Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

Two Generations Went Up to Pray (Mar-Apr 2002)

Filed under: — @ 12:10 am and

by Greg Taylor
March – April, 2002

Harry and Mary Sue Smith arrived 30 minutes before early worship service. Harry fought in Korea and hated to be late for church. Mary Sue prayed for Harry while he fought in Korea, rarely missed inviting guests home for Sunday lunch and hated when her roast would burn because the service went long.
A teenaged girl was baptized in early service and the fact that Harry had just repaired the baptistry heater was the least of the reasons he was proud–Harry had also taught the teenager’s father about Christ 39 years ago. He used a five-part filmstrip.
More than the usual number of church members were sick this March day, and Bridgett Allen, an expressive and creative 22-year-old speech therapist who arrived the nano-second the late service began, quickly skimmed the sea of strange names on the list. To Mary Sue Smith, on the other hand, the hospitalized list was a patchwork quilt of lives she had mended and fed.
Bridgett anticipated the worship, a contemporary version of the early traditional service. She preferred to keep her hands free to raise to God, rather than hold a hymnal as they did in the early service. Bridgett’s friend, Will Johnson, told Bridgett that “hymnals were a crutch; I want authentic worship from the heart and on PowerPoint,” he said.
Will taught class and often spoke about the importance of story as the way to proclaim the gospel. He had not, however, shared the gospel story with anyone outside the church walls. Bridgett’s and Will’s hearts were full of emotion and desire to be disciples, and they spoke often of starting an inner city ministry.
Young Will thought old Harry was a bit stodgy and didn’t discuss ministry methods or theology with him because he didn’t want to offend his conservative sensibilities. Had Will gone with Harry on his weekly ministry visit to the Veterans Hospital and county jail, however, he would have seen Harry’s “old-fashioned” faith in action.
Harry listened to the songs of the contemporary service as he counted the collection and Mary Sue cleaned up communion trays. They worried that the younger generation would forget their old favorite hymns, that the church was moving in the wrong direction. Most urgently, the Smiths were concerned that the younger generation would forget the Christian doctrines they considered vital to faith. The Smiths thought raising hands in the worship was showy and they failed to see the point when quiet reverence seemed more appropriate for worship.
Bridgett and Will went to Chili’s after church with a group of five. They enjoyed their fellowship, despite the noise in the restaurant, and they even confessed sins and faith struggles over lunch. They talked about dreams each of them had for making worship come alive in their church, for drama and music to accent a sermon on the same topic. Will wanted to see the poor and minorities to feel comfortable in an open church environment, but he wasn’t sure how to attract them nor did he know anyone who was currently ministering to those downtown. The group split the bill and forgot to tip.
Harry and Mary Sue left the traditional worship and Brigett and Will left the contemporary service all with that slightly smug feeling that they had been good enough to attend worship and could put a notch in their pew for the week. Yet secretly each wondered how those in the other service could really call what they did true worship. They lacked the boldness to callously thank God outright that they were not like those other worshippers but passively disapproved of their faith all the same, to say nothing of their attitude toward those in churches down the street.
To some who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14, NIV).
Is one generation or denomination more justified before God than the other? The answer to this question depends more upon our attitude in worship and prayer than it does upon examining and dissecting lives of others.
Notice the way Luke introduces the story: “To some who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.” All the doctrinal correctness of the Pharisee was not enough to inoculate him from his own pride. All of the sins of the tax collector could not repulse God’s justifying grace, because the man humbled himself before God. Being nondenominational and loyal to Christ alone is not a marketing choice nor a liberal choice. Christ’s parable calls us not to be confident in our own righteousness and look down on everybody else but to collectively cry out for God’s mercy side by side as the tax collectors and Pharisees that we are.
New Wineskins

Greg TaylorGreg Taylor is managing editor of New Wineskins, a former missionary in Uganda, and now an associate minister for spiritual formation, outreach and small groups at Garnett Road Church of Christ in Tulsa. He is married to Jill and they have three children. [Journey With Greg Taylor Blog]. E-mail him at .


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