Wednesday, September 26, 2012
NEW WORSHIP IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Definitions are completely necessary and constantly dangerous. Necessary, because to talk and act on a level playing field with each other we have to define things. Dangerous, because, well, let me say it in a quote, "Every definition is dangerous because when you give a simple and precise one you often end up missing significant aspects of the word defined." This is certainly true concerning the subject of my writing today. I'm talking about worship, and since the before mentioned danger may apply here, and it does, I want to tread softly.
What is worship? That's difficult to answer. One person said in his book entitled "Worship is a Verb" that true worshippers are never spectators in the scriptures because they are either hearing Him with the rapt attention He deserves or they are speaking to Him with the reverence, gratitude, and joy He deserves. That is certainly food for thought, but, maybe an illustration of the above quote about why definitions are dangerous.
Major Ian Thomas said this in a message that I heard him deliver, "Worship is simply obedience." His message was taken from the Abraham/Isaac incident where Abraham, speaking to his servants telling them to wait as he was going to slay his son, used the words "the lad and I will go yonder and worship" [He did not know of the ram] Abraham and Ian Thomas were right. Worship IS obedience. There is no greater worship than living a life of loving obedience. This is what Paul was referencing perhaps when he called it "our reasonable service" [the word is worship] in Romans 12 where he spoke of the presenting of our bodies a living sacrifice.
The word 'worship' as a verb means to treat or show the worth or value of someone. As a noun is speaks of the ways that reverence is shown. The Hebrew word for worship emphasizes bowing down or to do homage to God while the Greek words emphasize kissing the hand of or to serve. Putting it all together you have worship involving all that we are__our attitudes__our emotions__our actions__our mind__and our will responding to all He is and does. In worship we are occupied with God not ourselves.
The way we worship is a different thing altogether. Moving from recognizing that life itself is to be lived as worship and we are to live it in loving obedience thereby truly worshipping Him, I want to now discuss the ways and means we may use to express that worship of Him. More than that, I'm going to look at the ways and means we may have of worshipping Him together or corporately as the people of God. You could even call it 'styles' of worship or the 'manner' in which we do worship corporately. How do we do worship as a body of believers?
But first I want to address the two basic and, it even seems to me , intrinsic modes that people follow in corporate worship. [Or private too for that matter.] The first is what I call a 'performance' mode. We perform assuming God is the audience and as He observes us He desires we do what we are doing right and well. Then there is the 'relational' mode. We relate to Him and each other as persons present and involved in the moment. One lends itself to doing things correctly. [As if there were a standard] The other lends itself to relating to Him and others with relational authenticity. I opt for the second as you will not be surprised I'm sure, based on what Jesus said in John 4 about the hour coming and now is when they that truly worship will not worry about where [this mountain or Jerusalem] or even what you are doing, [sacrifices and feast days] but it will be in spirit and truth or relating in intimacy and truthfulness with God and each other. [John 4:20-26]
Now with the grunt work done, maybe we can address the title on this particular blog post.
But let me ask a question first. Who says we have to gather at 11:00 am on Sunday? Someone will remind me I'm sure that in the NT they gathered on the first day of the week. That's true. But where is it illustrated much less commanded in scripture that corporate worship is be on Sunday morning? You do realize that is a cultural concept__right? The early American culture, following after the European cultures, was basically rural and the people had to milk the cows, feed the chickens and do chores generally, before anything else, so they set a time well into the morning that allowed for such.
In the NT culturally they undoubtedly met in the evening since we find that Paul preached one of his longer sermons and that tired young man fell asleep and fell out the window, but the sermon hadn't lasted all day. Only mine tend to do that. It's good to also remember that Sunday, or the first day of the week, was a work day in the Roman Empire.
Also, Sunday gatherings, for the early Church, had nothing to do with keeping the Sabbath as Sunday was never the 'Sabbath day' in the Jewish calendar, Their gathering was a celebration of the resurrected and living Lord on the first day of the week. In fact, in the New Covenant, every day is the Sabbath for all who are in Christ as we are resting in an Eternal Sabbath. [Hebrews shows this clearly.]
So, the where and when of corporate worship is left unstated in the NT entirely. The only reference to a 'where' is Hebrews 10:25 where the 'do not forsake the assembling' speaks of it. This 'assembling' is NOT ekklesia. It is a word from which 'synagogue' is derived. It's the only reference to a place we have in the NT since 'ekklesia' does not speak of a place but people and their purpose. In effect, it means wherever you gather [the where is not stated] and whenever you gather [the when is not stated either] don't neglect it. [Whatever neglect means in terms of attendance is not stated either.] You see, there is not much emphasis on 'going' to church in the NT. It's all about 'being' the church in a worshipful manner as you live your life or even when you do gather together at some place for some time with some kind of regularity.
But it's good and needed and fun to gather somewhere at sometime and even with some regularity on the first day of the week. [Or on a lot of other days too if desired.] But the question is when you do, what do you do? That may be the easy part. A quick study of the biblical materials shows that all [men and women] are to participate, all are to share [prophecy/prayers/gifts/etc.] all for the edification of everyone. The hard part is deciding 'how' you do it all.
Some say you preach and do it with the pulpit in the center of the stage area. But that's cultural. Congregationalists believe the Word is to be central and a central pulpit reminds all of us of that. I would agree. Just don't say it the right way or the biblical way. It is one good cultural way of doing it.
Others [liturgical adherents] would make the communion elements central with pulpits a side issue. Literally. Fine. Just don't say it's the biblical way either. It's a way and maybe an OK way, but a cultural way nonetheless.
Do I need to go further to show where I'm going? I could speak of wearing ties and coats, dresses , sitting in pews, choirs in lofts, using hymnals, certain musical instruments, or even one man one sermon for that matter. All these things are but cultural methods and means of doing corporate worship in in a cultural context. Thinking that those ways are more sacred than others is not the truth according to scripture since bible does not address those kinds of matters. Old timers tend to say "Don't touch these things. They're good and godly and essential and if you dare change them, it is obvious you've gone liberal in your christianity." Oh really! You can't like choruses and a praise team? You can't preach without a tie?
Don't hear me say that hymn books and ties are wrong. If you do you've missed my point entirely. It is the refusal to see them as ONLY cultural that creates a major problem. I would say the same about the people who say new WAYS OF WORSHIP are more biblical. Things like choruses, testimonies, videos, and horror of horrors, a guitar and drum set backing up a praise team leading a corporate experience.
I've certainly moved from the old way of thinking to the new way of thinking about all this in my own personal tastes for corporate worship. It just means my personal cultural biases are at play here like everyone else and I join with like minded people in it.
But none of that FULLY DESCRIBES true worship of the New Testament at all. It's a lot more than Sundays, hymns, choruses, sermons or any other way of doing anything. It is a life lived in worship that's biblical.