One of Steely Dan’s more infectious tunes is “My Old School”:
Well, we went Old School Methodism on a couple of occasions yesterday as we finished up the “Elements” series.
In a highly interactive service, we began by asking why would a church ever ask people do something as private and personal as prayer in a group setting on a Sunday morning? In most people’s experience, corporate prayer — especially of the written & recited variety — is an opportunity for the brain to disengage even while the mouth is in gear.
As an example, we used a prayer that most United Methodist churches use at some point early on in their Sunday worship experiences:
“Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
However, even though it seemed we were setting up the straw man of coprporate, liturgical prayer whom we would then demolish by pointing out its irrelevance to modern times, we went old school.
The very fact that many of us ask the question — why would a church ever ask people to do something as private and personal as prayer in a group setting on a Sunday morning? — simply reveals how modern, Western, and individualistic our thinking has become.
In ancient times (when the bible was written!) there was no conception of a “private, personal faith.” There was no “me and Jesus.” Biblical faith is always in community and in conversation. It’s the same with biblical prayer. Ancients would look at our objection to corporate & liturgical prayer with amusement. “Don’t they know what the faith is really about?”
Even more to the point, when we read & recite prayers written hundreds of years ago, we acknowledge that God has greater concerns that merely what my mind can conceive of and what my tongue can articulate. We get connected to what is old and what is vast and what is emphatically not cool . . . and that’s very good.
So we concluded our interactive service yesterday by praying together another old school Methodist prayer: the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. It goes like this:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.