Graham Invitation
Just as I am without one plea,
but that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

This hymn has been sung countless times in churches, mission points, at evangelistic preaching events, and of course in Billy Graham crusades all around the world.  The pattern of revivalist worship that evolved from frontier days on the American plains was solidified in large part by the Graham crusades as they were broadcast through radio and television in the 1960’s to current day.  In my minds eye I can see the black and white broadcast picture of Cliff Barrows leading throngs of people with a choir of hundreds behind him clad in white shirts, singing Just As I Am, while throngs of responders streamed from the stands to take their place in front of the speaker platform.  Perhaps no other hymn has been sung as often in evangelical worship, and its singing is itself a means of response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as presented through God’s Word, the Bible.

In the previous two blog posts I have used the book, The Worship Architect, by Constance Cherry to distinguish between what she calls a “program worship” mindset and “participatory worship” mindset as it relates to the way we go about our corporate worship service, and especially how we function as hospitable worship leaders.  Dr. Cherry uses the building metaphor in her book, referencing four “walls” of worship as load-bearing walls.   The first “load bearing wall” was the Gathering of worship, the second load-bearing wall was the Word, and this week I want to address the third load-bearing wall, which is the Table, or as practiced more frequently in the Free Church tradition, Alternative Response.  Quite simply, this wall or fold of worship provides opportunity for the worshiper to worship in response to what God has spoke in the revealing of Himself through the Word.

Some faith traditions hold to a weekly “coming to the Table of our Lord.”  They recognize that first generation Christians celebrated this meal that Jesus instituted the night before His death.  Scripture indicates they engaged “day by day” as they met in the first Century (Acts 2:46).  Different theologies and scripture interpretations expressed by different faith traditions led to our different understandings and therefore our practices of worship at the Table.  My purpose here is not to once again exhaust these theologies, or even to revisit their implications for corporate worship. I would, however, encourage all worship leaders to study the Table, to embrace the historical understanding of your own faith tradition as it relates to the Lord’s Supper, and to deeply embrace that tradition as an act of Christian worship.  Before we get to the tensions of “program worship” versus “participatory worship” we must first grasp our own tradition’s practice related to this third “load-bearing wall.”  This is precisely because whereas some traditions believe this third wall is the Communion Table itself, most evangelicals, and certainly most Baptists would engage in what Constance Cherry and others refer to as “Alternative Response” as their third “load-bearing wall” in worship.  For those who do not practice weekly Communion the logical progression of worship leads the gathered body from Gathering into hearing of the Word and then forthrightly to a response to that word, which takes different forms as “Alternative Response.”

For Baptists and other evangelicals this response is known as “invitation,” because it is just that, an invitation to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The altar call is a time of open response inviting worshipers to hear the voice of the Master and respond as the Spirit leads.  As a rule the altar is open for those who desire to accept Christ for the first time, who want to join a particular body of believers as part of this local expression of the Body of Christ (the church), or who need to recommit their life in response to what the Spirit leads them to do on this particular day of worship.  These responses are rich opportunities for individuals.  The individual nature of the responses are clearly in keeping with the revivalist tradition which beckons to the individual worshiper.  While we would never negate the individual response in worship, we would, nonetheless, appeal to worship leaders to understand that response to the Word is also corporate in nature.

In her book Constance Cherry calls for worshipers to respond to the Word in corporate fashion, but hastens to remind us that in the earliest days of Christianity believers were encouraged at the same time to live lives worthy of their calling.  Dr Cherry beautifully unpacks the response to Peter’s sermon in the disciples’ worship setting in Acts 2.  She notes that there was an emotional response, “an outward expression of human pathos as a result of hearing the word.”  While certainly not the only means of response, we dare not shy away from the reality that humans are likely to respond in an emotional manner, and when they do this can be a biblical response to the Spirit’s Presence.  There well may be crying, laughter, groaning, clapping, shouting, and more.  In addition there was a spiritual response to the Word in terms of covenantal commitment among believers.  Repentance and formational change were obvious in Acts 2 and can be seen in worship response today.  Another means of response noted is symbolic response in which gestures, postures, and imagery portray our response to God.  Walking down the aisle, raising of hands in reply, kneeling, standing, or other gestures may well serve as means of indicating worshipers’ response to what God has spoken to His church.  Finally, the author notes action response to worship whereby a worshiper carries forth life involvements in response to what he or she has been challenged to in worship.  Signing up to serve in the soup kitchen may not seem very sanctimonious for some, but church leaders have found a way to provide commitment to such actions as a means of worship response.

Worship planners can enhance this important aspect of worship by carefully studying and praying the scriptures upon which the spoken Word will be centered.  Obviously, when a worship song or hymn will be sung as part of response careful selection is paramount as the people of God make their response to God in the Spirit.  Prayerful thinking about ways to underscore the corporate nature of response as well as provision for personal response may well inspire more creative means of the response portion of our worship.  It is opportunity to remind worshipers that we rest in the ultimate Worship Leader, Who is Jesus.  Notice in the response hymn that the heavy lifting belongs to Jesus.  Our part is simply to come to Him.  He is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  This is how we meaningfully can sing,

            Just as I am, Thy love unknown
            Hath broken every barrier down,
            Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
            O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church keyboard players, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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