Baptist Worship Streams on Display at Solemn Assembly
It has been a challenge and a blessing to share some responsibility planning and helping to lead in the Regional Solemn Assemblies for Tennessee Baptists, the first of which was last week. Preparing for these gatherings has provided me reason and opportunity to reflect again upon the streams of Baptist worship tradition and practice. Let me explain just a bit. There are multiple influences that pour into Baptist thought and practice. We sometimes like to think that we are a direct product of the biblical era of the New Testament, but research indicates that multiple influences feed into our theological and liturgical stream of what it means to be a Baptist. I want to focus on the liturgical for the purposes of this article and the purposes of reflection upon these Solemn Assembly gatherings.
Most all Baptist History books reference two traditions in Baptist worship practice, the Sandy Creek and Charleston traditions. Charleston tradition, which came first, was a more formal, more intellectual practice of liturgy, and was at one time probably associated more closely with a Calvinist-leaning theological bent. The Sandy Creek tradition was more closely associated with the camp meeting, revivalist, frontier movement, and more closely associated with a Pentecostal, holiness bent. Some would disagree with this oversimplification, justifiably so, but generally this gives a broad stroke of what I want to mention in relation to the Solemn Assembly gatherings.
I have been planning these meetings in association with a dear brother in Christ, Don Pierson, the Kingdom Growth Team Leader and Prayer Strategist for Tennessee Baptist Convention. This has been a great joy for me, as Don has a passionate heart for prayer, for the lost, and for engaging with God as a very solemn and serious matter. I believe the Lord has drawn the two of us together with a common affinity for this seriousness when it comes to approaching the throne of Grace. We both seem to share a conviction that misguided pride has crept in to our denomination, and even our pastoral and worship leadership in our churches, and that the Holy Spirit desires that these be dealt with. We have approached the planning of the Solemn Assemblies in light of those deep convictions and concerns.
Early in our prayerful planning times we realized some differences in our approaches. Don is very much a revivalist in contemplating any gathering for prayer and renewal. I think it would not be unfair to say his tendencies would very much lean toward non-scripted, or loosely-structured environments for “doing business with God.” You might say he would fit in that Sandy Creek tradition side of the liturgical perspective. I, on the other hand, was schooled as a musician-theologian to value order that frames spiritual freedom. I spent many nights studying liturgical form and subsequently planning worship service orders with an eye toward balancing structure that gives order that gives rise to freedom. You might say this leaning would be toward a Charleston tradition within Baptist worship practice.
In the praying and planning and now in the actual leading of these Solemn Assemblies, I have found renewed exuberance in locking arms (and hearts) with my brother and fellow TBC colleague. Don’s desire for the presence and freedom of the Spirit to do a fresh work among His people gathered in these assemblies has been refreshing. Don has a good sensitivity to how and when conviction, confession, and subsequent periods of altar prayer may be needed. I so appreciate his heart and spirit in these matters. On the other hand, I have sought to suggest structure in a Gospel shape that will allow those gathered to engage with God, supported by elements associated with gathered worship that has liturgical (not a dirty word) structure whereby we seek to remember and be renewed by His presence among us.
Two streams, coming together, just as the two streams have flowed together among Baptists for generations, and God has blessed. In our deliberations, Don and me, I have always sensed an acute oneness with my brother. I believe this same oneness to be the intention of our Lord.
I hope many of you will join us in the remaining Solemn Assemblies at Loudon (this week) and at Jackson (29th), and that you will join in the privilege of leading the music of worship in the Solemn Assemblies. What a privilege to do so before our brothers and sisters in Christ who are pastors, wives, other church leaders, and those concerned for our denomination and state.