Monday, October 20, 2008

Reflections on Worship: Scholer Memorial and Other Special Gatherings

I'm currently auditing a course on Presbyterian Creeds in an effort to prepare to retake the ordination exam that gave me trouble over half a decade ago. There are several reasons why I'm getting back into this now, but that's a subject for another time. I bring it up here to mention that one of the aspects of Reformed theology (and specifically that of John Calvin) that has been emphasized in the course is the fact that the primary purpose of worship is to give God what God is due--what God is worth (The word "worship," itself, comes from an Old English word that is, essentially, "worth-ship"). We gather together for worship because, put simply, God deserves it. This is the primary consideration, well before any attention is to be given to what we, as humans "get out of" the service.

David Scholer Memorial ProgramThis reality can be obscured even at the best of times, but I expect that it's a particularly difficult thing to keep in mind for worship gatherings clearly scheduled for some obvious "other" purpose. An example may be drawn from the memorial service Fuller had for David Scholer last week (Despite David's passing more than a month ago, the memorial service had to wait for classes to begin on campus, and for a few other items to be taken care of first). I had a unique window into the planning of this service, as my wife is Assistant Director of Chapel at Fuller, and was specifically charged with planning out and executing the details of this event (on top of all that, she also was asked to give the homily! Needless to say, she was pretty exhausted when it was all over Thursday afternoon!).

A funeral or a memorial service has the obvious purpose of providing a space for remembering the person who has died, and to provide an outlet for grief. Allowing these purposes to take priority is an obvious temptation, and as positive and beneficial as they are, it would still be the wrong thing to do. This is still a worship gathering. A worship gathering's primary purpose must always be to give glory to God.

When the person being remembered was such a strong Christian as David Scholer, a person who let God be seen in his life in so many ways, it becomes much easier to keep those priorities straight. God is glorified through the actions of David's life and ministry, and such a service may draw attention to this with little difficulty. (Fuller has put up an article describing the service, with several quotes from the various speakers, here.)

But I wonder about how giving glory to God may be given priority when the subject of a funeral may not have been a Christian, or when the course of the person's life is more ambiguous. I also wonder about how giving God glory may be given properly central attention in other "special" services, such as a wedding (especially if the couple has a less-than-clear Christian commitment), or if the more mundane Sunday gatherings actually pose the most difficulty of all simply because of the day-to-day "sameness" to it all.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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