Article XXI-The Church-The Language of Worship

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶122 The Church–The Language of Worship

According to the Word of God and the custom of the early church, public worship and prayer and the administration of the sacraments should be in a language understood by the people.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Nehemiah 8:5, 6, 8; Matthew 6:7; 1 Corinthians 14:12-14.

The history of this short Article goes back to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation (something that “officially” began on October 31, 1517–exactly 500 years ago this year!). Prior to the Reformation, and even shortly after it, services were only conducted in Latin. Only the educated knew Latin any more, and the majority of people in Europe were not educated. Therefore most people did not understand one word during a worship service in the Church. Part of the Reformation was to not only have the Bible translated into local languages (English, German, French, etc.), but to have the worship services conducted in those languages. That is why this Article originally was created.

In more recent years it has been used as a basis for not allowing the speaking of tongues in worship or public prayer. In fact, the scriptural reference from 1 Corinthians gets to exactly that point. The Free Methodist Church does not deny the gift of tongues, but it does not encourage it within the context of worship. Most people who feel that speaking in tongues is an essential part of worship are already in congregations that feel the same way, so this still does not have much contemporary relevance on this topic.

The one place where this Article still has a need to speak to us today is with the topic of rhythmic and symbolic language. In other words, what types of music are appropriate for worship, and what types of symbolism or ritual is appropriate for worship? If we take this Article for what it says, our worship services ought to communicate the Gospel in such a way that people understand what is being said/sung/done. If they do not understand those things, then the worship service might just as well be in Latin.

This cuts both forwards and backwards. Younger generations do not understand much of what was in services years ago, and faithful older generations do not understand much of what is in services today. I adamantly maintain that worship is not evangelism–worship is God-focused and evangelism is people-focused–but there has to be pastoral consideration in trying to communicate what is happening in worship for the people who attend. If a group of refugees arrived from Syria in one of our congregations, we would try to communicate in Arabic so that they could worship. If younger people arrive in our congregations we have to communicate in a way they can understand. If older people arrive in our congregations we have to communicate in a way they can understand.

This puts the burden of thought, prayer, and action on the pastor and those involved in worship planning. Simply choosing to have a “traditional” or a “contemporary” service is a cop-out when it comes to having a worship service in a language that the people understand.

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