RVWD is my abbreviation for Religious Vocabulary Word of the Day. (You can read my introduction to the RVWD series here.) I do not intend for these word investigations to be exhaustive, but I hope they stimulate some thinking about assumptions. Possibly they will help with honest evaluations about what is truth and what is unnecessary baggage in life.
The word service is such a basic word. We pay for services, like having our plumbing worked on or getting a massage. We evaluate the quality of the service when we eat out at a restaurant. In instances like those just mentioned, it is pretty easy to understand that the meaning centers around something being done by one person(s) for another person(s).
There are 15 definitions of service in my dictionary (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition). Most of them are along the continuum of doing something to or for someone, but with varying degrees of freedom involved. A slave or soldier can be required to perform a service. The government can serve you papers, indicating it is forcing an action on your part. A service can be paid for, as mentioned above. For the sports enthusiasts, a ball can be served (here, take that!) to the competition. On the other end of the spectrum, an advantage can be given to someone, and called a service, but the recipient does not have to do anything to qualify or pay for it.
Entry number 5 seems to be the one that applies to church service. This somewhat oddball definition of service is: “ceremony”, which is a formal act or set of acts established by custom or authority… This seems to be historically accurate for the church service. The modern institutionalized church habits have been shown to be patterned after a combination of Roman governmental protocol, Greek entertainments, and the marketing ideas of frontier camp meetings.
This is not to say that any fellowship among Christians is limited to exact replicas of what we can read about the early church. However, it would seem to suggest that there is nothing inherently spiritual or even useful about the ceremony that is called a “church service.” It may be comfortable to those who are used to it or are convinced it is a measure of their Christian commitment, but any genuine examination of the message from God reveals there is no ceremony required to keep up our place in His heart. We do not need to be continually grasping for our salvation, like it might slip through our fingers if we relax our spiritual attitude for a moment.
The modern church service may, in fact, be very poor use of time for those who want to really get to know and encourage fellow Christians (which is the main injunction to fellow Christians). The church service greatly limits interaction. Again, this doesn’t mean that there might not be some relationship with the people in the pews or rows (and rows) of chairs. But this is not happening during the service. If there is time left over in people’s schedules, after the service, it happens then.
We could get into some different descriptions that organizations use to market their particular service, but the fact is that service is still the generic term. All of these weekly events follow basically the same outline, though some are louder than others… If the people are discouraged from free movement because of spiritual protocol, are expected to do (say, greet, pray) what the person in front says, and/or are given the impression that their Christianity is in question if they do not take part in an order of worship somewhere, it is a ritualistic ceremony, or service.
It may be the very lack of freedom for of all the members of the body of Christ that makes people feel so dependent on some parts of the service, including the oration. The religious authorities running things, intentionally or not, exert a lot of control over how every one else behaves. It limits the functional growth of most of the Christians because they look to a spiritual authority, thinking they themselves could never really attain such a level of faith.
This is different than recognizing the spiritual maturity of those around you. It is forced. Maybe we’ll get to discussing that in another post. For now, I suggest that if you are interested in thinking more about this you might read Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices