Yesterday, I told you about my very good friend Dr. Joe Schafer, a frequent commenter on this blog spot. I also told you a bit about his ministry with University Bible Fellowship (UBF) at Penn State University. Joe continues to encourage me as he responds to me as a friend, and to the kingdom vision of ACT 3. He is working hard to create a missional-ecumenical kingdom focused context for mission and unity in State College. I hope to somehow help in this process at the right time. For now I pray for Joe specifically, and in general for the body of Christ in this great university town.
One of Joe’s recent efforts has been to create a Web presence to foster this missional-ecumenism. I will tell you more about this in a moment but here is the remainder of Joe’s reflections upon our time this summer in a UBF conference at James Madison University:
As you have pointed out, the most poignant moment in this worship came when it became explicitly Trinitarian. One of our students, Greg Impink, addressed prayers of worship directly to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each prayer was followed by a song directed to that person of the Trinity. After the song, we invited members of the audience to come forward to the microphone to offer explicit prayers to that person. No one seemed uncomfortable when praying to the Father. But praying to the Son, and especially to the Holy Spirit, seemed unfamiliar and even awkward. (Someone asked me later: “Is it okay to pray to the Holy Spirit?” I answered, “If he’s fully God, why not?”) In many cases, we lapsed into their familiar stance of praying to the Father or to the generic “Lord.” Nevertheless, the prayers were sincere, heartfelt and wide. Many of us were moved to tears. Our praise and worship lasted almost 90 minutes. When it was over, people looked different. We were refreshed. We were joyful. We spoke with kindness and love toward one another. It was not because we were riding an emotional high. It was because we had been truly united in loving and worshiping God. This was a powerful and practical demonstration of the vital role of worship in Christian community.
On Sunday morning, after you left the conference, we held our Sunday worship service. Ending a conference with Sunday worship is our standard practice. At past conferences, the Sunday worship has had the same look and feel as the other conference sessions, with prayer, hymns and an expository Bible message. This time, however, we did things a little differently. People wore nice clothes. We did not begin with contemporary praise songs but with a moment of silence followed by a Trinitarian prayer of confession and absolution. We included a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. And we ended with a benediction offered by the director of our Washington chapter, Pastor Jacob Lee. (In fact, we were consciously following the four-fold pattern of Christian worship described by Robert Webber.) The message, “I Confer On You a Kingdom,” was based on Luke’s account of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:7-30). It focused on the Lord’s Supper as a sign of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood and as a sign of the inheritance that Jesus will bestow on us at the final unveiling of his kingdom. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper was something that we have rarely done. Some of our members were skeptical of its value. But afterward, those doubts were gone. The worship service had no contemporary praise music, only traditional hymns. But our younger members didn’t mind. All of us, young and old, appreciated the worship and the Lord’s Supper. I am an intellectual person who is not easily swayed by emotional experience. I tended to think that Communion was “just a ceremony.” For the first time, I began to see it as much more. I could begin to see the connections between Communion and community. It is not easy to put into words. And I have much more to learn about this. But I now know that celebrating Communion in the right way (and, of course, there is no single right way) has great value for the church, more than I previously realized.
After returning to State College, I did some more reading and reflecting on what I had seen. The basic conclusion I reached is this: Worship is more basic to the Christian life than evangelism and missions. As a 27-year member of UBF, that is not easy for me to say. It is something that many of our members and leaders would probably disagree with. Evangelism and discipleship has been the hallmark of UBF, and anything that seems to diminish their importance might be seen as backsliding or losing our direction. But choosing between worship and evangelism is not merely, as President Obama might say, a false choice. It is an impossible choice. When we neglect worship:
• It becomes difficult to see the kingdom of God,
• It becomes difficult to point others to the kingdom of God,
• We easily fall into the trap of simply trying to build our own ministries,
• We lose the spiritual component of our fellowship, and
• We lack the strength and motivation to evangelize.
As Newbigin has written, evangelism does not begin with obedience to the command of Jesus. If it did, then it would be part of the Old Testament law rather than the gospel. Rather, evangelism starts with the “explosion of joy” that comes from knowing the risen Christ and experiencing the kingdom of God firsthand. And worship is the very essence of this kingdom. We have no knowledge of the kingdom if we do not worship. Finally, there is the most basic reason of all:
• God does not want our acts of service. He wants us.
This conference was truly important for me personally. It may turn out to be important for other UBF members as well. Time will tell. I do want you to know that God used you and your ministry to bless us and to teach us many things that we truly did not know.
After the conference, I went to the ACT 3 website and started reading your weekly commentaries. (I had actually read some of them before. But for some strange reason, I had forgotten that this website existed and had only been reading your daily blog.) When I saw the wealth of material that was there, I realized how valuable this resource was for a person like me who has been placed in a position of leadership but lacks systematic training in theology and church history. And my wife, who loves to read this kind of stuff, got even more excited. She wanted to wrestle me away from the computer so that she could read them first. Then she had a brilliant idea: “Let’s print out all these articles and go away someplace and read them all!” Our three boys were not at home; after the conference, they had gone to North Carolina to stay with our UBF friends there. We were free to come and go as we pleased. So I printed out
about 60 of your commentaries, including last year’s 10-week series on the Trinity. We packed up an overnight bag, got in the minivan, and drove to Gettysburg, which is about two and a half hours away. We got a room at a Civil Wa
r era bed-and-breakfast with
a lovely garden. We sat in the garden for hours, reading as many articles as we could digest in one afternoon, one evening and one morning. We compared what you had written to things we have learned from our own Bible study and ministry experiences. We talked and laughed and learned from you and from one another. Over our 19 years of marriage, we have taken quite a few honeymoons. This was the best one yet.
When Anita read Joe’s comments she laughed and said I can’t imagine going on a weekend with you and reading so much of your material. I can’t either. But then I am my worst critic and she is my editor (not of these blogs so blame all these mistakes entirely on me). I am amazed that Joe found so much in them of benefit and obviously gratified by that knowledge.
Since July Joe and I have met again, at our recent Biblical Forum here in Chicago. He has recently informed me of a new venture at Penn State through a Web site for unity and mission for local groups. You can check this out at www.psuseed.com. I would love to see such sites and ministries spread all over the country around college towns and ministries. What a great application of the missional-ecumenical vision.
If you have a story about missional-ecumenism that will inspire and teach others please share it with me. I want to connect as many such faithful Christians as possible. This is a core value of my life and the mission of ACT 3. You can check out the mission and ministry of UBF at their international Web site. There you will find some of my addresses to UBF as well as links to some local presentations made to the Chicago UBF, which is the home base of the whole mission.