Visit to a Missionary Baptist Church – They Got the Spirit Part Down

I believe this is from Luther on Worship or it may be from In the Name of Jesus. Jesus says worship must be in Spirit and in Truth. The latter tells us that true worship must be according to the Bible’s revealed truth. The former tells us true worship can’t be devoid of Spirit-driven feelings and emotions. St. Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church definitely has the Spirit part down.

I know what you’re thinking. How can they be Spirit-driven when they have decision theology, some name and claim it going on, and recognize no Means of Grace that deliver the Gospel? Well, insofar as they lack these they aren’t Spirit-driven, but insofar as they confessed the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Jesus, that only Jesus saves (They were weak in confessing how He does, but plain as day at saying ONLY He does.) they were. With evident joy, enthusiasm (in a non-Schwarmerei sense), and boldness, they worshiped in Truth but particularly in Spirit.

Music was the background of all praying, some speaking, and even some announcing.  There is a liturgy of sorts. A versicle and response runs through the whole service by means of “Amens,” “clapping”, “say it” and “bring it” done in response to what was being said. There was no congregational singing. I don’t think the selections were contemporary worship ones, but they suffered from the same shallowness. For example, one had the repeated line “Jesus I will never forget what you have done for me.” Unlike the contemporary songs I have heard, this at least mentioned Jesus as the doer, but it didn’t ever tell you just what Jesus has done for you.

The service had marks of what we call contemporary worship, but I sensed, with the possible exception of the liturgical dance, that this was how Missionary Baptists have always worshiped. The liturgical dance was done by 9 young women dressed in modest attire. The music was a recorded song. The dance was choreographed to the music which was rhythmic but not rock. And even a deaf person would have realized that the dance expressed the truth that there was no help from self or earth but only from God above.

The people were definitely dressed in their Sunday Best; there was nary a flip-flop or pair of shorts in sight. All the men, who were in there 30’s and 40’s, wore either a shirt and tie or a suit. And whole people who come late to my services think nothing of coming in during prayer or sermon, this congregation held people outside and only let them in at designated times.

The sermon was a full 45 minutes in length. It was on a harmony of the Gospels based on Jesus’ visit to Nazareth. There was no reference to Jesus’ vicarious keeping of the Law or atoning for the sins of the world. But the pastor accurately explicated the text. He even accurately stated that Jesus had objective power to heal anyone, and even described faith as only a means of receiving. However, he distinguished “trying to believe” from “believing,” something confessionals Lutherans don’t do. And at the end of the day he made faith into a power.

Though the pastor preached for 45 minutes, he kept at least 90% of the congregation with him. I think on my best Sunday I don’t even approach 50%. But could I say, should I say as he did, “You don’t believe and that’s why you fall asleep in church.”? And I would never say but he did, “Much prayer; much power.” I could say, but don’t, at least explicitly, “Much power from God in Christ received in faith; much prayer unto God in Jesus’ name.” Perhaps if I did I would find more indications of a regular prayer life among my people? What I am asking is: have I spent so much time preaching and teaching that prayer is NOT a Means of Grace that I have made it into an adiaphoron?

Color me charismatic, paint me unorthodox, call me a liberal but I came away from this two-hour worship service with this verse from TLH #2 ringing in my ears. “From Thy house when I return, / May my heart within me burn/ And at evening let me say, /’I have walked with God today.’” This feeling could be because I was nostalgic for the worship I led twenty-some years ago for the soldiers of the 122nd Support Group, 4 out of the 5 units were African-American, but I don’t think so. The people of God were in this place with limited amounts of His Truth but lots of His Spirit.

About Rev. Paul R. Harris

Ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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