What has our view of corporate worship got to do with the problem of abuse in the church? Well, it struck me during a conversation on social media that it might have quite a bit. The discussion was about whether or not corporate worship is primarily horizontal or vertical. I intend to engage in a more detailed discussion of the debate later but a short summary will suffice here.
Those who emphasise the vertical axis in our gatherings say that our Sunday meetings are primarily acts of corporate worship where our focus is on our praise and petitions to the Lord. Those who emphasise the horizontal access argue that the main purpose of Sunday is our one another care for each other, we come to encourage and exhort as well as to be encouraged and exhorted. The latter arose out of two reactions to the former, first a fear that the modern worship movement with an emphasis on music drawing us into God’s presence was taking us back to pre-reformation superstitions and secondly a desire to emphasise the whole of life as worship.
My own view is that we may have drawn more of a dichotomy drawn between vertical and horizontal aspects of our gatherings than Scripture does. I will explain why in future articles. However, it did get me thinking. Is there a shallowness in our understanding and experience of the corporate gathering that contributes to the unhealthy cultures in which abusive behaviour breeds.
Why? Well because a faulty and shallow engagement with the gathering of the church may betray two dangers. The first is a failure to appreciate the value, dignity and worth of the church as Christ’s blood bought bride and its individual members made in his image and redeemed by Christ. The second is that we can lose a true sense of what is sometimes called “the weightiness of God’s the glory.” The result of this is a loss of anticipation, excitement and joy in the gathering of God’s people.
What happens then is two things. First of all, the abuser may excuse themselves as having become conditioned towards a low view of the victim and sadly, the victim of themselves. Secondly, given the shallowness of experience in public worship and a sense of distance from God, the offer by a charismatic leader of something that is seemingly intimate and we might also suggest in some way pseudo-transcendent becomes attractive. Combine this with the faulty view of atonement we mentioned previously where the abuser inserts himself into the place of mediator and we have quite a toxic mix.
Developing healthy church culture where our congregations become safe places of refuge requires a deeper grasp of the Doctrine of God, a functioning doctrine of humanity, a proper understanding of the Doctrine of the Church and a true experience of corporate worship.