Question:

Dear Bro. Hamilton,

I live in a rural area and worship at a non-institutional congregation that's an hour away.  This morning I completely failed to prepare properly and ran out of time to make it to Bible study and worship service in time (I won't be making that mistake again). I stopped to worship where the church of Christ meets in a nearby small town.  They seemed to at least follow the same pattern of worship until they came to a what they called "Old Testament Responsive Reading" just before the sermon.  The preacher would say the first line of Psalm 34 and then all of the congregation would respond with the next line of the psalm and repeat for the next several verses.  I didn't participate but just sat quietly.  It seems to me like an attempt to add worship patterns from the Old Testament.  All that was missing were the silver trumpets.  I had to look this up when I got home and from what I can tell it seems to be a Calvinistic practice of "call to worship".

I know liberal congregations can get way out there. I've seen and heard of many strange practices adopted from denominations but I've never heard of this one. It sure is discouraging.

Have you heard of such a practice as this one taking place in the liberal-minded congregations of the church of Christ?

Answer:

There is a strong tendency to condemn any practice that is different or unfamiliar to us. We assume that since we haven't been doing things that way, then it must be wrong.

I still remember the dismay expressed when a man did not wear a suit when serving the Lord's Supper. It didn't matter that suits had been going out of fashion for a while and many people no longer owned suits. What people were upset about was that it wasn't the way it had been done. Did anyone stop to think that Jesus didn't wear a business suit? In fact, the business suit was a relatively modern clothing style. But tradition had set in and too often traditions get bound as if they are God's law (Matthew 15:1-9).

Whether some group or denomination uses a practice tells us nothing about whether it is right or wrong. Authority must be based on the Scriptures.

What must be done when you face something different is to ask pointedly if there is some law of Christ being violated or is it just different from what you are used to doing. Readings of the Scriptures has been a part of New Testament worship. "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching" (I Timothy 4:13). Though speaking spiritually, Paul does emphasize the unity in which we speak God's teachings. "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5-6). And reading God's Word does give God glory.

Readings in the Old Testament were done both as an individual reading (Nehemiah 8:2-3) and as a group (Nehemiah 8:8). We also find examples where a psalm appears to be a responsive song or chant, such as Psalms 136.

Since all the people are responding, this isn't a concern of women taking on authority in the worship. It is no different than women singing along with the rest of the congregation.

Therefore, even though there is not a direct command or example of congregational readings or responsive readings, such do fall under the command of having public readings and so become ways to fulfill the command which do not violate other teachings in the Bible.

Response:

Bro. Hamilton,

Thank you for the response; it helped me understand and to see myself more clearly.  I don't want to be someone who condemns a practice just because it's different than what I'm used to.  I think because I've seen practices take place elsewhere which are so clearly contrary to scripture that I've become overly cautious toward anything different. Plus, it's not thinking the best of my brethren from the start if I assume their motives are wrong instead of understanding fully how God's word applies to it. I'll examine myself more closely and continue to study and grow because I definitely don't want to use my personal opinions as the measuring stick for determining what is right or wrong in God's eyes.

Thanks again for helping me. I really appreciate it.

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