The Joy of Service?

What's in a word?

When I first came across a fully-fledged charismatic church - Clarendon Church (now Church of Christ the King) in Hove, its literature invited people to the "meetings" and to "come and praise the Living God." It's more common in charismatic churches now to be invited to a "service".

It's a small linguistic difference which perhaps reveals an important shift in thinking.

Meeting (I would prefer meating) is a functional word. It simply describes people coming together for a purpose.

Service, however, is a religious word, borrowed from the Roman Catholic mass. It's strange, therefore, to find it used so freely in evangelical and charismatic circles. Even in this latter context, it carries connotations of performance and ritual and of a special class of person officiating.

It's understandable why this shift has taken place. Few charismatic churches really practice every-member-participating meetings anymore. Many have settled for something less - quality worship music, Bible preaching and a "ministry time". In this context, the concept of a service is appropriate. It has a start and finish time, a running order and, like its Catholic counterpart, a certain predictability.

The Greek words most commonly translated "service" in English versions of the New Testament are diakonia, leitourgia and latreia. Diakonia comes from the world of household servants and is used of Martha's practical work in Luke 10:40. Paul employs the same term (in Romans 15: 31) to describe his task of bringing the financial gift he has gathered from the gentile churches to the poor among the believers in Jerusalem.

Leitourgia is used of the priestly service of Zechariah in Luke 1:23 and of the superior ministry Jesus has received as high priest (Heb 8:6). Paul describes the work of certain churches in the same way - the Corinthians' service of giving money to the poor (2 Cor 9:12) and the Philippians' help and service towards Paul himself (Phil 2:17, 30).

Latreia - from the word for a hired servant - is used in a variety of ways, including the reasonable act of giving ourselves to God (Rom 12:1) and the temple worship in the nation of Israel (Rom 9:4).

What is obviously missing from these uses of the service-group of Greek words is any use of them to describe a gathering of Christian believers as a local church.

It is certainly the case that as believers we serve God in the totality of our lives as we offer ourselves to him as living sacrifices, but there is no sense in the apostolic writings that we perform or attend a special religious service when we meet together. This usage, as I have suggested above, owes more to the Roman Catholic concept of the mass than the New Testament feel of believers gathering for a fellowship meal, to pray and to build each other up.

At least, that's how I see it.

No comments: