Contemporary Worship Design Team at First United Methodist Church chose a name for our new contemporary worship experience which will begin September 5th at 8:30 a.m. The worship time will be called “Transformation.” The name Transformation was chosen because it reminds us of the transforming power of Jesus Christ to bring us His redemptive love and grace, to give us the grace to grow as Christians and to transform our lives into the kind of people God wants us to be.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2
When we begin Transformation it will be a new worship gathering, in a new location in the church, at a new time, with a new order or worship and a new and fresh opportunity for us to worship together.
I am very excited with the work that the Transformation Worship Design Team is doing and will be doing in the coming weeks as we prayerfully work to make this a gathering that will glorify God, help our church to worship the living Christ, and allow us to invite new friends into our church fellowship!
Let’s Be Transformed!